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In our October 2015 issue, we give nod to some of the most powerful women of our sport. And with the high-school cross-country season just starting to kick up dust for the 2015 season, we caught up with one of the women at the head of the country’s oldest high-school cross-country championship. Jeanine Zocks, Vice President of Strategic Alliance & Events at Foot Locker, serves as the brains behind the annual competition that brings young runners from all over the country together to compete for the national title. The greatest runners we know today as Olympians have passed through the infamous Foot Locker course, which now permanently lives in San Diego’s Morley Field. As we head into an Olympic year, we spoke with Zocks about what power means to her and what she hopes to see in the future for future Olympians.
Women’s Running: What has been the proudest moment of your career thus far?
Jeanine Zocks: I feel incredibly fortunate and proud of my 23-year tenure at Foot Locker, Inc., one of the most powerful companies in the world. Every leader I have worked for has provided me with the opportunity to be successful. That success stems from a deep passion for what I do each and every day.
There have been so many proud moments in my career but the one that stands out most is witnessing first-hand young high school runners participate in our Foot Locker Cross Country Championships. It has been a true privilege to watch them compete in our race, excel in their collegiate careers, and go on to become world-class athletes and Olympians like Deena Kastor and Kara Goucher, or Meb Keflezghi, who won the Boston and NYC Marathons.
Every current record in the traditional distance events that is held by an American (who went to high school in the United States) is held by a Foot Locker alum; furthermore, every one of the Olympic medals won in the distance events by Americans in the past five Olympic games has been won by a Foot Locker alum. The bond I share with these amazing athletes and with my Company can only be summed up in one word: FAMILY.
WR: What changes do you hope to see in the sport of running?
JZ: I think right now things are at a tipping point in the sport. It would be nice to see all groups with a vested interest in the sport to put athletes at the focal point. I think that our Foot Locker Cross Country Championships is a great example of a program that puts athletes at the forefront. It would be nice to get to a point where athletes can be free to focus solely on training and training together to optimize their performance. This has begun to happen, but there is still a ways to go.
Restoring confidence in the sport and its athletes is another change I would like to see happen. Allegations that surround athletes cause speculation for all athletes. Promoting the sport in such a way as to bring positive attention to the sport and its athletes is key. People tend to pay attention to the sport during an Olympic year or for major events; but these athletes do amazing things year-round, and if promoted properly, people would be interested.
WR: What does power mean to you?
JZ: Power means having the expertise, experience and, most importantly, the fortitude to guide a company and motivate a tremendous support team of volunteers from all over the nation to give this country’s top high school runners the opportunity to not only test themselves against the best competition in the nation but also to set in motion the first steps those runners will undertake on their way to becoming this country’s Olympians and national champions.
As a woman in the sports business, it starts and ends with the confidence I have in myself to excel and to pave a clear course for my team (and I) to run through our own individual start and finish lines. My sense of power stems from my ability to empower. I trust in the people around me, recognize their abilities, their needs, and do what is necessary to ensure success. Power is the ability to empower my team to work toward a common goal with the knowledge that I am there to support them.
WR: When do you feel most powerful?
JZ: Succeeding at my full-time job at Foot Locker, as well as my incredible role as MOM. It’s in the winning moments—juggling work with my son’s baseball and hockey schedules, my daughter’s dance recitals, their school functions…even getting home on time for dinner—these are the moments when I feel most powerful. I am often faced with many hard choices and different things to balance and, at times, it can be difficult to maintain priorities. However, here’s where I’ve been fortunate. My priority has always been my FAMILY—and that includes my personal one at home, as well as my professional one at Foot Locker. In the end, it is my deep passion and commitment for both that truly defines my power.
I have and will continue to see myself as a woman who truly understands the meaning of giving back to the community, which ultimately, provides me with so much in return. Giving to others has always filled me with an immense sense of love, joy, purpose, satisfaction, and happiness. I am the proudest and most honored person to work where I do and to see the individuals on my team grow into amazing leaders. To me, this is what winning is all about.