Team USA Minnesota has added eight-time NCAA Division II Champion Mandi Zemba to its roster, the post-collegiate long distance development group announced today. Zemba (pictured), a native of Menominee, Michigan, is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. She won national titles for the Lakers at distances ranging from 1500 to 5000 meters as well as in cross country. Zemba finished 8th in the 5000m at the USA Championships last June and was a member of the USA's Pan Am Games team. Her 5000m personal best is 15:38.
DtB spoke with Zemba recently to get to know Minnesota's newest star.
DtB: Tell us a bit about how you got involved in running and where your career has taken you so far. I understand you were a swimmer for many years?
Zemba: I did start out swimming at the age of six and swam for the YMCA team all the way through my junior year of high school. I really didn't get "serious" about running until my sophomore year of high school after I had some success in track my freshman year. I was lucky enough to receive a running scholarship to Grand Valley State University and really start training. I ended up winning a national championship my freshman year in track, then had some injuries and set backs, and continued to progress my training to end up with eight national titles.
DtB: You're a graduate of Grand Valley State in Michigan, a Division II school. What worked well for you there, do you think, that led to all of your success?
Zemba: In high school, I really didn't know what training was so college was a big step up for me and I don't think I could have picked a better place to go. It allowed me to slowly progress my training and increase my miles throughout the six years I was there. We focused a lot on strength, like hills, tempos, and good long run, as well as making sure we were recovered after hard workouts. Jerry Baltes is a great coach who always produces good results. He has taught me a lot about running and stuck with me through the bad years. I don't think I would be where I am at if I hadn't gone to Grand Valley and I thank God everyday that I went there.
DtB: Your compeitive career seemed to really take off after the birth of your son Zac. How do you account for that?
Zemba: Before I had Zac I was going through some struggles with injuries and other personal things and having Zac was God's blessing in disguise. I was able to focus more on what was most important in my life and not take anything for granted. I felt like Grand Valley and Jerry gave me a second chance and I wanted to make the most out of it. I never thought it would take me this far, but very happy it did and I love being a mom.
DtB: What events do you intend to focus on in 2008? How about longer term?
Zemba: I will probably focus on the 5k, but I want to try to get a qualifier in the 10k this spring as well. I have never done a 10k on the track before so it will be interesting to see what I can do and we all think the 10k will be my main focus in the years to come as well as longer road races. The marathon is still just a thought.
DtB: Is there anything else you'd like folks in your new home to know about you as a runner or a person?
Zemba: My family and I are excited to be here, and are looking forward to spring :) We have loved being here so far and would like to thank Pat, the team, and the Minnesotans for welcoming us so well. I look forward to many years of good training in Minnesota!
Photo by Victor Sailer, courtesy of Team USA Minnesota.