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ROHNERT PARK

As she was waking on the morning of March 12, Yuko Hasegawa was not thinking about her mother, father, brother, sister and three grandparents in Japan.

"Check the news," Louis Torres told her. "There's been an earthquake in Japan." Hasegawa, 28, SSU's assistant athletic trainer, is staying with a host family here. She turned on the television. With disbelieving eyes, she sat there, confused.

"I wasn't able to digest what I was seeing," Hasegawa said. "Pictures of cars and airplanes being carried by black water. What is this black water coming into a town? This can't be a town. Why are they showing this? I thought a tsunami was a big wave."

Everyone in her family except for her 31-year old brother, Masatoshi, lives in Yonago, on Japan's west coast, about a 13-hour drive, she estimates, to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Her family didn't feel the earthquake, not even her brother, who lives in Tokyo. Though the scenes were horrific, the loss of life and numbers of homeless nearly unimaginable, at least her family was safe.

"Then CNN started to talk about the radiation leaks," said Hasegawa, in America since 2002, obtaining bachelor's and master's degrees in exercise and health management disciplines. "CNN sounded a lot more serious than the Japanese broadcasts I was seeing. Being Japanese, I wanted to believe the Japanese broadcasts."

But as the days wore on, as conflicting and confusing government statements created unease and doubt, Hasegawa had to admit, "It has been pointed out there is some unclearness in the government. But at the same time you (workers) couldn't personally check out the radiation levels (because of unsafe levels). It's frustrating because the numbers keep changing. But I believe in Japanese skills and technology."

Her father, Yoshimasa, a 63-year old photographer, became worried about her. He had read reports of minuscule radiation increases in the United States.

"It was funny he was worried," she said. "He's so much more closer than I am but the wind blows east from Japan."

Yoshimasa was so concerned, he sent Yuko three emails in the last three weeks. "He's old-school Japanese," she said. "He doesn't talk to his kids. That (emails) is a lot for him."

At the end of May, Hasegawa's contract with SSU expires. Does she go home or stay in the States looking for a full-time athletic training position at a university? If it wasn't for the ongoing radiation developments, she would be seeking employment.

"A nuclear plant is just 40 kilometers from where my parents live," she said. "If something should happen there, and I'm here..."

Her voiced trailed off. Family is a dominant influence in Japanese culture. Her sister, Akido, 24, lives with her parents. Her maternal grandmother lives next-door to her parents. Along with three of Yuko's cousins, grandma, 80, lives in the same house she was born in. Dad wants his son to move back from Tokyo. If the radiation were to spread west in the next eight weeks, if it were to be perilous to return, what would Hasegawa do? The answer is the only answer a good Japanese daughter would give.

"I would still go home," she said. "My family is there."

In the meantime, she waits and follows the daily news from her country. Eight weeks is a long way off. A lot can happen. Of course, she worries. Each night, before she goes to bed, she falls asleep to talk radio. It stays on all night.

"If it's quiet," she said, "I think of something."

Would that something be her homeland and its uncertain future?

Hasegawa paused, and then said, quietly, with some effort, "Probably."

For more North Bay sports, go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.