Clark: Hard to find a busier athlete than Young’s Grace Zarzecki

SHARE Clark: Hard to find a busier athlete than Young’s Grace Zarzecki
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Grace Zarzecki was in multi-tasking mode a couple of Saturdays ago at Glenbard West.

The Young junior had wrapped up a whirlwind day of competition at the Sue Pariseau Invitational with her odd mix of events: 400-meter relay, pole vault and shot put. Now she was doing an interview, while also offering encouragement and taking some iPhone shots of a fellow vaulter.

All in a day’s work for one of the Public League’s busiest athletes, who was just a few weeks removed for playing for the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 hockey team at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.

“It’s a lot, but I think it’s good for me,” Zarzecki said. “It keeps me busy and I don’t mind the craziness. It’s something I’ve become accustomed to over the years.”

She hasn’t had much choice. As a forward with the Chicago Mission club program, Zarzecki has developed into a world-class hockey player who’s had back-to-back trips to the U-18 world championships.

That would be enough for a lot of kids, but she needed another athletic outlet. So she’s also a member of the Dolphins’ track and field team, a perennial Public League power that also looks poised to make some noise at the state level.

“It’s good to take a break from hockey, just a small one,” Zarzecki said. “I haven’t been on the ice in two weeks. … It’s good to stay in shape and it’s fun. It helps my mental toughness, which I can translate to the ice, and it’s nice to be involved with the school, too.”

Young won seven events and finished second to Barrington at the Pariseau Invitational, traditionally one of the state’s top regular-season meets. Zarzecki ran a leg for the Dolphins’ winning 400 relay team, which had a season-best time of 50.84 seconds. Her goal is to make it back to state after running on Young’s qualifying 800 relay team a year ago.

“Going downstate last year was such a great experience, I can’t even explain it,” Zarzecki said. “I have to give big thanks to my 4-by-1 and 4-by-2 teammates because they’re the ones that make it happen.”

Being part of the track team seems to help Zarzecki feel more like a normal kid, not one who’s got more stamps on her passport than many adults.

The Hungary trip, in particular, made for some hectic times as she juggled class work and ice time during the U.S. team’s silver-medal run.

“I had talked to my teachers two months in advance,” said Zarzecki, whose commitment to academics is evidenced by her commitment to continue her career at Harvard. “I said, ‘I’m going to be missing this amount of school here,’ and I was doing things in March that were due in mid-April.”

Planning only went so far, though.

“As much as I said I was going to get all the school work done in Hungary, it was a lot harder than I thought, considering how much we were practicing and preparing for the games,” Zarzecki said.

But technology helped. She brought along a computer to type papers and was able to check her iPhone for email updates from her teachers. A couple of weekends’ worth of work after her return caught her up academically.

There was a hiccup on the athletic front, when she sprained an ankle while pole vaulting.

But nothing slows Zarzecki down for long, so she’s back doing what she loves — which is pretty much everything, all the time.

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