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Olympic hopeful Jessica Zelinka and Nathaniel Miller bring teamwork to parenting

Jessica zelinka 02 - olympic hopeful jessica zelinka and nathaniel miller bring teamwork to parentingCalgary-based track and field star Jessica Zelinka will be going for gold in London this summer. Nathaniel Miller, a retired water polo champion, will be cheering her on. Yet this competitive pair is in no hurry for their three-year-old daughter, Anika, to grow up. Jessica and Nathaniel took a timeout to answer our questions on parenthood. The secret to their success? Teamwork.

What has surprised you most about yourself since having a daughter?

Jessica Zelinka: How little patience I have! No, really … I never knew how impatient I was until a baby came into my life. Having a child has made me take a harder look at myself as a mother. I’ve been surprised at how much motivation I have to be a role model for her (including being more patient)!

Nathaniel Miller:
Walking into our house with her in my arms, and the terrifying realization that this little life was our responsibility, made me feel vulnerable in a way that I had never experienced. It made me so much more aware of how fragile life is, and how important it is to be grateful for each moment we get to experience.

What is your favourite part about being a parent?

JZ: Watching every step of the way as my daughter discovers the world around her and develops into a little person of her own.

The chance to be a part of my daughter’s growth and development. It’s amazing to watch her learn, challenge herself and experience life. I’m a teacher and student at the same time.

How do you encourage her to be healthy and active?

JZ: Anika has always been in an environment that fosters healthy eating and an active lifestyle. The best way for us to encourage it is to lead by example, and that includes being consistent with our values and expectations.

We pay attention to what she eats, and make sure to always have healthy options for her wherever we go. At first we thought it would be a challenge, but the reality is that children adapt very well to whatever you make available to them. As she gets older and the influence of her peers gets stronger, she’ll inevitably start wanting some unhealthy things, but our hope is that her enjoyment of real food will be so well established that the junk food will be what it should be – an occasional indulgence – not an everyday part of her diet. As for being active, our bigger challenge is slowing her down!

If you wanted to give her a special treat, what would it be?

JZ: No chocolate yet! We never really got to the point of labeling certain foods as “treats.” For Anika, food is a “treat” because she loves eating so much. A real treat for her would be having something she’s never tried before or changing the scenery by going out to eat.

Gogi berries, raisins, dried peas, seaweed snacks, unsalted crackers … those are her “go-to” snacks, as well as any fruit.

Finish this sentence: I can’t go a day without . . .

JZ: Being reminded of how lucky I am.

Thinking how lucky I am to have these two ladies in my life.

What most excites you about the London Olympics?

JZ: Having the opportunity to experience my second Olympics as a mother, and having my family on this journey with me every step of the way. Being able to get back into world-class form to compete at my very best for the Games is all a bit surreal for me.

Watching Jessica compete. She is very much the type of athlete who rises to the occasion. Her previous personal best came at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (a Canadian record that placed her 5th). I’m confident she has another personal best waiting for her in London.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, July 2012

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