As published in the Rider Newspaper
Shirley, you joust!
She is pretty as a princess, courageous as a knight and ‘certifiably crazy’.
Yes, she is pretty as a princess and not only brave, she is motivated and compelled to excel at everything she does. But, her name is not Shirley, its Jaclyn. Jaclyn Ziemniak, who even herself, proclaims that you have to be ‘certifiably crazy’ to compete at jousting.
Jaclyn is one of the elite few women in Canada who joust at this level. Whether it is in a demonstration or competing for money. It is the German type of full contact jousting, called Realgestech, in which the riders earn points for hitting the chest piece target known as the Grand Guard using a solid wooden lance. If you unhorse your opponent you earn more points and not to worry, the horse’s welfare is well taken care of by the enlistment of numerous rules to protect them.
When asked what goes through her head prior to a match when there is a higher than likely chance that she will be pummeled to the ground, she remarked eagerly, “Don’t look at the lance! Don’t look at the lance!”
As like most of us who’s first love at a young age was equine in nature, Jaclyn was passionate about horses too and got her first job as a barista at a coffee shop to help pay for her riding lessons.
At age 25 she leads a very busy life and consistently challenges herself in every facet of it. Her day job is as a department head manager at a private yacht club. Jaclyn is also a fitness pole dance instructor as well as and a first responder instructor.
Her determination to me is admirable and like so many women who have a grand passion for horses she has had to overcome one of the biggest phobias of all. The head game of getting back in the saddle and being self-assured again after a major fall off a horse. Even a confident rider like Jaclyn is still no match for this dreaded horror.
But in my opinion it is all in how you handle it. Do you walk away from the love of your life because you can’t mentally get passed that nagging fear in the back of your head? Do you let it get the best of you? And if you can’t find a way back and have tried and searched and still can’t break that barrier then maybe it is best that you decide to walk away. And that’s all right that is what you need to do for yourself. But I’m here to offer a series of stories like Jaclyn’s and my own that may help you see a glimpse of hope where there was none.
In Jaclyn’s case her upset happened early on in her jousting career. She did not own her own armor yet which is specifically fit for a rider’s safety. On this particular day in Sudbury she wore her training armor which had been suitable until now. She was exhilarated and eager to compete. On the second of five passes in her match, both riders were unhorsed and Jaclyn hit the hard Sudbury ground the wrong way and hit her head, knocking her unconscious for 3 minutes or more. She was later told that she was helped to her feet and she actually waved to the crowd but she recalls none of this. It was Shane Adams her jousting instructor who took the armor away from her for a month and she was not to suit up until she had a chance to calm down and recover from the fall. After the month went by it was Jaclyn’s own will power and drive that set her course. She was determined to continue. She pushed herself to regain her stride from being off for the month and yet Jaclyn had no issues riding. She rode her own horses and she showed up for practice ready to go but it wasn’t until they attached that very same head piece and bolting it down to her armor, that the dreaded phobia reared its ugly head.
Imagine the terror she must have felt. Her teeth gritted, her heart in her throat, her breathing increased and tears running down her face. But by sheer need to succeed and by forcing herself she made it through. She was determined not the let this beast get in the way of her passion. Jaclyn practiced longer and harder than she had ever done before. Long hours inside that helmet with her monster and soon her clenched jaw turned to a genuine smile. She would sigh with relief, all the tears dried away and her heart was filled with the pride of accomplishment.
She has slayed her dragon.