Zelenka will be competing in the FISA World Rowing 2009 Under 23 World Championships in Racice, Czech Republic, from July 23-26. Zelenka will be competing in the women's four event, sharing a boat with athletes from Harvard, University of Michigan and University of Wisconsin.
Zelenka's feat is particularly impressive because she is competing alongside athletes from Division I programs that offer full scholarships. Unlike those schools, Grand Valley's program is a club sport, where students have to pay dues and hold fundraisers to support the team.
"Rowing for Grand Valley really prepared me well to compete at this level. The rowers here are very fit and are also technically very sound," Zelenka said. "Being here, you realize you need to be at your top fitness level and have the technique to match in order to succeed. I am grateful that Grand Valley has helped me achieve both."
Grand Valley rowing coach John Bancheri said those challenges make the Grand Valley rowers work harder. "It makes it their successes much more meaningful — they appreciate what they've done that much more," he said," he said.
Zelenka had been participating in the U.S. Rowing under 23 selection camp in Princeton, N.J. with Grand Valley teammate Kelsey Arnold. The two took part in a challenging training regimen and competed in the World Championships Trials on July 8. "The style that they teach here in Princeton is very similar to what I learned at Grand Valley," Zelenka said.
Zelenka dreams of competing at the Olympic level in London in 2012, but the Itasca, Ill., native has even bigger dreams of competing in the proposed 2016 Chicago games.
"This opportunity has shown me the hard work and effort required to make it at an Olympic level. I am excited to try in the upcoming years," Zelenka said.
This is the latest in a string of successes for Grand Valley's rowers. The team capped a tremendous season with a strong showing at the 2009 American Collegiate Rowing Association National Championship Regatta in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The team emerged as the overall points champions and the women’s team points champions. The men’s team took third place in team points. Other awards included two gold medals for the women’s varsity eight squads; silver medals for the women's novice eight and men's varsity eight; and a bronze medal for the men's varsity heavyweight eight.
Grand Valley crews performed well throughout the year, with major victories earlier this month in Philadelphia’s Dad Vail Regatta against more than 100 colleges and universities from across the United States and Canada. The women’s varsity eight won over highly respected and very fast competition. Four crews won semi-final victories in Philadelphia and three went on to medal with the entire program finishing third in team points.
"These successes say that we do a very good job of taking people with no experience and developing them into national-caliber athletes," said Bancheri.