Irena Sediva (Czech Republic)

Ever since I was a kid, sports played a huge role in my life. From martial arts, to soccer, to chess, to volleyball, my journey eventually brought me to track and field. When I was 12, I attended a volleyball elementary school in Pribram, Czech Republic. My team was successful and volleyball was the center of my universe. However, I always felt that I wanted a little bit more than my teammates, and that succeeding as an individual would allow the hard work I put in to show.

I started competing in volleyball and long distance running. I have to say that I have been very lucky. I am very lucky to have met people who provided direction for my journey without whom I would not be where I am today. Initially this guidance came from my first track and field coach. He saw a certain talent in me, and a hunger to work to become the best. I started to combine volleyball with track and field. For two years I attended Gymnasium in Pribram. During those two years, I switched from running to throwing javelin. A huge role model for me during this time was Barbora Spotakova — a world record holder in the javelin throw, and an all-around amazing person. By observing her, I became more and more passionate about the javelin throw. Through hard work and the good guidance of my coach, when I was 14 years old I became a youth national champion. The following year I placed second at the National Championship U23, and it was there that Barbora Spotakova’s coach asked me to work with him. When I was 16 years old I transferred to Gymnasium Nad Stolou in Prague. I was accepted into the best track and field club in the Czech Republic, and most rewarding, I was able to practice alongside the best javelin thrower in the world who I always looked up to.

I started to travel around the world for training camps with my new training group, and through this, I was able to see amazing places and have had the chance to use some of the English I learned in school. During these years I represented my country at the World Championship U18, European Championship U20, and I became a junior record holder in the javelin throw for my country. Some of the greatest experiences that I had were the training camps in South Africa with Jan Zelezny, the best javelin thrower in the world. Over this time, I also successfully finished high school and attended the College of Sports Management. Somehow though, even with all the luxuries any Czech athlete could wish for, my track and field carrier unfortunately plateaued.

I always felt that an adventure in the USA, and the opportunity to study there, would be something that would make my life special — something that would add new value to my life. However, leaving the life I had built in Prague, for 5 years, wasn’t easy, and so I decided put this dream aside. In 2014 I did everything I could to succeed at the European Championship U23, and still didn’t, so I decided it was time for a change. At the stadium in Tampere I met my future coach at Virginia Tech. From that day, I started preparing for all of the entry exams for USA Universities. I worked hard and struggled a little with my English, but failing was not an option. If I would have known what I know now, I probably would have explored more options that USA Universities offered, but at that point, I decided to go to Virginia Tech, and I know now that it was meant to be. It wasn’t always easy and I wasn’t always happy, but I was on a personal mission. I developed into a girl who knew what it means to succeed. At Virginia Tech, I won two national championships; one in 2015, and one in 2016. I obtained a degree in International Studies, with a second major in Religion and Culture. This was everything that I had always wanted to study, but in the Czech Republic it was not possible to combine these majors with professional level sports. I made many new connections, and met amazing people from around the world who have become great friends. Coming to the USA was a difficult decision, especially when it was not supported by our domestic track and field system, but I can now say that it was the best decision I have ever made. I have grown as a person, I learned to speak English and German, and now I am going to finish my Master’s Degree in Prague and pursue my dream of one day becoming an Olympian.