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May 4, 2009

Sandu Rebenciuc to enter coaches hall of fame

Sandu Rebenciuc, shown here winning the 1991 NCAA Division III cross country championship, was a 6-time national champion at Augustana. On May 20, Rebenciuc will be inducted into the United States Track and Field/Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Sandu Rebenciuc, a six-time national champion distance runner at Augustana during the early 1990's, will be inducted into the NCAA Division III Track & Field Athlete Hall of Fame this spring. He will be one of four athletes to be enshrined at the induction ceremony, which will take place on Wednesday, May 20 at 6:00 p.m. at the Dyson Baudo Recreation Center on the campus of Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio. Marietta will be the host for NCAA Division III national meet that will be held May 20-23.

Rebenciuc will be joined in the Hall of Fame with three other former Division III standouts. Sheila Trice of Christopher Newport, Derrick Rippy of Mount Union and Kiyomi Parish-Griffey of Pomona-Pitzer will also be honored with Rebenciuc. Rebenciuc, Trice, Rippy and Parish-Griffey are part of an elite group. There are currently just 30 athletes and three coaches in the Hall of Fame, which is selected by the United States Track & Field/Cross Country Coaches Association.

On the track or the cross country course, Rebenciuc made it look so easy. His stride was light and effortless, his finishing kick blistering. He ran and he won - a lot. During his Augustana career, which spanned the early 1990's, Rebenciuc won a grand total of seven NCAA Division III national championships. He won two indoor titles at 1500 meters (1992 & 1993), four outdoor crowns (1500 in 1992 and 1993, 10,000 in 1992 and 3000 steeplechase in 1993) and one in cross country (1991).
He was a 14 time All-American (three in cross country, five in indoor track and six in outdoor track). He was a seven time College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin champion in track and a two time winner in cross country.

While his success as a runner appeared uncomplicated, Rebenciuc's life was anything but. In an interesting dichotomy, his journey to collegiate success was one that was fraught with peril and danger. Before he could get to Augustana, where he thrived, he was forced to make a decision that had to be gut-wrenching for a teenager.

A native of Bucharest, Romania, Rebenciuc was a member of the Romanian junior national team and was preparing for the 1988 Balkan Cross Country Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. The only son of Maria and Gheorghe Rebenciuc, Sandu was concerned about his future. "Life was hopeless in Romania," he said in a May 17, 1992 article in the Moline Dispatch. "The economy was very bad, the opportunities in everyday life were limited. You couldn't do anything; there was a shortage of everything; no freedom of opinion, you couldn't talk about the regime or say anything against communism."

Those were the days of Nicolae Ceausescu, a vicious dictator, and Rebenciuc knew that his future was limited. He made his decision - it was time to defect. It would not be simple, however, because he was on the "watch list" because he had an aunt in Chicago, which made him a flight risk. When his passport was cleared to go to the Balkan Championships, his mind was made up. He knew from talks with his parents that Turkey would not be able to deny his request for political asylum. When he got to Istanbul he walked into a police station and made his request to defect.

That began a long and terrifying journey that would last two years and involve several stays in refugee camps. Life in those refugee camps was hard but Rebenciuc was looking ahead. "I knew what I was doing," he said. I knew the consequences and I wanted to do it."

Eventually he ended up in Chicago in March of 1990 and he immediately began to take English classes. He hooked up with fellow countryman David Spataru, who just happened to be the Augustana men's soccer coach at the time. One thing led to another and he enrolled in Rock Island in the fall of 1990.

When he got to Augustana the success came almost immediately as he won the CCIW cross country title in the 1990 and in the spring of 1991 he won the 800 and 1500 in the conference track meet. That same spring he placed second in the NCAA Division III 1500 in both indoor and outdoor track.
It was the beginning of a career which would eventually end in the fall of 1994 when he used his final year of eligibility to play soccer, where he scored eight goals and had four assists. In addition to all of his conference championships, national titles and All-American certificates, Rebenciuc still holds a total of seven Augustana school records.

When he left Augustana he didn't stop running and twice he was on the United States World Championship team in cross country. He also participated in the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Trials, making the final in the 3000 steeplechase in 2004. A 1994 graduate of Augustana with a degree in biology, Sandu lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado with his wife Marijane and his daughter Sophia. He is currently in the United States Army.

In the fall of 2008 Rebenciuc was inducted into the Augustana Tribe of Vikings Hall of Fame along with seven other from Viking student-athletes and the 1983 Augustana football team.