Find Your Passion: It's All in the 'UA Family' for Gold Medalist

By Noomi Grootens

Annika Zeyen Zeyen displays her gold medal (Matthew Wood).

Annika Zeyen was an accomplished young scholar and athlete long before she came to The University of Alabama campus.

However, her "UA family" inspired her, she says, on the way to winning a gold medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London for her home country, Germany.

Zeyen, 27, a senior majoring in advertising and minoring in graphic design, came to the University to study and be a part of UA's Women's Wheelchair Basketball Team.

"Our UA team is a family," says Zeyen, a native of Hennef, Germany. "From the beginning, I really enjoyed that everyone was so close-knit. We spend a lot of time together playing basketball, but we also spend plenty of time together off of the court. The family aspect has been an amazing part of my journey here at UA."

Winning the gold has been a dream of Zeyen's since she was young, she says, motivating her to devote the necessary time and effort to compete at a high level.

"Playing for the wheelchair basketball program has allowed me to be in good shape, and it prepared me for the Paralympics, both mentally and physically. Although my experiences here at UA and at the Paralympics have been very different, it all came together in the end," Zeyen says.

Annika Zeyen Zeyen, right, celebrates with a teammate (Photo contributed by Annika Zeyen).

She recalled her Olympic experience.

"The last minutes of the gold medal game were so overwhelming because we knew we won. It was such an emotional and unbelievable experience to be a part of. To this day I still can't believe we accomplished our goal of winning the gold."

Zeyen began playing wheelchair athletics when she was 14.

"In 1999, I had an accident that put me in a wheelchair," Zeyen says. "I had always been athletic, and I played sports since I was young. When I was in rehab, wheelchair basketball was the first sport I tried, and I fell in love with it right away."

After completing rehabilitation, Zeyen continued developing her basketball skills by playing with a local wheelchair basketball team. Eventually, she would become part of the German national team, which led to her recruitment to be part of the Capstone community.

Annika Zeyen Zeyen shakes the hand of NBA basketball player Dirk Nowitzki, also of Germany, at a banquet after winning the gold medal (Photo contributed by Annika Zeyen).

While playing in an international tournament in Birmingham, Zeyen met UA's wheelchair basketball coach, Dr. Brent Hardin, who recruited her to play for UA.

Although it was hard to leave home and leave the life she knew, Zeyen says she is glad she did.

"UA is the perfect fit for me because I am able to have the combination of completing my studies and being a part of the wheelchair basketball program," Zeyen says. "In Germany, we don't have any college sports, which made it hard to be a student and an athlete at the same time."

UA offered her the opportunity to hone her basketball skills, leading Zeyen to be part of two National Championship wins with the UA Wheelchair Basketball Program.

Aside from developing a basketball career, Zeyen is working on bettering her skills in graphic design. Before she came to UA, she interned in high school with an advertising company and completing a three-year media design degree.

Annika Zeyen Zeyen at a UA design production workspace (Matthew Wood).

She is interning in the Office of Design/Production of University Relations.

"I've been designing for many years," Zeyen says. "I have known for a while that this is what I wanted to do, aside from playing basketball, of course."

Zeyen expressed appreciation for the opportunity to learn from talented designers in her internship.

"They have won a ton of design awards, and working with them has presented me with many opportunities for my future," Zeyen says.

Zeyen's academic achievements at UA include a 4.0 Grade Point Average and membership on the Academic All-American team for consecutive years.

Zeyen says she plans on returning to Germany to use her graphic-design skills in pursuit of an advertising career.

As for her basketball career, Zeyen is unsure of her next steps. But she's certain she will always be a part of UA's wheelchair basketball family, even if she's thousands of miles away.

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Noomi Grootens is a senior from Miami, Fla., majoring in public relations and minoring in Spanish. She is a student writer for UA Media Relations during the fall 2012 semester.

This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.