Mandi Zemba, '07, the newest member of the Team USA Minnesota, began her competitive running career at GVSU in 2001. From Menominee, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, she won her first of eight NCAA Division II National Championships that year.
The elite athlete was actually a late-comer to running, however, spending 11 years as a competitive swimmer before focusing the endurance she had gained from her swimming experience on running. "I had some success in High School by UP-standards in distance running and track and was offered a scholarship to Grand Valley. That's really when I learned how to train," says Zemba. "One of the main reasons I chose Grand Valley was for the running program and because it was an up-and-coming school that had a good program in my major (Physical Education-Corporate Fitness & Wellness). [Head coach] Jerry Baltes was building a very reputable program and has great passion for running. It was a very good fit."
After winning her first National Championship her freshman year and leading the Lakers with a third place finish in the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championship in 2002, Mandi red-shirted the 2003 season. She was contending with some injuries and gave birth to her son, Zac. "I was going through some struggles with injuries and other personal [matters]," explained Zemba in an interview with Down the Backstretch, "Having Zac [made me] able to focus more on what was most important in my life and not take anything for granted," she says. "I felt like Grand Valley and Jerry [Baltes] gave me a second chance and I wanted to make the most out of it."
Zemba definitely took advantage of that second chance and continues to add to her remarkable successes. She went on to win seven more national titles at distances ranging from 1500 to 5000 meters, as well as in cross country. After graduating last April, Mandi became the Laker's assistant cross country coach and continued training under Baltes. She finished eighth in the 5000m at the USA Championships last June and competed in July for Team USA at the 2007 Pan-Am Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
In December, she received news that she had been added to the Team USA Minnesota roster, a post-collegiate long distance development group, and moved with her husband and Zac from Grand Rapids to Minneapolis. "I am so grateful for the opportunity to be competing at this level. I am learning so much from training every day with this group of elite athletes." Last Thursday, Zemba left her new Minnesota home to begin warm-weather training in Austin, TX. She is preparing for the 2008 USA Cross Country Championships and World Cross Country Team Trials to be held on February 16 in San Diego, CA. Her ultimate goal is to compete for Team USA at the Olympics.
Added February 2008