Make them factor me in
“I took part,” recalls Tereza Jakschová when thinking of her first international competition in Lyon in 2013, the World Championships where she was given a wild card as a young promising athlete. Tereza runs. She runs fast. Despite her handicap. Her sprinting talent, backed by her training zeal and desire to improve, carried her through to the Paralympics in Tokyo this year. That's not all we talked about in the following interview.
It's been about a month and a half (at the time of the interview) since the end of the Paralympics. How do you remember the atmosphere in Tokyo now that you’ve spent some time away?
It's been a while since I've been back. I got into some kind of mode, but it's been really great. The atmosphere there was already cool. By making it comfortable for everyone and with the restrictions not being completely over the top, we were able to function and enjoy ourselves. Of course, there was a lack of spectators, but that's another matter and just part of the times.
When you got there, what did you feel? Even in the context of the fact that it was a year late after all the waves of COVID-19, quarantines, restrictions, uncertainties, and difficulties in training. Was there pressure to perform when you're already there? Or did relief and joy come instead?
First of all, we were tired after the journey. I specifically spent three weeks there, so part of it was acclimatization. We enjoyed the week, getting used to the environment, the weather, and everything, then we started training and looking forward to the race.
In your ranking of the tournaments you’ve played, where do you put Tokyo?
It was definitely one of the greatest experiences of my life so far.
But that can certainly be surpassed, so Paris is the new goal?
Exactly. We've already started our preparations. It's in three years, so you start to get it in your head and you have to decide whether to go for it or not. A race like this requires longer preparation and concentration.
Let's go back to the beginning. When did you get into running?
When I was 15 or16 years old I started doing athletics.
My elementary school teacher saw that I was good at track and field, so I gave it a shot and stuck with it. I certainly didn't have any ambition at first. Just a hobby. Then the head of our association noticed me at a race, took me to a disabled race, and then it developed from there. The results came gradually.
How do you train for speed?
There are different ways, generally, speed is developed up to a certain age, and then it can only be improved. We combine starts, frequencies, also strength in the gym is important for speed. Some people hit it with power, others have more of a swing. And then, of course, running, running, running. We're doing volumes especially now in the fall. In the winter, we normally have an indoor season, hopefully, we'll have one this year, and that means a little bit of tuning up for races. Then the volume training follows in the spring, which is already shorter than in the fall.
Is there an ideal age for a sprinter?
I think it's an individual thing. It depends on what the genetics are, where the person’s current health is at, whether their health will hold up. For example, one Polish athlete is 36 years old and she’s only getting faster and faster. It’s been said that the best age is between 26 and 28, but as you can see, sometimes age can be just a number.
But there must be some predisposition to sprinting from birth...
Definitely. When you start sprinting also plays a role. I started later, so for me, it's a little bit shifted.
So we can still expect a long career. Has your training changed over the years?
Yes, my coach is always coming up with alternatives and changes so it's not always the same. At the same time, he looks for inspiration from foreign coaches. In short, there’s always something new.
What is the hardest thing for you as an athlete?
The hardest? It's hard to say, I'm already very used to the sports regime. I had a day off after Tokyo and I didn't know what to do, I had to look for activities. Sometimes it's hard to find the time, my friends already know that I usually only have time off in the evening or on the weekends. But otherwise, by being in that environment for a really long time, that lifestyle has become normal for me and I don't notice any difficulties.
I'm also asking in connection with your injury. You're missing part of your left arm. If you don't mind, can you tell me what happened to you?
I was born that way. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my arm, hindering its development.
How does that affect your life?
I had to learn to do everything with one hand or help myself. I’m often asked if I can imagine using both hands, but I’ve never used them, so I don’t know what it’s like. I don’t know the other side.
And how does this disability interfere with training?
Of course, sometimes we have to modify our training, especially in the gym. I can’t do all the exercises, lift weights, I have to keep the weights lower in general, but, fortunately, there are always compromises or alternatives. I know from experience that a lot of things can be substituted in other ways.
In running, the arms are essential for maintaining a center of gravity...
Yes, the center of gravity is important. My one arm sometimes pulls me over to the side.
So you couldn't run without a prosthesis?
Like in the summer, I sometimes run when it's hot. But it's just different.
You compete in both events, that is, with healthy and disabled athletes. Is there a difference in performance?
There is a difference in the Czech Republic. I train for Slavia and my performance is average among the healthy athletes. I get to the finals, I get some points, I also ran the Czech Championships in the adult category. There are definitely a lot more races. I basically don't go to races for the disabled in the Czech Republic, once a year at most, because I don't have anyone to run with.
You don’t have any competition here?
Yes, there’s no competition for me here. I mainly go to foreign events.
So, who is your biggest rival?
The athlete from Poland, as I mentioned. I'd like to beat her.
Have you ever succeeded in the past?
Is there a big rivalry between the sprinters? They say the men are competitive, what about the women?
They're competitive too... The women can be bitches sometimes. But since we meet regularly at races, we know each other. There's that competitiveness, but the relationships are good. We chat... Usually after the race.
What are you thinking before the race? Do you have stage fright or any rituals that you wouldn't start without?
I'm nervous. There are some races I don't remember. The start, the finish, and what happened in between, I really don't know. This is the best option, by the way. You're fully focused and you don't notice what's going on around you. Then there are races where the concentration fluctuates. Something is there and you have to deal with it. It depends on how you wake up, on whether you can feel it that day or not. If it's not right, then you look if something can’t be done to make it better.
I usually have a coffee before the race. It's kind of relaxing. I usually put my headphones on afterward too, to take my mind off my surroundings.
Actually, this opens up the topic of sports and the psyche. How important is it for you, do you include any form of psychohygiene in your preparation?
Psyche is important for athletes in general, it doesn't matter if you are a runner or a team player. I don't do special forms of psychohygiene, but for me, the experience I have gained over time helps me a lot on the psychological side. Starting at more and more important events. Thanks to them, I learn to cope better with the stress, to set it in my head, to manage my concentration.
For ultramarathoners, they say that from a certain kilometer onward, the head has to do the running. What about short distances? For you sprinters, it probably plays a role more at the beginning so you don't mess up the start.
The head is important to be able to focus on performance. To be ready to race at that very moment.
So what's more important, the head or the physique?
The body. The gun goes off and the body is the engine.
So a runner who is in great shape, even though they don’t feel good today, is more likely to win than a well-tuned sprinter whose fitness is lacking?
I don't think there is a clear answer, it depends on the individual. If someone has trained but doesn't feel like it that day, they don't go all out. But sometimes their 80% can still be better than their opponent’s 100%. Generally, though, it's the physicality that wins; it’s really crucial to sprinting.
Does a sprinter have time to think about anything on a 100 or 200-meter track?
Ideally, we shouldn't. Sprinting requires so much concentration that you shouldn't think about anything else. Sometimes, there are moments when I think, “Oh, I should do something”, but it's better to switch off completely. You can work on that a lot too, and again, experience helps.
How would you describe yourself as a runner?
A courageous runner...
Do you have a dream time?
I do. But I wouldn't say it.
Is it realistic?
I think it is.
What does one second mean to a sprinter?
Enough, it's like two meters. On short distances, even hundredths of a second can make a difference.
When did they make the difference for you?
In 2019, I missed the World Championships final by 1/100th of a second, finishing a close ninth. That was very disappointing, but that’s the game.
How do you deal with such disappointment? Does it stick in your head for a long time?
The advantage is that I usually run two races, so I can adjust my desire. Otherwise, you can't dwell on the failure for too long, but rather analyze it and find out from the recordings what went wrong and try to improve it. Move on. Many times during training our coach ask us what we think went wrong so we can get a better understanding.
What can go wrong on such a short course? When does a sprinter lose the most time?
There's a lot of that. You can lose it right at the start, you can lose concentration during the course after taking two or three mediocre steps. It really depends on every step and you have to run to the line.
Go all the way to the end. So I'm wondering, is there anything that you've taken from sprinting into your everyday life?
Morale. I can organize things properly, and then that discipline works in everyday life too.
You don't run for a living. Is your current sport/work-life well balanced for you?
I do PPC advertising and work more than three-quarters of the time. It's an ideal situation for me because I sit at the computer all day and think with my head, then I go to the stadium to relax. I can't imagine standing on my feet somewhere for seven hours and then having to go and train.
Your running dream?
To match the world's top runners. To let them know they have to factor me in.
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