The Jewish Link and Teaneck Doghouse would like to recognize 17-year-old Kaila Zimnavoda as this week’s Sportstar of the Week. The senior at the Salanter Akiba School in Riverdale (SAR) finished first place in a cross country 5k earlier this month with a remarkable time of 24:37.
Kaila, congratulations on your first place finish. Who is your role model and why?
I don’t have a specific role model but I admire people who strike a balance between self-assertion, confidence, open mindedness and kindness.
What is your favorite sport?
Cross country is my favorite sport because it teaches me about my strength, my endurance and my mind. To be honest, running hilly courses for over three miles sucks. Every muscle aches and my lungs feel like they’ll burst at any second. My body tells me that I can’t continue, but my mind forces me to keep going. This helps me develop self-control and mental strength. Plus, once I reach the finish line, I feel powerful and strong.
Another reason I love cross country is that you get out of it what you put into it.If you work hard at running, you‘ll get better. This also means that if you lose a race, it’s only because someone ran faster than you—it’s no ones fault besides your own. This is extremely motivating.
What is your greatest sports accomplishment?
My greatest sports accomplishment happened accidentally and off the record. During a leisurely run in the park in 11th grade, I decided to sprint for as long as I could. After five minutes and 30 seconds, my running app sounded, signifying that I had run a mile. I had shaved off over a minute from my 1600m personal record! Accidentally! From this accomplishment, I learned of my remarkable ineptitude at pacing (I couldn’t sense that this was the fastest I had ever run) but more importantly, it taught me that my only barrier is myself. Throughout that season, I held myself back from my full potential for the sole reason that I could easily win the girls races by running a 6:22 mile.
Who is your favorite athlete and why?
My favorite athlete is track and field runner Allyson Felix. She has won nine Olympic track and field medals, which makes her one of the most decorated track and field female athletes of all time. I most admire her efforts to improve maternity protection for women in the sports industry. After Nike declined to uphold her contract in the months surrounding her childbirth, she recognized the larger problem concerning the treatment of female athletes who want to become mothers. Thanks to her commitment to changing discriminatory policies, various brands have come forward to announce new contractual guarantees for women who have children.
What is your pregame routine?
My pre-race routine is much more encompassing than most. Starting two days before the race, I make sure that I am hydrated and stretched out. I try to get in a 30 minute jog. A day before the race, I rest as much as I can and eat plenty of carbohydrates and protein. On the day of the race, I eat a protein-rich breakfast and go for a 10 minute bike ride or walk. And of course, I warm up and stretch with my teammates before the race.
What is your favorite sports memory?
My favorite memory is of a particular track and field event in 11th grade. That season, as captain of the team, I had tried to set a good example in terms of sportsmanship and commitment. At this event, the SAR team was energetic, supportive and mature. Their positive mentalities affirmed my success as captain and made me proud to be a member of SAR’s team.
What is your favorite thing to do when you are not playing sports?
I love reading and working on any project that requires artistic creativity. I like to sew, crochet and design rooms.
What is the weirdest thing you witnessed on the field?
During an especially challenging 5k, I passed a boy who was walking up a hill. I encouraged him to keep running and when he had caught back up with me, we sang a catchy song to help us pace. In the middle of the next race, I heard him singing the same song as he passed me. While this was definitely unconventional and a little weird, it was also a sweet moment.
What is the best thing about being a Sportstar?
Winning races feels pretty good. But the best part of being a Sportstar is the mental and physical fitness that comes along with it. Running competitively has given me the tools to self-motivate in order to maintain my endurance and strength.