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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Getting To Know CED Jess Style

Meet Jess Odorcic

Jess and her son Max

At the urging of her step dad, Jess started running in 1996.  While most of us joined our high school Cross Country and Track teams, Jess signed up for local races. After racing a 5 miler, Jessica was approached by a peer who asked her to consider running for the Cross Country team that fall.  After talking with the coach Jess joined the team at Riverside High School in Painesville OH. She found success and continued running in College where she competed at Ohio University and Wright State University.  While at Wright State, Jess would become the 2000 MCC XC Conference Champion, and still holds the school record in Cross Country for both the 5k, and 6k distances.  She would become a 2 time 5k MCC Conference Champion, and is still the school record holder in the 5k indoors, as well as the 1500, 3000, and 5000m outdoors. Jess continued racing locally after college, and joined CED in 2012.  
At the 2013 Akron Half Marathon she ran 1:14:22 to qualify to the Olympic Trials Marathon.  I remember her crying after the race.  I thought they were tears of joy.  Jess has a somewhat hard exterior, she has a pretty smile that hides how tough she really is as a person, mom, and athlete.   Behind those eyes was a sadness I couldn't have begun to understand.  Two days prior to this race, Jess was being urged by her husband, Tommy, to race despite having received the news that the cancer they thought was in remission was back, and had metastasized to many other places. On June 28, 2014 Tommy passed away.  Jess has continued to train, and race at a very high level despite overwhelming sadness, and having to take on a new life as a single mom.

I caught up with Jess to ask a little about her story, as well as why she choses Cleveland Elite Development. 

Lets start with the easy questions. 

Q. Jess, what brought you to join CED?

A.  "I joined CED in February of 2012.  I had decided to train for my first marathon and needed some direction but I wasn't sure where to look.  I happened to be on Facebook one day and I saw Laura Pizmoht had posted about CED so I called her and asked what it was all about.  She gave me Glenn's information and I asked him if he would consider coaching me to run a marathon and he agreed."

Q. How has being a member of CED is beneficial in attaining your goals? 

A.  "I enjoy having a team and a coach because it adds structure to my weekly running schedule.  I feel like I am held accountable and I don't want to let my team down by not completing my runs."

Q. What are those goals?  Short term and long. 

A.  "Right now my goal is to make it to the Trials without any injuries and so far, so good!  My secondary goal is to run my fastest marathon at the Trials.  Considering I have only run one other marathon and that was a 2:51, I think I have a good shot at meeting that goal :-)  After the marathon we will see what happens but I would like to focus on shorter races like 5k and 10k."

Q. What types of workouts are your favorite and why? 

A.   "I love doing 400 repeats on the track and I also don't mind doing mile repeats.  For some reason both those workouts really sit well with me mentally."

Q. What types of workouts are the hardest to you, and why do you still suffer through them?

A.  The toughest workouts for me are tempo runs that are over 5 miles.  I'm getting better (partly because I now have someone who bikes with me) but something about a long tempo makes me nervous.

Q.What is your favorite running quote?

9.  "It's supposed to be hard...the hard is what makes it great!"

Q.I  f you could go back and meet yourself your sophomore year in HS (or your 3rd year running if you didn't run back then) what wisdom would you impart on yourself as an athlete?

10.  "Stretch more and strength train because you need injury prevention!  I was, and still am, injured a lot!"

Have no fear, Elliptigo is here to help Jess stay healthy!

Q. What is your favorite race?  Why?  What mental tips can you offer for racing this distance well?  Any specific training workouts or block of workouts that you think make you well prepared to tackle this distance fast?

A.  "My favorite race distance is the 5k.  For me it has become like a sprint.  I just go as hard as I can and know it will be over very soon!  The last time I raced a 5k was in September and I just remember thinking that I wanted to break 17 minutes and to do that I would just go out as hard as I could and hold on because what's the worst that could happen?  It's only 3 miles!"

Q.What do you think about when you run?  

A.  "My thoughts when I run vary.  If it is a long slow run where I don't have to pay attention to pace, I normally plan out my day.  Make a mental shopping list or think about what Max and I can do today.  If it's a track workout or tempo, I just focus on getting through the workout and make sure I am hitting my paces."

Ok, now for the tough stuff.  Thank you for your willingness to share a bit about your journey.

Q. You have shown amazing strength and courage to continue training and racing at a very high level after the loss of Tommy in 2014. Can you tell us how you do it?

A. "Basically, everyday is rough for me.  I think that people see a happy, smiling person and assume that I am okay but honestly I think about Tommy all day.  It's hard not too.  I have a hard exterior and don't like to show emotion, so when Tommy passed away I tried to go back to my routine as quickly as possible, which meant that I was back to running and competing almost immediately.  Running was and still is my therapy.  It relieves stress and helps me to focus on what is important in life.  Max is my whole life so I figure that if he doesn't see me upset and crying, he won't be upset.  I know that I need to be a good role model for him and that he needs stability in his life so I am doing my best to make sure he has that.
 After losing Tommy to cancer, I gained a new perspective on life.  Watching my husband deteriorate they way he did was awful and I would never want anyone to have to witness what I did.  I saw how fragile life really is and that you can go from being 100% fit and healthy, to a shell of your former self in such a short time.  So I decided that I need to live my life to the fullest.  Of course I thought about giving up my running career all together and just focusing on making sure Max grows up a happy little boy, but I knew deep down that Tommy would want me to continue running and would probably be mad if I gave it up.  And also, that I would be setting a good example for Max through running and staying physically fit.  Max is my driving force.  I want him to grow up knowing that you have to be determined and dedicated to get what you want in life.  That's what Tommy would have wanted and that's how Tommy lived his life.  Tommy was intelligent, strong, very stubborn, and got what he wanted in life because he worked hard for it.  He never took "no" for an answer and I can already see a lot of Tommy's personality (as well as mine) in Max.  Some days I feel like Max is a "mini me" of Tommy.

That being said, my approach to running has changed.  I now know that there is more to my life than training and racing constantly.  Running is still very important to me but I used to be so focused on being the best that I never stopped to smell the roses.  This past year I ran races that were enjoyable for me.  Sure, I didn't win most of them but I competed at a very high level and got to experience new things in the running world."

Q. You are a single mom now.  How has that changed the ability to get in training?

A.  "Being a mother to Max and making sure he grows up to be a respectful man is my main focus.  He is my whole life and I wouldn't have many reasons to smile if I didn't have him.  I am fortunate to have a wonderful support system around me who help on a daily basis to take care of Max while I'm running or pick him up from school, etc.  He goes to preschool 3 days a week now, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  So on those days, after I drop him off in the morning I have about 2 hours to rush home and get my run done before I have to go back and pick him up.  My Mom also helps by picking him up from school sometimes so that I don't feel rushed to get my run in or especially when I have a strength training session planned with takes about an hour or more.  When Max doesn't have school my stepdad, John, will take care of him while I run.  It works out really well because my parents live less than 2 miles away from me.  John is great with Max.  He is an outdoors kind of guy so he takes Max for walks, hikes in the woods, and does "boy stuff" with him.  Which is something that Max needs, and I can't always do for him."

Q. Is there any advice you would give to people in a similar situation?

A. "My advice is to do what makes you happy.  I wasn't sure if running was still going to make me happy after Tommy passed away.  I thought it might have been too emotional for me.  In fact, I ran a 5k race less than 2 months after his death and I remember being at the starting line thinking "what am I doing here...shouldn't I be curled up in a ball somewhere crying my eyes out?"  But then I saw my Mom and Max and I knew that everything would be okay and that this is what I needed as well as what Max needed.  He needed to see me happy because if I wasn't happy, then he wouldn't be either.  Of course,there were plenty of runs where I would cry but running is also my therapy.  When I went to see a grief counselor after Tommy passed away, she told me that running was my happy place and that I should continue.  Part of me feels selfish sometimes because of how intense and demanding our training is and I do think about taking a break.  Again, I go back to doing what makes me happy and stopping every now and then to assess if what I'm doing right now is making me happy."

Jess is the quite, get shit done, gal on the team.  I have never heard her complain, and she always brings her A game to every workout, and race. Her strength is inspiring.   

Nicole Camp, Jess, and I after Johnny Cake in 2013

That introduces you all to the 5 members of CED who have the Olympic Trails qualifying standard!  Follow my blog for updates as the race gets close, and if you have any questions for CED'ers send them my way!

Follow Jess on Social Media

1 comment:

  1. I miss all of you CED ladies. Such an inspiring life, Jess. Thank you both for this post. And that last photo is one of my all time favorites.