EDITOR’S NOTE: BPSports editor Tim Ellsworth is in Vancouver for Baptist Press’ coverage of the Winter Olympics, with credentialing from the U.S. Olympic Committee. Also credentialed there is Mike Ebert, communications team leader for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. Ellsworth will be writing about various Christian athletes and how they fare in their respective competitions, while Ebert will be covering ministry-related initiatives in conjunction with the Winter Games.
VANCOUVER (BP)–As a girl growing up in Wisconsin, Jinelle Zaugg-Siergiej may have played on the boys’ team at her high school but she wasn’t exactly one of the guys.
“I give them most of the credit for me being the player I am today,” Zaugg-Siergiej said. “They challenged me daily.” But, she noted, “The first two years were very rough in the sense that the guys didn’t always want a girl on the team.”
She fared better her last two years of high school as the coach gave her opportunities to play and the team made it to the state semifinals her senior year. The guys even began to accept her — and she even ended up marrying one of them.
Now Zaugg-Siergiej has taken her game to the next level, making it to the Winter Olympics as a forward on the U.S. women’s hockey team. Her ability and her place on the team’s roster she credits solely to the Lord.
“There’s something about lacing up your skates and going out and playing with your friends,” Zaugg-Siergiej said. “It’s like using your God-given talent. I feel very blessed to have been given a talent and to be able to use it for Him and go as far as I have.”
Zaugg-Siergiej started playing hockey at age 6, joining her brother’s team when she was 8 because they needed more players. Raised in a Christian family, Zaugg-Siergiej was homeschooled until high school and credits her parents for giving her a strong biblical foundation.
“I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was really young, but it wasn’t until between high school and college when it became my own faith,” she said. “It was a choice I had to make and not necessarily what my parents wanted.”
Zaugg-Siergiej, who played on the women’s hockey team at the University of Wisconsin, says her college years were a turning point in her life, during which her faith grew strong (she was actively involved with Athletes in Action) and she learned a lot about how to live as a Christian.
Last summer, she married former high school teammate Mike Siergiej. He became a Christian shortly after graduation, and the two began dating about a year after that. Leading up to the tryouts for the Olympic team, the newlyweds spent many hours reading the Bible and praying about the process.
“I always had thought for the last two years that if I make the team it’s because of God, because He has bigger plans for me than I do,” Zaugg-Siergiej said.
She forgot to change the name on her passport after her marriage, and the Olympic team is required to put a player’s name on the jersey that is on her passport. So she asked if the team could at least use “Zaugg-Siergiej” as her official name in printed materials, “because I want people to know that I will be Siergiej for the rest of my life.” After the Olympics, she said she’ll drop the Zaugg and will be Janelle Siergiej.
Janelle Siergiej said she certainly wants to win a gold medal in Vancouver, but more than that, she wants to represent Jesus Christ well.
“You always get selfish, and want to play, or want to be on the top line, or want to get more media opportunities and stuff like that,” Zaugg-Siergiej said. “But I think going into Vancouver, I just want to be grateful for where I’ve been and to be a role model for others. I want to represent more than the name on the front of my jersey or the back of my jersey.”
Tim Ellsworth, in addition to his role as BPSports editor, is director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.