Athlete Focus: Julia Jeker


On November 10th, all ZIS Upper School sports teams finished their fun and successful seasons with their last game or race. One of them was the Cross Country team, which had an incredible season. Not only did they win many medals and achieved endless personal bests, but they also grew as a team, pushing each other to their limits and motivating each other to give their best. We were able to get an interview with Julia Jeker (‘18), the female captain of the team, to talk about how the season went for the group and how her last ever XC season at ZIS as a senior went for her.

Lions’ Journal: How was the season for the team overall?

Julia Jeker: Overall, the season went great for the Cross Country team. We ended up being crowned the SGIS champions, meaning that in terms of cross country, we were the best team in Switzerland. We were also crowned SCIS champions in Vienna, which includes all European schools. Our biggest victory and the one that I think the whole team was most proud of was the ISSTs title in the first division, where we won with the outstanding results: JV boys winning, JV girls being second and Varsity girls and boys winning in each of their categories. What also made this win very special for us was that the tournament was held in Zurich, as we had the luck of hosting ISSTs this year.


LJ: Do you think that the team worked well together this season?

JJ: It seems to be a popular belief that people might think that Cross Country is an individual sport at first, but once you get to know the sport, you see how much teamwork is involved. Not only do your teammates motivate you and push you to your limits, but they turn into your really close friends. For tournaments, we additionally work even more as a team, as we work together to score as little points as possible to win because that means that we ran the fastest. It works in the way that there are 7 official runners on each team of JV girls, JV boys, Varsity girls and Varsity boys. The first 5 runners count toward the points in the race. I think what our team does extremely well is that we all support each other, on and off the course, and we have such a positive environment created by such supporting, positive members of the team, which I think was essential to our success in the season.  

LJ: What have been the best and the worst moments this season?

JJ: I would say that one of the best moments of the season took place in the mountain training weekend. It was early on in the season and it is where we really bonded as a team away from school, but also where we enjoyed the weather and the joy of running a weekend long. We also cooked together, hosted talent shows, and just spent time together with our team. This helped us build up our team dynamic, which we needed at the competitions to come. I can’t really think of a bad moment, as the season went so well for the team, but moments that can definitely bring the team down are injuries, which can prohibit someone from running and impact the whole team.


LJ: What are the challenges of being a captain of a sports team?

JJ: The challenge of being a captain, especially in Cross Country, is that we have a really big team and that it is your responsibility to take care of them in a way, which in running, is very difficult, as you want to see everyone do well. It’s important to keep the enthusiasm levels high for everyone and to make sure everyone, most importantly, has fun, which can be a struggle sometimes. But, I think that’s also the fun part of being captain, as you get to share your personal experiences with the them and you get to motivate them to give their best and to have fun. You also get to play music to get get everyone excited. Another fun part of being a captain is that you can really see how the team is developing from a bigger perspective and to be able to watch the team grow like I have never been able to see before, as I was given the privilege of the role of being captain.


LJ: Why do you think that ZIS was able to win this year’s ISSTs?

JJ: We worked very hard ever since August when we first got together as a team and some of the most committed runners were running every weekend at a meet, practising racing and improving their times as the season went on, as months past. All this hard work that we put into this sport throughout the season really payed of at ISSTs, since we were at our performance peak. All of the hard training we have had, the cohesion of the team, and the dedication of everyone in the team has contributed highly to our success at ISSTs.. When we host an ISSTs, which we were lucky to do this year, we can have the whole team with us at the meet, meaning that we had 70 runners with us, as opposed to a traveling team of only around 20 runners. This meant that we had this support mechanism for everyone. Becoming the champions of ISSTs this year really visually showed the cohesion of the team. The way we pushed each other in trainings is really the reasons why we were so successful and of course, huge thank you to Mr. Mullens, who always pushed us the hardest. He was able to form this training mechanism that ISSTs is THE race and that all the races we have had before are training experiences for ISSTS. He made us work hard after the races, so that we can build up our stamina and improve for ISSTs, which was essential for our success. Thank you to Mr. Mullens, Molly, and Mr. Sloop for all of their never-ending support.

LJ: How do you motivate the team before a race?

JJ: To get the feels and the excitement up for the race, we run out with our music speakers and blast our songs. We have a very interesting mix of 80s music, which has been running through the whole entire team, but we also have a few songs, which are our main ‘get-excited’ songs for races. After that, we do our dynamic stretching and Mr. Mullens gives everyone high-fives, which is a really important ingredient for successful races.


LJ: What is the most valuable thing that you have learnt in the years of being part of  the XC team?

JJ: Definitely the team work and how much fun running can be. I learnt that if you have fun doing something and you are passionate about it, in this case the sport Cross country, it is so much easier to do/perform well, to be excited and to work hard. The team has really taught me that if you have an enthusiastic approach to a race or any situation in life with a positive, encouraging mindset, then you will do well and succeed. I also realized that a lot of the team supports you in that and that you need people around you to act as a support system that really keep you in that enthusiastic state. Of course it is not always easy to be enthusiastic about everything, but, whatever you do, you should always have fun with it because that will take you the extra mile.


LJ: How did it feel to run your last XC race at ZIS?

JJ: I was more nervous for this race than I had ever been for another one because I knew this would be the last time that I would put on the Zurich bib. I remember that morning, when I was looking at the bib, that I thought to myself: “This is it, this is the last time I will be wearing this”. I remember putting it on with great care and feeling proud to be wearing it. On that race day, I really wanted to give my best and I remember going into the race saying: “Yes, I will leave it all on the course”, as I knew I would never race for ZIS again. I decided that I would give my all and best, in a way I had never done on another race before. Personally, I think I did do very well, as I think this was one of the toughest races I had ever raced in my entire career as a cross country runner, as there was so much pressure and the competitions keeps getting gets stronger and faster every year. So, I just went in that race with the mentality to leave it all out on the course because it would be my last race. I was very happy with my finish and how it all went.

LJ: Will XC still be a part of your life after this season was over?

JJ: Yeah, definitely. I think it will be part of my life for a long time, if not my entire life.The take-aways you get from the team, how much you can learn from them and he fun and enthusiasm they have taught me will always stay with me. I am also going to keep in touch with my running colleges to run with them. My passion for running, that came from triathlon, has motivated me to run harder, which I hope to continue doing in the future.


LJ: Anything else you would like to say about or to the 2017 XC team?

JJ: I really want to thank everyone on the team, especially the coaches, because Cross Country has been such a huge part of my life that I am hating to leave behind. I have enjoyed spending so many hours with all of you, as well as team members in the past, and I am grateful for this experience.  I am so happy to have learnt so many lessons from all of you, all the achievements our team has achieved, all the races I have ran and all the miles we have covered as a team. I am just so thankful for that and it is something that will always stay in my heart.


By: Vivienne Jeker (’21)


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