Only a handful of athletes can count themselves among the top in the country. These few can compete for a chance to represent their home in the Olympic games. A pipe dream for many, a dream for some and a goal for few, there are two RIT athletes who hope to get there.
Third year Environmental Science major Rachel Zoyhofski and third year Physician Assitant major Nicole Mallory have both reached Olympic trials in their respective sports of race walking and flat
The Rochester natives, both graduates of nearby Rush-Henrietta High School (Mallory in 2008 and Zoyhofski in 2009), have not come by their success without sacrificing some school time. To deal with training required to gear up for the trials, both have had to take a break from classes to focus on their sport “It’s not something you can do going to school full time,” said Mallory.
For the Mallory, that meant taking a year off from her studies to train with other high-caliber paddlers. After finishing the requirements for the first two years a quarter early, Mallory left for training with teams in Georgia and later Oklahoma. She returned to school this past fall after competing in the K4 500m, a team race with four athletes per boat, at the 2011 World Championships held in Hungary.
Zoyhofski knew if she wanted to get the most out of her training she would need to get out of Rochester during the cold and short days of winter. Weighing options of heading out west to train with her coach and other race walkers or finding a co-op someplace warmer, she eventually ended up in Kentucky working at Toyota’s North American Headquarters. Though it was easier to focus on training without classwork, it was still a challenge to muster up motivation for conditioning after the workday.
While at RIT, both athletes find a similar way of weaving classes and multiple workouts into the day in a way that allows enough time for both activities. The key to making it work, said Mallory, is concentrating on the task at hand “Training time: Switch off school. School time: Switch off training,” she commented.
Zoyhofski’s strategy is to plan her schedule to get in 65-75 miles of training in a week. During the week she spends a mid-morning break and time after classes to get in a mix of race walking and regular running. The mileage she gets in during the school week is mostly walking, and she supplements it on weekends with long 12-15 mile walks on both Saturday and Sunday.
For Mallory, a general day of training and school starts with lifting early in the morning before classes, and ends late with a workout on the water. Starting around 5 or 6 p.m., she spends up to two hours on the Genesee River in her kayak. The schedule leads to some paddling in dark she said, especially during the short daylight of the winter, and is always followed by the same routine of dinner
To get to such a place in their sport, both women have been working at them for a while. Mallory had been on the water since before she could walk, and initially completed in a canoe marathon. In search of something shorter, she took up kayaking at age 12, following in the footsteps of her friends and her father, who had
Zoyhofski stumbled across race walking as a freshman in high school, breaking the school’s class record for the event in her first race. Splitting her time between walking and other track races, she raced a couple of seasons for the RIT Track and Cross Country programs before deciding during her freshman year to focusing on the race walk. Within a year of dedicating herself to walking she had captured a Junior National Title at the U.S. Word Cup Qualifiers.
In April Mallory competed in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Oklahoma City, Okla., where she took fourth place in the Women’s 500m Single Kayak competition. Although the placing was short of qualifying for the London Games later this summer it didn’t mean the end of her Olympic Dreams. After graduation next May, she says she plans on continuing competing with world championship teams and maybe a trip to the 2016 Olympic games in Rio in a double or
It won’t be until the beginning of July that Zoyhofski knows if she will be headed to London. She will face off against about 15 other athletes vying for a spot on the Olympic team at the Trials in Eugene, Oregon where she will be competing in the 20k Race Walk.
In the end all the work and sacrifice is a struggle of determination. As Mallory said, “You get something in your head,you decide you want to do it, and you will do anything to get there.”