Mike Cegielski's parents spent World War II in Soviet concentration camps in Siberia. When Cegielski was growing up after the war in Wroclaw, Poland, his parents taught him not to believe the Communist propaganda he was taught in school, and his father gave him American books to read.
As he got older, Cegielski grew tired of leading a double life -- one "official" and one at home -- and began looking for a way to leave Poland. "It became an obsession of someday being free and living in the United States," he says.
His talent for track and field became his ticket out. In college, he qualified to train for the 1972 Polish Olympic team, earning him traveling privileges. On a trip to Denmark, he defected. There he met his future wife, and in 1974, they immigrated to the United States.
Cegielski later joined the Air Force and came to Colorado Springs as an Air Force Academy instructor in 1986. In 1992, he interpreted for President George Herbert Walker Bush and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell during an official visit to Poland.
Today, Cegielski works as an interpreter and translator of Polish, Russian, Czech, Slovak, Danish, Ukrainian and Bulgarian.
"As a little boy, I dreamed about living in the Wild West," Cegielski recalls. "Everything else was secondary. This was my one goal in life."
-- story by Terje Langeland,
photo by Jason Stewart
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