Former GV rower to compete in the London Olympics
For 2009 Grand Valley State University graduate Sarah Zelenka, competing in the Summer Olympic Games has been a life-long dream.
Now, she is only a couple months away from living that dream.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Zelenka said. “It’s been my dream to go to the Olympics for a while, and to do it the way we did it is pretty cool.”
Zelenka and her partner Sara Hendershot came back from behind to win the women’s pair event. The pair made their move in the final 300 meters when they overtook the five-time national team duo of Jamie Redman and Amanda Polk. Zelenka and Hendershot finished with a time of 7 minutes, 27.544 seconds.
Zelenka didn’t actually begin rowing until she came to GVSU and joined the rowing club. From there, she instilled a strong work ethic, one that has stuck with her ever since.
“Because it was a club sport and it wasn’t a D1 sport that paid you to row, you had to work really hard and had to pay your own way,” she said. “All that hard work transferred to the national team level and having to work that hard in college helped out with the elevated work that we had to do on the national team. It brought good habits.”
This isn’t the first time that Zelenka has found success on a big stage. She won gold in the four at the 2011 World Rowing Championships, and she won gold in the eight and the four in the 2010 Rowing World Cup in Lucerne. She was also a part of the team that won the Division I Championship eight at Dad Vails her senior year of college. While at GVSU, Zelenka was named MVP of the GVSU rowing team in 2008 and 2009. Head coach Dan Bancheri was not only impressed with her talents as a rower, but also with her work ethic and leadership.
“She’s physically one of our best athletes,” he said. “She brought commitment and loyalty to the team. She constantly set goals to get better and sought other opportunities to learn and she used them to her advantage and she got better in the process. “
With Zelenka making the Olympics, it gives hope to the current GVSU rowers that may have the same dream as Zelenka.
Bancheri believes that Zelenka’s achievements prove that you can reach that level with hard work, but he also is proud of that she is representing GVSU.
“As a program, we’ve achieved that level,” he said. “Now we know we can do it. It opens the door for other kids in the program to aspire to that level. Look at what this kid has done for our program. Now younger girls think, ‘Man I can do that too.’ I think she opens the doors for other girls to dream. But what you really see from Sarah is she brings a level of recognition to our rowing program, but a level of recognition to our university.”
For Zelenka, it is still sinking in for her that she will be competing in the Olympics and living one of her dreams. However, she is looking forward to the entire Olympic experience.
“The racing and being a part of all the other OIympians will be exciting,” she said. “Getting to be teammates with LeBron James is going to be really cool and the whole experience is going to be amazing. I’m still in shock that it’s happening.”