By Alyssa Dioguardi, English Teacher, The Bronxville School
Nov. 15, 2017: This past October, I had one of those weekends where no matter what was going on outside in the world around me, absolutely nothing could motivate me to get off my couch. It was a beautiful day outside – I should have been hiking with my dog and husband, running errands, visiting my parents up in Connecticut, going to a movie--anything other than sitting around really--but nothing came close to motivating me to turn off the Netflix I had been binge-watching since 8:00 am. That is, until my phone made an unfamiliar ping and a notification popped up to let me know that “Jen Zopp had completed her swim!” I looked at my phone and sighed, realizing that as I was about to start my seventh episode of “Friends,” Jen was about to begin her 112-mile bike ride.
Jen Zopp is Bronxville Middle School’s own personal superwoman, or should I say ironwoman! She is a lover of science and teaching and balances a full-time career with family life while simultaneously competing in Ironman competitions. These competitions consist of a 2.4-mile open-water swim, 112 miles of cycling, and 26.2 miles of running (a marathon at the end!). This October, Jen qualified for and ran the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, and this past Sunday, she was the female champion of the Manchester City Marathon, with a time of 3:10:40.
Simply put, Jen Zopp puts the rest of us to shame. Jen and I sat down this week to talk a little bit about her time outside the classroom and what keeps her going!
How many years have you been teaching at Bronxville?
I have been teaching in the district for 9 years. I teach 7th-grade and 8th-grade science.
How do you find time to “do it all”?
Time management and support from my family. During Ironman training, I am awake most days at 4:00 or 4:30 am to begin training in the dark. I try and get most of my workouts down before 7:00 am and some days I have a workout in the afternoon, but I still make sure to be home for dinner with my family and for my daughter’s bedtime at 7:00 pm. There is one long training day each weekend that is 5 to 8 hours long, where I can be home for a late afternoon lunch.
What drew you to Ironman Competitions?
I was drawn to Ironman after struggling through years of injuries from running alone. When I first got interested in triathlons in 2012, I swore that I would never do an Ironman – it just seemed insane! However, I found that insanity loves company. In preparing for my first Ironman, I was scared about making it through the race without dying.
What about Ironman draws you back to competing? How is it different now competing as a mom?
Since that first Ironman race, I have competed in three more, and each time it’s a challenge both in the training and the racing. I enjoy pushing myself to places and reaching goals I never dreamed possible. What I enjoy most is that it’s not just a physical challenge but a mental challenge to stay in the game throughout training and while racing.
Two years ago, I became a mom, and my life as a triathlete shifted with the arrival of my daughter. I am no longer obsessed with the workouts but instead see it as my “me” time. I also no longer race and compete as much because traveling to races is much harder as a family. Family is incredibly important to me and it is important that my passion continues to be fun and not stressful for my family.
What does a typical training day look like?
A typical Tuesday:
4:00 am – Alarm goes off
4:15 – On the bike for a 1.5- to 2-hour sweat session on my bike trainer in the basement while watching Netflix. This year my workouts were powered by Gilmore Girls and Orange is the New Black.
6:15 – Get ready for work
6:40 – Get my daughter up and ready for school
7:45-3:00 pm – School, teach, lesson plan, grade papers, go to meetings
3:45-5:00 – Afternoon run
6:00 - Dinner with my family
9:00 – Bedtime!
How has training with strong athletes impacted the way you hope to raise your daughter?
Being a parent changes you, and I’m lucky to know so many rock star Ironman parents. So many of their children have done races starting at ages 4 or 5. My daughter thinks that all this Ironman stuff is normal, and she wants to help and jump in whenever possible. I hope that one day she wants to do it too, but if not, I hope she chooses to follow her own passion.
In some crazy way, I seem to have more energy when I am training for an Ironman than when I am not. I love that at the age of 2, my daughter loves to pretend to ride a bike and to run around saying, “I do Ironman” in the most serious tone. The biggest change is that I am a mom first, science teacher, second, and a triathlete, third.
How has training and competing impacted the way you approach your professional goals?
I have always been the type of person who likes to not only finish what I start but to also do well. An Ironman is a daunting feat where you cannot just show up and expect to finish and do well, you have to put a lot of time and practice into it. I have also always had an interest in how things work, which is why I love science. Being a science teacher in Bronxville has allowed me to blend my two passions for science and an active lifestyle into my curriculum. I have also been able to coach countless runners through the years at Bronxville.
Last weekend, Jen added a new athletic feat to her accomplishments--she became the female champion at the Manchester City Marathon in New Hampshire!
Receiving Jen’s progress notifications throughout the day while she was doing an Ironman was truly inspiring. In fact, the amount of work, stamina, and mental strength necessary to make it through a full day of racing and competing is something that requires immense planning, dedication, and passion. While my passion for making sandwiches and sitting on my couch that Sunday were not quite enough to get me out and running (let’s be honest, we all need a break every now and then!), you can be sure that I will be thinking of Jen the next time I turn on Netflix and remember that whatever I am doing, she already did the same thing I did three hours earlier while sweating it out on her bike!
Pictured here: Jennifer Zopp.
Photos courtesy Ms. Zopp