GV alums try out for Olympic rowing teams

Courtesy Photo / John Bancheri
GVSU Alum Sarah Zelenka pictured with teammates after winning the World Rowing Championship in the USA Women

Courtesy photo

Courtesy Photo / John Bancheri GVSU Alum Sarah Zelenka pictured with teammates after winning the World Rowing Championship in the USA Women

Zach Sepanik

Contrary to rowing “gently down the stream,” the sport of rowing takes a lot of hard work and dedication, attributes two alumni of Grand Valley State University and the club rowing program have demonstrated on their path all the way to the top.

Sarah Zelenka, 24, and Ross Anderson, 28, have had the privilege to compete in several trials that will eventually lead to selection for the Olympic rowing team in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

“Sarah and Ross were no different than any top athlete in a successful program of any other sport,” said GVSU head coach John Bancheri. “They both sought to improve everyday in every way. They viewed setbacks as opportunities to self-evaluate and identify any weaknesses they may have had, and also as a chance to improve.”

During the weekend of Nov. 12, Zelenka and Anderson competed in the U.S. Rowing Fall Speed Orders. The event consisted of two groups, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, and involved ergometer and small boat testing.

Each Laker alumni competed with the East Coast group. Anderson participated in the Men’s 1x and finished 9th with a time of 18 minutes, 9 seconds. Meanwhile, Zelenka finished 4th in the Women’s 2- with a time of 17:10.

“Sarah is in the national team camp,” Anderson said. “I still have to fight to get into the camp and get a chance for the selection. If you are not in camp, you are trying to get into a camp and she is fortunate enough to have been invited.”

As far as the selection process goes, there are several ways to get chosen. An invitation to camps is the best start, and there are also trials and other major events to help make one’s case for the Olympic team.

To continue their rowing training, both athletes have moved on since their days at GVSU. Zelenka graduated in 2009 and now trains in Princeton, N.J., while Anderson graduated in 2006 and trains in Philadelphia.

“I think rowing at Grand Valley was a really great and special experience,” Zelenka said. “It totally made me the rower I am today. We didn’t have a million resources and had to work really hard. Nothing was really handed to us. I think it really helped my work ethic a ton and my confidence in the sport.”

Bancheri initially got Zelenka started on her current path in which she finds herself competing for a roster spot on the Olympic team.

“Coach Bancheri saw something in me and invited me to train with the varsity,” Zelenka said. “From that point, it was just training with older girls who knew what they were doing. Getting on to the U-23 team was cool and from there it was getting invited to train with the national team. It has been a lot of hard work.”

All that effort paid off over the summer, however, when she won the International Rowing Federation (FISA) World Championships in the Women’s 4-. She has also won World Cup races in her career in the Women’s 8 and 4-. The experiences have landed her in a group of 26 women competing for 14 spots on the Olympic team in San Diego, Calif.

“We are in San Diego from Jan. 1 through mid-March,” Zelenka said. “It is all training, basically getting ready in small boats and through different types of events. We have a race in pairs and it gives a way to see if you are moving a boat well.”

It will all come down to the national regatta race at the end of camp. The top four in the race will then go to the last camp which will decide who makes the Olympic team. So, while all she can do is continue her hard work, it is a waiting game until mid-June for Zelenka to hear about her Olympic aspirations.

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