Olympic-sized weights sitting on Calgary mom’s very fit shoulders
A lot is riding on the very fit shoulders of Jessica Zelinka.
Some people have hailed the 30-year-old Calgary mother – known for her amazing abs (more on that later) – as the best overall athlete that Canada is sending to the 2012 London Olympics.
But she isn’t quite sure what to make of that description. “I was in Beijing and I was a heptathlete at that point and nothing has really changed, except I’m doing hurdles as well, but I’m still a combined event athlete so, I was fit in Beijing, I’m fit now, so nothing’s really changed. Just what the media wants to make of it I guess…”
If you haven’t heard of her, just wait until you see her run or jump a hurdle. And you’ll realize she’s destined for greatness.
Zelinka will be competing in the heptathlon – that’s seven events – and the 100m hurdles. Despite the possible impending exhaustion, the former will obviously be her biggest challenge, and she loves it.
“It’s not so much the physical exertion over the two days. It’s the mental game and you know, it’s really tough!” she says. “I just like the variety, especially in training too. I really enjoy doing all the events. Some people ask me what’s my favourite event, and I honestly love training for all of them equally.”
“I don’t want to stay bored.”
Life has changed a lot for Zelinka in the past few years. She came in fifth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Now she’s enjoying the best year of her career, having broke a record in heptathlon.
And in May 2009, she gave birth to her daughter Anika. Parenthood forced Zelinka to reprioritize.
“Every decision of my life was based around track, and now with Anika, it’s like, I still have that same drive when I go to the track and compete and train, but it’s almost like I get to have a little more balance in my life, and she kind of gives me that perspective,” Zelinka says.
“(I am) leaving the track at the track and just focusing on being a mother and being with Anika, and it’s been really nice.”
Changes were also in store for Zelinka’s husband and Anika’s father, fellow Canadian Olympian Nathaniel Millar. He put his water polo career on hold for his family.
“At the end of the day, having two amateur athletes trying to (train) while supporting a child at home, it just didn’t work so we made the choice that we had to make,” he tells Global News.
According to Millar, some people didn’t understand his sacrifice. But because he was on Canada’s Olympic water polo team, he knew better than anyone how much hard work went into training for the Olympics. And he wishes Canada would take a page from its neighbours to the south, and do more for athletes. “We just don’t do a great job of marketing our athletes or getting it out there to let people know how much support they do need.”
Zelinka, however, is grateful for the love from her husband – and others – that helped her get this far. “So Nathaniel coaches, but it’s just…not something that’s stable financially, so right now, we just made every decision up to this point to be able to put me in a position to be at my best in London and those are our goals,” she says.
“It’s also difficult for him too because he would love to be in my position too but…we’ve made a decision and he’s 100 per cent committed to it.”
And as Millar sits on the sidelines, he couldn’t be more excited for his wife. He says he loves watching her compete. “I’m very proud. I mean, I get to see how much work goes into the performances. And to see her be out there, to put it all together, to perform the way she wants – is awesome.”
“I can’t wait to see what she has in her in London. I think she’s going to surprise the world.”
One thing that definitely surprises people is Zelinka’s abs of steel, a reaction she finds amusing. “My coach likes to take credit that he’s molded me into this ab lady, but…it was mostly genetics and lower body fat. Everybody has a six-pack. It’s just sometimes covered more in others.”
But don’t expect to see Zelinka’s superhero strength at the 2016 Rio games. “These are probably my last Olympics, and I know I can really put a big one out there, and I just gotta let it happen. Just, just go for the ride.”
Track and field runs in Zelinka’s family. Her two older sisters, Andrea and Deanna, were also athletes growing up in London, Ont. and they competed at university and national levels.
As well, Zelinka’s aunt was a track and field coach who acted as a mentor and encouraged her to take risks.
Follow Allison on Twitter: @allisonvglobal