EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - SIUE's Ioana Citireag may be taking the road less traveled, but she is by no means doing it leisurely. Her road is paved with lofty goals and aspirations reachable only through determination and hard work.
The Bihor, Romania, native is accomplishing these goals both on the track and in the classroom. She previously earned two undergraduate degrees (psychology and sociology) from Jacksonville State University in only three years' time.
"I am really ambitious," Citireag said. "The reason I chose two degrees is because I want to expand my opportunities."
One new opportunity came with transferring to SIUE this fall where she has her sights set on a master's degree in sport psychology.
"The reason I came to SIUE was school," she added. "This was the only school that had a track team, a soccer team, and the program that I wanted in academics. I read the curriculum of the program and I really, really liked it. I had other schools that offered more, but I chose SIUE because of the academic program. In my opinion, this one was the best."
Achieving academic success certainly has not been easy for the international student. Citireag has had to make many sacrifices to be where she is today.
"I had to sacrifice my family, my friends, and my social life," she said. "I am trying to be on track as much as possible and that all goes back to the way my parents raised me. They always taught me to appreciate absolutely anything I have. That mentality helped me be the person I am now."
"I had other schools that offered more, but I chose SIUE because of the academic program. In my opinion, this one was the best."
SIUE's Ioana Citireag
In order to finish her two degrees at JSU, she also had to make a tremendous sacrifice by not returning home to Romania for the summer. Citireag remained in the United States for more than a year and a half straight to complete extra coursework making her miss home even more.
"I am working hard in academics and athletics. That's my main point," she added.
Once Citireag puts her schoolwork aside and steps on the track, however, an entirely new focus takes over. This is where dreams of one day reaching the Olympics race through her mind.
"I would like to be like my old coach from Romania (Ella Kovacs) and be in the Olympics. I really want to make that step. I like running, I like competing, and I want to compete for as long as possible."
SIUE is not able to run in the Ohio Valley Conference Championships until 2012 in cross country and 2013 in track and field, but that fact has not deterred Citireag in her final season of eligibility. She also expressed a desire to join the Cougar women's soccer team next fall.
She is planning to use her time training with the Cougars to prepare for that next step of making it to the Olympic Games.
"Ioana is definitely a talented runner," SIUE cross country Head Coach Eileen McAllister said. "She works hard and is willing to do what she needs to in order to be successful. She has a sound background and is aware of all aspects of her training."
Working with Coach McAllister has helped Citireag in all facets of her preparation.
"I have to give credit to Coach McAllister," Citireag added. "She is a great coach both training wise and psychologically. Here, all the coaches care about the athletes -- not only physically but also psychologically. That is a strong point of the program at SIUE."
Despite all her efforts in and out of the classroom, Citireag still feels luck has played a part in her success.
"I think I am the luckiest person in the world," she said. "Having the chance to come here is good luck."
Citireag is certainly making the most of her opportunities and wants to continue that in the future, which hopefully will be done in the United States.
"I would like to stay in the United States and eventually become a U.S. citizen, but I will never forget where I came from," she added. "I love my home and I want to be home, but I chose to be here because of the experience and the opportunities that America can give me compared to Romania."