Dec. 10, 2009
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
The competitive nature at the core of Rice senior Pam Zelnick has aided her development in the pool, the classroom and beyond campus hedges. The desire to fully exploit whatever endeavor has earned her latest commitment reveals the picture of a quintessential student-athlete.
Her accomplishments as a Rice sprinter reveal her loyalty to swimming. Zelnick was the lone Rice swimmer to win an event in a recent dual meet with No. 8 Texas A&M, claiming the 100-yard breaststroke in a season-best time of 1 minute and 5.90 seconds. She was Co-Conference USA Swimmer of the Week on Nov. 8 after setting Rice Aquatics Center marks in the 50 and 100 freestyle, has been the Owls' top performer in the breaststroke, and remains a fixture on four relays, a workload that feeds Zelnick's longing to be the best whenever she dives in the pool.
That Zelnick is a three-time Conference USA Academic Honor Roll honoree while pursuing a BA in Environmental Science and a BS in Ecology/Evolutionary Biology speaks to her allegiance to academic pursuits. When Zelnick opted to spend two months in Ghana last summer volunteering for a Humanitarian Medical Outreach mission, her selfless dedication to helping those less fortunate completed her profile.
"I feel like if you are competitive, you're competitive in almost every aspect of your life," Zelnick said. "While I'm very competitive in the pool I'm also very competitive with myself in terms of academics. I don't like feeling like I'm not pushing myself. I don't like feeling like I'm slacking off. I don't like feeling like I could be doing something for other people. I don't like wasting my time. I feel like that's all derived from being competitive. I want to do the best job in everything I can possible do."
So while others spent four to five weeks in Ghana burnishing their medical school applications, Zelnick stayed for two months working at orphanages and participating in programs focusing on HIV testing and awareness. She could have easily spent last summer working in a lab and gaining experience toward her field of study, something Zelnick did the previous summer at the University of Cincinnati in her native Ohio, but she instead opted for the enriching, off-the-beaten-path experience.
Zelnick viewed the mission as a unique opportunity that she could not bypass. In a sense she was motivated by a previously unacknowledged calling to be of service to others desperately in need, but she was also driven by a deep-rooted cause to better herself. The pull was powerful.
"I wanted to experience something outside of athletics," Zelnick said. "Swimming takes a significant portion of my time ... so going to Africa was something I really wanted to do because I wanted to experience something outside of swimming and also for the people I was going for."
The abject poverty and cultural constraints were eye opening, but Zelnick internalized everything she experienced in Ghana. Her exposure to a world once unknown has only enhanced her drive to make the most of her senior season in the pool. Having committed more than two-thirds of her life to competitive swimming, Zelnick is looking forward with great anticipation to the final several meets of her career as well as the vast expanse that will be her post-graduation life beyond the pool.
"This season, because it's my last season, I'll do pretty well at conference if I had to guess just because I want to go out with a bang and do the best I can do," Zelnick said. "At the same time I have been swimming competitively since I was seven, so I feel like I have had my share of swimming. When I'm done I'll be happy to be done, but it's going to be really weird because I've always swam. It'll be interesting."
Because her motivation to excel extends beyond the pool, Pam Zelnick is poised to be one of Tomorrow's Leaders.