Jessica Zelinka


Date of birth: Sept 3rd, 1981

Birthplace/Hometown: London, Ontario, CANADA

Family ancestry:  The name “Zelinka” has Czech roots. Father’s side: Hungarian; Mother’s side: Croatian. 


Family: 

My parents are Marianne and Richard Zelinka. They weren’t superstar athletes, but superstar bench warmers (which means they’re great supporters!). I grew up in London, Ontario with my two older sisters, Andrea and Deanna who also did track and field throughout elementary, high school, club, university and national team levels. So my mom was especially busy, driving us around and making us healthy lunches everyday even throughout high school (I know...lucky/spoiled!). My dad decided to involve himself in track by becoming a track official after realizing there was a shortage of qualified volunteer officials at our local meets. He continues to enjoy officiating to this day and will have a well-deserved gig as an official at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto!

My husband is Nathaniel Miller. We met in a Kinesiology class at the University of Calgary in 2004. We had a running portion of our class and every week he would unsuccessfully try to catch up to me to chat. One day I arrived late and when I was about to whizz by him he managed to blurt out something in his short breaths to get my attention (yet to this day I let him believe his version of the story which has him as the runaway and me the pursuer!). We were running buddies for the remainder of the semester and it wasn't long before we started dating.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Nathaniel was also training to compete at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, on the Canadian men’s water polo team (which makes it even more impressive that a "water athlete" was able to hold his own on dry land ;)

Our daughter Anika Zelinka-Miller was born May 29, 2009. The morning after she was born, I remember the two of us waking up in the hospital room (br-iiiiiight and early) to a stunning red skyline that can only be witnessed on a chinook sunrise in Calgary. It was a new day, a new beginning of the rest of our lives as mother and daughter. Since that day I take comfort in a quote I once saw "I smile because I'm your mother, I laugh because there is nothing you can do about it!".  Anika has blessed our lives in so many ways and continues to keep us on our toes at all times!



Track

I tried all the events at my elementary school (Kensal Park) on “track and field day” in grade 4 and was hooked from day 1. I used to go to the library and look up long jump techniques at the age of 9, and jumped over garbage pails in the backyard before I was old enough to compete in the hurdles. Some kids play street hockey growing up, I would practice using blocks in front of my house. I joined a track club by grade 7 (distance running and long jump). Started competing in combined events by age 14. 

I attended Sir Fredrick Banting H.S. were I was fortunate to have some great coaches and was a part of a strong track program. I finished my high school career (1996-2000) with an overall record of the most provincial medals ever won in the history of OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Associations). 

My first big international competition was the 2000 World Juniors Championships, where I placed 5th and broke the Canadian Junior Record in the heptathlon.

I moved to Calgary in 2002 to work with national coach Les Gramantik, who had assisted in coaching Canada's best combined event athletes Michael Smith and Catherine Bond-Mills. I ended up working with Les for the next 10 years and shared an amazing journey with him through all the ups and downs.  I also learned a lot during my years attending the University of Calgary, juggling training, work and classes while striving to make my first National team as a senior. 

I ended up just missing on making the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, but another four years later I had my first opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games in 2008 in Beijing, China. I broke the Canadian Senior record in the heptathlon and placed 5th with a score of 6490 pts. 

Returning from pregnancy and giving birth in 2009, I was given another amazing opportunity to go for another Olympic Games, but this time as a mother. The years leading up to 2012 were unforgettable, challenging, and rewarding in so many ways.

I had an amazing season in 2012, breaking the Canadian Record in the heptathlon at the Olympic Trials with 6599pts, passing my previous record from Beijing. A couple of days later, I also earned a spot on the Olympic team in the 100m hurdles after winning the finals. I placed 7th in both events at the Olympic Games and would be put in the history books for being the first athlete to compete in the finals of both the heptathlon and the 100m hurdles.

Since leaving Calgary after the 2012 Games, I've been working with coach Cliff Rovelto who is the head coach of Kansas State University in Manhattan Kansas and has also coached an impressive list of athletes, including many Olympic and World medalists. Cliff and his wife Karol have generously gone out of their way to make this long distance dynamic work. I travel to Kansas in the non-competitive season every few weeks and reside at their place during my stay. In return, I humbly offer to cook them a healthy meal or two which they've been enthusiastically open in trying some new dishes like "KEEN-wah" and other gluten-free alternatives. I admit that on more than one occasion I've added bacon and other cover-ups when I know I may be pushing my luck in serving some of Cliff's less tolerable vegetables.

Inspiration

My Aunt Darlene was my biggest inspiration to pursue track and field. She was a track and field coach in Timmins, in Northern Ontario, and so from a distance she become involved as a supporter and mentor to me. She taught me to take risks, and to keep my head up and keep my sights on my dreams, no matter what. She opened the door for me to realize my potential by encouraging me to reach for the stars.





FUN FACTS:

Height: 176 cm

Weight: 64 kg

Languages spoken: English, French (I try)

Nutrition: Being an athlete and eating well (surprisingly) doesn't always go hand-in-hand. I started taking an interest in nutrition after I left home to attend university once I realized I was no longer going to be able to depend on my mom's home cooked meals. I soon realized the value in fuelling my body well and quickly took an interest in learning new ways to optimize my health and recovery through my nutritional choices. Healthy eating is now a lifestyle for me and my family. I often find myself in conversations about nutrition and healthy eating habits. Whether it's an interest in sports nutrition for athletes or the weekend warrior, or an interest in healthy snack/meal ideas for kids; I enjoy sharing my experiences as a mom and an athlete, with my (perhaps overly) matter-of-fact approach to my food choices.

Hobbies: DIY home/craft projects satisfy the thrifty and creative side of me. I have yet to prioritize the time to acquire more skills to take on some bigger projects, but in the meantime I enjoy gathering up the thousands of "must-do" projects on Pinterest! My daughter and I have fun being inventive in creating fun crafts, decorations and gifts around the holidays. 

Rituals: When I started travelling as an athlete, I would try to find a Christmas ornament from each country as my souvenir. Now it's become a ritual for our family when we travel together, and every December we get to reminisce about all the stories from our travels as we decorate our International Christmas tree.

Quote I like: “Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it!”


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