Jenna Strauch lives the dream as city move pays dividends

SACRIFICE comes in many forms for elite athletes.
Nanjing Night Net

There’s countless hours of intense training, constant criss-crossing of the country to attend major meets, missing out on precious time with family and friends – all for the sake of sport.

Bendigo teenager Jenna Strauch, who moved to Melbourne 14 months ago to further her rapidly rising swimming career, knows all about the challenges of aiming for the stars.

In fact, the most difficult part of her move to the city has nothing to do with swimming at all.

“The hardest thing was adjusting to the change in our family structure and completely changing the way both myself and my family went about our day,” Jenna says.

The daughter of former footballer Dean Strauch is referring to the fact that while she now lives in the suburbs with mum Jane and brothers Ryan and Tom, her dad is still based in Bendigo during the week for work and drives down on weekends to be with his family.

And with her own 4.15am starts daily, the demands of swimming 50-plus kilometres every week, and year 10 study commitments to meet, there barely seems time for Jenna to breathe.

But she never dwells on the negatives and adopts an ever-upbeat approach to her busy life.

“People say I sacrifice a lot of things to do what I love, but to me I’m not sacrificing anything,” says Australia’s fastest female breaststroker of her age.

“I am getting to do a lot of other things that 16-year-olds don’t. I’m doing something that makes me happy, the thing that I love. I’m living my dream.”

Over the past year, that dream has included representing her country at two major swimming meets, including the Australian Youth Olympic Festival where she claimed two individual gold medals in her pet events, the 100m and 200m breaststroke, both in record-breaking time.

Jenna wore the green and gold in a Trans Tasman carnival against New Zealand, won her first open age national medal (bronze in the 200m breaststroke at the Australian short course titles) and took out the 100m-200m breaststroke double at the national age championships.

She also competed at the Australian open long-course meet, which doubled as the trials for the London Olympic team, swimming in a star-studded field that included household names like Leisel Jones, Leiston Pickett and Linley Frame.

It was an amazing experience for the former Bendigo East Swimming Club member, who only began racing seriously in 2009, but soon had local officials rewriting the record books.

In mid-2011, she switched to the elite Melbourne Vicentre squad based at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre under the guidance of respected Australian Olympic coach Ian Pope and former South African Olympian and national coach Craig Jackson.

Jenna was named the Bendigo Sportsmen’s Association Junior Sports Star of the Year in December 2011 – the same month the Strauches made their big move south.

It was a difficult decision, but everything is turning out, well, swimmingly!

“Dean and I have the philosophy that opportunity only knocks once, so take it and see what evolves,” Jane Strauch says.

“The move required our family to split during the week and come together on the weekends. This has been the most difficult part, although we deal with it positively.

“Jenna’s brothers enjoy visiting their friends in Bendigo, while loving the experience of meeting new people in Melbourne. We are fortunate that we live near the beach and spend a lot of time enjoying the area.”

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Jenna receives her Bendigo Sportsmen’s Association Junior Sports Star of the Year award in December 2011. She is surrounded byTavish Eenjes, Callum King andIsaac Buckell.

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As luck would have it, the Strauches also live across the street from former Hockeyroo and Olympic gold medallist Claire Mitchell-Taverner, who has become a family friend and valuable mentor for Jenna.

“When we moved in, she was pregnant at the time and we introduced ourselves,” Jenna says.

“We have got to know her more and sometimes now I talk to her about things like juggling school and finding the right balance.

“It’s good to have someone like that – she is more of a friend than anything, but it’s nice.”

This year has got off to a busy start for Jenna and shows little sign of slowing down.

In January, she attended Swimming Australia’s invitation-only national training camp on the Gold Coast – the first major event as officials look towards the 2016 Olympics in Rio. While there, she worked in a group of six elite breaststrokers, half of whom were Olympians.

Earlier this month, she was in Sydney for the NSW open championships, swimming the 50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke and the 100m and 200m individual medley. She brought home silver in the 200m breaststroke behind Olympian Sally Foster.

Over coming weeks, Jenna will again be in action on the national stage in events that could further cement her reputation as a future star of Australian swimming.

She travels to Adelaide this week for the national age titles, where she will compete in the 16 years category for the first time after celebrating her birthday on March 24.

They wrap up on April 13, but the Australian open long-course championships, also in Adelaide, begin just a fortnight later.

The meet will be used as selection trials for the 2013 FINA world championships, to be held in Barcelona in July and August.

Jenna’s approach to her future is to take things as they come.

“I am just aiming to reach the highest possible level that I can,” she says emphatically.

“I’m lucky to have a really supportive family and a good inside circle of support staff and friends around me and I feel like I have already achieved a lot in such a short time.

“I am doing things I couldn’t have dreamed of just three years ago.

“I have been given so many opportunities and it’s nice to know that everyone is behind you.”

As she prepared for the two major national long-course carnivals in April, Jenna Strauch found time to tell Women in Sport about her amazing journey so far:

When did you start swimming and what led you to take it up?

I first did swimming lessons at 18 months old, but only started competing at 11.

It started as something special that my dad and I would do together – we’d get up early and I would go and swim with him. I always completed my laps earlier than dad, so I used to watch a squad that trained at the same time. A friend and I decided we would give swimming squad a go and I have never looked back since.

Did you excel immediately or was it a while before you became serious about your swimming?

I was lucky enough to qualify in my first year of competitive swimming for the 2009 Victorian Country Championships in Sale.

I swam a PB and came home with a silver medal. This was my first experience of racing at a higher level. The success motivated me to want to race at this level and above constantly.

What exactly do you love about swimming? And what motivates you to keep going?

I love the energy and the adrenalin of racing, which is my favourite part of swimming.

I love the feeling that you get when you get something right in training – I love the way I go to training and I always leave the pool with a smile, it makes me happy.

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Click to read Jenna’s achievements so far.

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I get this feeling from swimming that I can’t get from anywhere else.

Sometimes it gets hard, as you have disappointment, but it’s the disappointment that makes me stronger. Disappointment makes me more determined to move forward.

The biggest thing that I love about swimming is the never-ending opportunities that arise!

How difficult was it being based in Bendigo while trying to reach the elite level?

I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the sport and given a good base while training in Bendigo. My performances qualified me for both national open and national age championships.

From having these experiences, I realised that to further my aspirations I would need to move to a capital city.

What has been the biggest challenge regarding the move?

The biggest challenge actually had nothing to do with swimming. My transition in terms of changing swimming programs was smooth and effective.

The hardest thing was adjusting to the change in family structure and completely changing the way both myself and my family went about our day. At the start, it was about changing the way I think and look about my life.

Are there things you really miss about Bendigo?

The biggest thing I miss are my Bendigo friends, family and the memories I have there. But I think that life can never stay exactly the same, things change, but the memories will always be there.

I have made some wonderful friendships in Melbourne so I am very lucky and I still make the most of my time with my connections in Bendigo when I have the chance.

Have your times improved much in the year you have been based in the city?

My times improved immediately when I transferred to Melbourne, as the focus for training at Melbourne Vicentre was aimed at the elite level. Skill sets such as turns, dives and timing were of utmost importance.

My coaches not only worked on my pet event, breaststroke, but made me focus on my non-preferred strokes, swimming longer distances and building my core strength.

This variation in training provided a stronger base for my breaststroke and general swimming, so my times improved.

How do you juggle swimming with studying, family life and being a teenager?

I belong to an amazing swimming club that encourages and provides friendships and team building opportunities.

I also go to Korowa Anglican Girls School in Glen Iris and I am one of many elite athletes at the school.

My friends understand my commitments and although I often miss many social occasions, the girls often change times of events so I can be included or they simply invite and include me anyway. I feel privileged to be a part of a strong friendship base.

Studying and homework is difficult, but I allow Saturday afternoon to be my relaxation time and I complete homework all day on Sunday.

You must have a hugely supportive family…

My family support me and assist me with daily processes, which I appreciate.

My brothers and mum live with me and we spend a half hour or so each night chatting and discussing our days. I speak to my dad every night before bed as he lives and works in Bendigo during the week and drives to live with us on the weekends.

Dad, mum, my brothers and I always find time on Saturday to chat and do something together.

Who is your swimming coach? What about other mentors you’ve had over the years?

Ian Pope is my present coach. He is an Olympic and national swimming coach for Australia and the head coach of Melbourne Vicentre Swimming Club.

He served on the Australian Olympic coaching staff in 2000 and 2008 and has been selected every year since on the national team..

His knowledge, skills and methods for coaching are sensational, with me having access to the latest and most superior training possible.

Craig Jackson is my distance coach. His “can do”, “nothing’s too hard” strong work ethic motivates me to produce the best swimming my body can produce and I thrive under his guidance.

When it comes to mentors, Mark McGrath has been travelling my journey with me. He gives solid, clear advice and guidance to ensure my wellbeing and body development. Teamed with Aaron Anderson, of Movement Squared Osteopathy in Bendigo, my body is stronger, fitter and well prepared for the rigors of training and racing.

Do you have any sporting role models who inspire you?

Sally Pearson – I admire her hard work ethic and determination to win.

Rebecca Soni – she is the top breaststroker in the world

What do you rate as your career highlights so far?

Swimming Australia National Events Camp selection (Australia’s elite swimmers training camp, working in a group of six breast- strokers, including three Olympians, trained by Australian coaches).

Swimming Australia team for the Youth Olympics Festival (winning a gold medal in both 100m and 200m breaststroke and breaking both records).

Jenna Strauch has made many sacrifices to advance her career. Picture: Swimming Victoria

Bronze medal in the 200m breaststroke at the Australian Short Course Swimming Championships in Perth last year.

What constitutes a “good swim” for you?

I have the thought pattern that every swim is a “good swim” as long as you learn from it.

All swimmers have “bad swims” but I think through a “bad swim” and determine what I can learn from it and make it a “good swim”!

Do you have any advice for young Bendigo swimmers about how they can reach their potential?

Strive for your best, maintain a strong work ethic and take every opportunity that arises.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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