Dream Big Profile: Jitka Stehnova
The life of the typical student-athlete can be challenging, especially when one is far from home. This volleyball season, Iowa's starting setter, Jitka Stehnova, faces challenges both typical and unique. Stehnova, a 21-year-old native of the Czech Republic, has started her junior year and first season at the University of Iowa.
Becoming a volleyball player didn't simply happen by chance for Stehnova.
"It is my family's tradition to play volleyball. Both of my parents are professional volleyball players. My father was a member of the Olympic team and national team and my mother was a member of the highest extra league in the Czech Republic."
The pressure on the child of professional athletes is undoubtedly high, but Stehnova has managed to live up to her family's expectations. She started playing volleyball when she was six, and years later moved on to playing for club teams in Europe. While these teams are comprised mainly of professional players, a few exceptional amateurs are allowed on the team as well. In addition to regular volleyball, Stehnova soon embraced the sport of beach volleyball. Compared to regular volleyball where sand is not a factor, beach volleyball requires adjustments in terms of speed and movement. Not shying away from the increased level of difficulty, Stehnova continued to practice and eventually became the European youth champion in 1998.
In 2001, Stehnova came to the United States to play at the college level for the University of Massachusetts and was named to the Atlantic 10 all-rookie team that year. After the UMass volleyball program was cut, she transferred to play under Coach Rita Buck-Crockett at the University of Iowa. Being able to practice and learn from professionals, in addition to competing in another sport, continue to help Stehnova today in her growth both on and off the court as a competitor and leader.
"It is definitely different (playing in the U.S.) because the athletes are 18-23 years old. I used to play on club teams with a lot of experienced national stars. I always used to be the youngest. Here I'm one of the team leaders and the younger people look up to me."
Stehnova's play so far this season proves her teammates have good reason to look to her for inspiration. In a recent match against Michigan, she collected her fourth double-double of the season with 41 assists and 10 digs.
Facing the obstacles of being a student, athlete and leader could be too much for some, but Stehnova accepts and embraces her roles.
"Definitely getting better and doing hard work while trying to be an outstanding athlete and student is a challenge. It's about learning skills and being part of a team. You have to love the sport, because if you don't like it, no one can make you and you won't get better. You have to play with your heart. I know what it's like to be under pressure and work hard. I know how to believe in myself."
With her positive attitude, Stehnova's future looks bright as she continues to excel in her sport. As a mathematics major, she is a prime example of how involvement in sports coupled with a good education can create infinite possibilities.
Stehnova sees herself, "Either playing professional volleyball somewhere in Europe, or playing professional beach volleyball. Then I will begin my math career working in research for a computer company or a bank system."
Regardless of what path she chooses it is safe to say that based on her accomplishments so far, she will excel and be an inspiration to others.
"Nothing is impossible," she states, "If you have your own goals, you can achieve them through hard work. Don't give up because if you're working hard, you are always winning. Go for it!"