Zelinka strengthened by family bond

Randy Sportak, Calgary Sun —

Here’s a tricky question: Is track and field standout Jessica Zelinka better because of the birth of her three-year-old daughter, Anika?

And after beating her own Canadian record in the seven-discipline event at the Canadian championships in June in Calgary, Zelinka is better than ever.

The Calgarian who finished fifth in the heptathlon at the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing fully intended to be in the game this year.

But the 30-year-old has something special in her these days, which makes you wonder whether being a mother has changed her.

“There is no scientific proof that giving birth will make you stronger as a women,” answered her coach Les Gramantik. “However, there are intangibles I’ve found through my limited experience — not that there are too many women I’ve coached. There are things she does better.

“Her ability to sustain her focus is better,” Gramantik continued. “Her ability to respond to challenges is better.

“Tougher. She’s simply tougher.”

And after beating her own Canadian record in the seven-discipline event at the Canadian championships in June in Calgary, Zelinka is better than ever.

She scored 6,599 points in her hometown in the heptathlon — a seven-discipline event which consists of the 100-metre hurdles, the high jump, the shot put, the 200-metre dash, the long jump, the javelin and the 800-metre run. And a couple of days later, Zelinka completed an incredible double by also winning the 100m hurdles in a race that featured six athletes who had previously achieved the Olympic A standard.

Zelinka couldn’t flat-out say she’s a better athlete because of her daughter, but she did admit it’s more rewarding.

“I still am that same person,” said the Calgarian. “When I get on the track, I have the same goals, except I now get to share it with more people.

“As a parent, the thing that’s changed the most is I’m open to accepting more support. When you’re a first-time parent, the best thing you can do is put your pride aside and accept people who are willing to help you.

“As a parent in the track world, I realized I can’t do it on my own. It’s not only my family and my husband, but a whole community.”

She left room for improvement at the Canadian championships, too. Her high-jump score was not up to expectations, and she wasn’t near her personal best in the 800-m run.

And this happened all the while she was preparing for a bigger event — the London Olympics.

“Her body composition is as good as you can find in any female athlete,” Gramantik said. “I challenge anyone in the world to look physically fitter and better.”

For that, Zelinka can credit all those around her, starting with husband Nathaniel Miller, who competed at the 2008 Olympics in water polo.

“When you become a mother, when you become parents, your daughter … your family becomes the most important thing to you,” Miller said. “A lot of times, the training demands and the travel demands make it hard, but we’ve been really lucky. Our family is very supportive, and we’ve had a lot of great support around, and that’s allowed her to really focus on being at her best at training and at the track.

“She’s done a really good job of separating the two — coming home and being a mother and being focused on being the best mom she can be, and then, when she’s at work, she’s focused on being at work.”

The job is to return from England with a medal.

“That was our objective from Day 1,” Gramantik said. “I’m not going to back off from that, and I know she’s not going to back off from that.”

Especially with the extra motivation of her biggest fan.

“She’s a part of this journey,” Zelinka added of her daughter. “My family is part of this journey. That’s how I want it, and it helps me be at my best on the track.”

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One Response to Zelinka strengthened by family bond

  1. This woman is a dream – first class body style!

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