Sarah Zelenka turned the Laker nation into rowing enthusiasts when she and her partner competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Zelenka and Sara Hendershot rowed to a fourth-place finish in women’s pairs, just 0.20 seconds behind the bronze medal winners. Immediately after the race, Zelenka told reporters she wouldn’t wish fourth place on anyone. Yet her first Olympic experience proved an amazing experience, she said.
“Everyone in London loves rowing, so we were treated like celebrities there,” Zelenka, a 2009 graduate, said.
Zelenka will continue training for the 2016 Olympics. “We came so close to a medal in London, I feel like it is worth four more years of hard work and dedication to go for it again,” she said.
She’ll fit training in with her duties as assistant women’s rowing coach at the University of Louisville. The Cardinals finished third at the 2012 Big East Championship. Zelenka’s responsibilities include developing workouts for the team, helping run practices and recruiting.
It’s all quite remarkable considering Zelenka had never sat in a crew boat until she came to Grand Valley. Zelenka said she joined the crew team as a first-year student to stay in shape and meet new people.
By the time she earned a bachelor’s degree in health professions, Zelenka was in top form and received an invitation to train with the U.S. Olympic women’s rowing team in Princeton, New Jersey.
As a member of U.S. Rowing, Zelenka earned a gold medal in women’s four at the 2011 rowing championships. She and Hendershot won first place at the 2012 Olympic trials.
One of the photos of Zelenka taken last summer in London showed her with other U.S. teammates, all wearing their collegiate uniforms. She was the only person who came from a club team, not varsity team.
Like many of Grand Valley’s club sports, rowing competes against other varsity team and regularly participates in elite races such as the Dad Vail Regetta in Philadelphia.