Lasell College senior Chelsea Zeig had quite a summer vacation. While her classmates were working, relaxing and spending time with friends and family Zeig was traveling to the Middle East hunting gold, silver and bronze, as a member of the USA Track and Field team in the Maccabiah games.
The Maccabiah Games are an Olympic style competition held once every four years in Israel, featuring Jewish athletes from all over the world representing their countries. The 2013 games were the 19th edition of the competition, which began in 1932, and featured over 9,000 athletes from 70 different countries.
Zeig's journey to Israel for the games started a year ago when she began the process of applying to compete in this summer's games.
"My father is the one who brought up the idea of applying for the Games in the summer of 2012. He brought up good points about how I was in my prime as an athlete and this was a once in a lifetime experience" said Zeig.
After talking with her parents and the Lasell coaching staff Zeig decided it was an opportunity that she needed to pursue, saying "The experience was about more than just an athlete in an international competition, it was about a Jewish girl renewing her faith in Judaism."
This marked the first trip to Israel for Zeig and she was able to spend a week prior to the games traveling around with her teammates seeing the country. The group visited Masada, an ancient fortress built by King Herod I between 37 and 31 BCE, which is located on the edge of the Judean Desert and overlooks the Dead Sea.
"Listening to the echoes bounce back as we stood at the top of the mountain was a 'wow' moment for us, it made the trip there in the 106 degree heat worth the effort" for Zeig and her teammates.
A visit to the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, also made a big impression on Zeig. The Wall, on which construction began in 19 BCE, holds a very special place amongst members of the Jewish faith. It is a site that has inspired pilgrimages for hundreds of years and is a place where people come to pray and remember loved ones.
"My visit to The Wall became a time to reflect, and was a moment that made (the trip) feel real" said Zeig, adding "I thought of my grandmother, my sister, all my friends and family, and especially my parents, everyone who made the experience possible. It was a very emotional moment. "
The opening ceremonies for the games were another monumental event on the trip for Zeig. Two hours prior to the procession into the stadium all the athletes gathered, allowing people to meet participants from other countries and exchange gear and pins from their home countries.
Reflecting back Zeig recalled, "We got to meet athletes from all over the world, share our stories with each other and see what everyone was all about. Hearing all the languages and accents was truly something else."
According to Zeig one part of the opening ceremony stood out above all else.
"Entering Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem was magic. Once I was actually in the stadium, I just stood there in awe. There were thousands of fans cheering for us and it almost brought tears to my eyes. It was definitely something I will never forget."
Initially Zeig was selected as an alternate for the squad however when another athlete was unable to go a spot opened up. The USA brought a combined female and male contingent of 28 Track and Field athletes over to the games, with Zeig being the only female thrower on the squad.
"At first I was pretty nervous (about being the only female), but after meeting the three male throwers on the team they helped me feel right at home and we became a close-knit group helping put my fears to rest almost immediately."
Zeig, the school record holder in the shot put and the weight throw, competed in the shot put, discus, hammer and javelin during the games. She set a new personal best in the shot put with a distance of 11.14 meters to claim the silver medal. She earned bronze medals in the discus, with a new personal best of 28.92 meters, and in the hammer throw with a distance of 26.23 meters. Competing in the javelin for the first time since her days at Pearl River high school, Zeig narrowly missed medaling finishing fourth with a toss of 23.94 meters.
Zeig will be able to draw on the experience of competing in the Maccabiah Games every time she steps into the circle during her final season as a collegiate thrower, hopefully propelling her to greater levels of success. As for the rest of her experience in Israel…it's already helped her connect with her family, her heritage, and allowed her to gain more perspective about herself. When you see Chelsea Zeig around Lasell's Newton, Mass. campus this fall remember to ask her what she did on her summer vacation. If you're lucky she'll tell you the story of how she learned that climbing to the top of a mountain or reflecting at the base of a wall can be even more rewarding than climbing onto a medal stand.