NJ’s Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls gear up for London games.
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As many as two dozen New Jersey athletes are expected to be among the 600-plus Americans competing at the XXX Summer Olympics July 27 through August 12 in London. The Olympics will be followed by the Paralympics August 29 through September 9, where more Jerseyans will strive for gold.
As New Jersey Monthly went to press, the athletes were still trying out for places on the U.S. team, taking part in official meets or trying out individually. We caught up with eight top contenders, all with Jersey connections. Among the athletes you’ll meet on these pages is Paralympics veteran Lisa Czechowski, who is visually impaired, but is now one of the leading international players of goalball, a cross between reverse dodgeball and bowling. Goalball is one of 23 different summer Paralympics sports.
Whatever their sport, these athletes have at least two things in common: a fierce desire to win and the discipline to put every ounce of effort toward that goal.
Hometown: Princeton (Princeton University, 2012)
Sport: Track and field, steeplechase
Highlights: Seven-time All-American in several events, including cross-country and distance running. Three-time distance-relay winner, Penn Relays. World Junior team 2008 in 10,000 meters. Top American time in steeplechase, spring 2012 (8:19).
Training regimen: I total about 85 to 110 miles a week. I will have an 8 am morning run four times a week and then 3 pm practices every day. One day, usually a Sunday, there will be a 20-mile run or maybe a 15-mile, with the middle 10 miles at a marathon pace, about 5:20 a mile. I have done a lot of lifting this year, plus a lot of plyometrics, which are explosive drills, to work on the pop in my legs.
What it will take to win: I have a lot of different tricks to make sure I stay confident. Some might be weird but get the job done. For a race in L.A., where I had a 13-second breakthrough....I ran the whole way smiling and talking to myself about how excited I was…Maybe I creeped out the guys I was racing.
My other life: I love to play beach volleyball and do water skiing and just be outdoors.
Hometown: Winslow Township
Sport: Wrestling (76 KG, 163 pounds)
Highlights: 2006 New Jersey state champion at 135 pounds. NCAA champion in junior year at the University of Nebraska. Undefeated in senior year, winning the Hodge Trophy, the sport’s equivalent to the Heisman. Won the World Championship in 2011.
Training regimen: I do lifting three times a week. But on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I do two-a-days [wrestling and lifting]. It is intense. [He also wrestles Tuesday and Thursday.]
What it will take to win: As much competition as possible and lots of determination. We look at video of all the best wrestlers in the world, so I still have a lot of technique to study.
In the beginning: I played freshman football at Winslow, but I was little, only 135 pounds, so wrestling was better for me. They didn’t take me seriously in football, but I think now I have proven I was always a good athlete.
My other life: Wrestling training is so hard that you don’t have energy to do many active things in down time. You are mostly recovering, so I spend a lot of time reading and just hanging out with friends.
Hometown: Browns Mills
Highlights: Four-time NCAA national champion at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Gold medalist in prone-position shooting at 2004 Athens Olympics and silver medalist at 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Training regimen: Pretty much five days a week, I start shooting at eight in the morning until noon or one. After that, I break for lunch and do some physical training, like running or biking, to get my heart rate down. For rifle, we actually shoot between heartbeats, so if the rate is low, you have more time to shoot shots. Also, the better cardio shape you are in, the better you deal with the stress. If your knees are shaking, you won’t be shooting the rifle well.
What it will take to win: There is so little leeway. At 50 meters, the inner ring of the bullseye is about 10 mm, or smaller than the size of a penny. If you take 60 shots and miss more than once, that is it.
In the beginning: We always hunted. We live in the country near Fort Dix. One day, a club coach started talking to my father and me, and I found out you could get into college shooting a rifle, so I started at about 14 and went to his club every Friday night. I played baseball, too, but after a while, this was it.
My other life: My wife is Czech and we love to get out into the country—hunting, hiking, cross-country skiing. When we train in Colorado, there are different seasons of hunting, so I don’t miss it when I have to spend time training.
Sport: Goalball (Paralympics)
Highlights: Won the silver medal in the discus in 2000 at the Sydney games, where the goalball team came in sixth. The goalball team came in second in 2004 in Athens and then won the gold medal at the Beijing games in 2008.
About the sport: Goalball is for visually impaired and blind athletes. Three players at a time try to score goals with a 30-pound basketball-sized ball embedded with bell so the blind can hear it. Rolling a ball quickly in a bowling-like manner on a volleyball-sized court starts a play. Defenders dive to block it before it reaches the end line. All the players wear blindfolds to equalize the field, since some players are partially sighted like Lisa. Her primary means of training are running and weight-lifting.
What it will take to win: Continued practice. My husband is a coach, so even when I am not training with the team, I get good advice.
In the beginning: An adaptive phys ed teacher came to Boonton and showed my teachers that I didn’t just have to sit on the sidelines. I used to just run, but this started me in goalball and discus and all sorts of other things. When I found out you could go to the Olympics, I was hooked.
My other life: I love the movies and I do a lot of books on tape.
Past Achievements: Four-time NCAA All-American honorable mention at Princeton University. Three-time World Cup quarterfinalist. World Cup 2012 team silver medal.
Training regimen: I train 25 hours a week in Paris with my coach, Maitre Daniel Levavasseur. His association, Fencing Without Borders, brings together fencers from various countries for elite-level training.
What it will take to win: Determination is my strong point. I’ve battled through serious injuries and bad seasons, but I’ve always kept my eye on the ultimate goal. Things are starting to come together, but it’s not over yet. I want to keep fighting, and it’s this mindset that has gotten me to where I am now.
In the beginning: My friends in high school were obsessed with the movie The Princess Bride, which has a famous comical fencing scene. I hated the film but followed them to practice anyway.
My other life: I like to spend time with friends discovering new restaurants and cafés in Paris. But my guilty pleasure is reality TV.
Hometown: Mount Laurel
Sport: Field hockey (defense)
Highlights: Two-time All-American at the University of Iowa. U.S. team member since 2009.
Training regimen: We train on the field four days a week, with one a double session. We run two other days during the week and lift two days, often after a morning field session, so four or five hours a day, pretty much, with Sundays off.
What it will take to win: Argentina is our main Pan-American rival, so we have to beat them. Germany and the Netherlands are also good. Each part of the world has a different style, so you have to learn how to play different ways.
In the beginning: My mother was a field hockey coach, and my two sisters, one younger and one older, and I were just around it all the time. One sister did track and the other one stuck with soccer, which I also did for a while, but I liked field hockey. It was good for my parents, since they didn’t have to watch the same sport all the time.
My other life: I actually coach a lot. I like working with younger girls, making them better. I also cook and bake, which is why I have to do all that running.
Highlights: Three-time All-American and Big East All-Academic at Rutgers. Played on World Cup teams in 2007 and 2011. Scored the winning goal in overtime against Brazil for U.S. gold medal in 2008 Olympic Games. U.S. Soccer athlete of the year, 2008.
Training regimen: Lots of long-distance running and core exercises—sit-ups, push-ups and the like. As the season gets closer, I do more 800- and 1,200-meter runs, of course, more soccer skills, plus just a lot of hell workouts. I know the people on my team think I am crazy, but I have gotten where I have on hard work.
What it will take to win: I only do what I can control and that is working as hard as I can to get to the top and be the best. It has always been my motto to do that hard work.
In the beginning: When I was about five, my parents took me out to play soccer and I just loved it. I would bring a ball everywhere, kick it against a wall, in a playground, at anyone’s house. I played other sports, too—swimming and basketball, for instance—but by high school, I knew soccer was my passion.
My other life: My boyfriend is in the golf business, so I have started to play, but that is hard. I do love shopping. And I love being with my family, either at home or at the beach.
Hometown: Princeton (The Olympic Rowing Training Center)
Sport: Crew (coxswain)
Highlights: Three national championships at the University of Washington. Silver medal in women’s eight-person boat at 2004 Athens Olympics. Gold medal in women’s eight at 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Training regimen: Though it isn’t necessary for a coxswain to do the training rowers do, I try to do some aerobic activity every day. When they do lifting, I do that, too. The rowers inspire me to get my butt in gear. I have been blessed by a good gene pool, so it is not difficult for me to keep at the proper weight: 110 pounds.
What it will take to win: A lot of practice. We are out on the water every day.
In the beginning: I grew up in Orangevale, California, near Sacramento, where there is lots of rowing. My twin sister and I started doing a learn-to-row program in junior high but soon found we were better at being coxswains, because we were small. She is now an associate head coach at Berkeley.
My other life: My fiancé is a back-country skier and owns a business around that. I also like snowboarding and riding road bikes.
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