Swim team award honors strong traits and perseverance of a Norwich alumnus

Norwich alumnus Michael Andrew Zemanek believed humans were put on earth for others rather than themselves. His passion for helping those who were weaker/less fortunate drove him to take the path less traveled, according to his mother, New York state trooper Sgt. Mary Anne McGreevy.

Tragically, in 2013 on July 31, Zemanek died in a car crash on I-89 due to a sudden undiagnosed heart arrhythmia. In his honor every year, the Michael Zemanek mental toughness award is given to a Norwich University swim/dive team senior who has exemplified the things that Zemanek lived by: self-service, integrity, positive attitude, excellent academic standing, and perseverance (www.mzmf.org).

His mother, reflecting on her son’s life, said the award honors all those traits he showed.

“Mike had a difficult childhood. As a New York state trooper, I worked shift-work and I needed a nanny to help me with my two boys,” McGreevy said.
McGreevy did the best she could as a single working mother with two sons, however she was unable to attend many holidays and school functions due to her career, which was hard on Zemanek.

“His father and I separated when he was 10 years old and he, his brother and I moved from Westchester to Albany, N.Y. In his later years, his father deployed to Afghanistan,” McGreevy said.
Zemanek struggled with finding acceptance at school and in sports as a young child, said his mother.

“Mike had very poor eyesight, was shunned by children when trying to play sports, and was not picked for games or sports teams. Mike asked me many times: ‘Why won’t anybody play with me?’” McGreevy said.

McGreevy said her son also overcame a speech impediment through speech therapy, yet through all these childhood obstacles he always found a way to push through with perseverance, and faith.

“Mike learned that life was difficult, not fair, seldom conformed to expectations or plans, and in fact, some circumstances were out of his control. He further learned that people he cared for would likely disappoint him (at least) or hurt him (at worst). Even when he gave his best efforts, there would be someone who would criticize him. Nevertheless, he also learned to never give up,” McGreevy said.

McGreevy said she is most proud of her son for his trust and faith in God and his consistent efforts to help others. Zemanek had the courage to practice his beliefs even when it was not popular to do so.
“Deep in his soul, Mike loved the Lord. As a child, Mike assisted the pastor with Christian services at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. He had a personal relationship with Jesus, prayed often, and tried to follow the teachings of Jesus,” McGreevy said.
McGreevy noted that her son was actively involved in many organizations.

“Mike was a member of the Boy Scouts of America from Tiger Cubs to Eagle Scout, a captain on his high school swim team, and a member of the Voorheesville Volunteer Fire Department, and worked part-time for Hannaford while attending high school,” McGreevy said.
Zemanek’s desire to attend Norwich University made her feel nervous how he would do.

“When Mike told me he wanted to attend Norwich, a very prestigious private military university in Vermont, I was very apprehensive,” McGreevy said.

Norwich University was far from their Albany home and the cost of tuition was expensive. McGreevy told Zemanek that he would need to find a part-time job to help offset the cost of tuition.

“Mike was maintaining a 3.50 plus G.P.A., was a member of the Corp of Cadets, was swimming for NU, and was working part-time for Hannaford,” during his time at Norwich, McGreevy said.

“During times of trial, Mike let failures roll off him like water rolls off a duck’s back. To exemplify this lesson, Mike bought a duck and named him Terrance,” McGreevy said. Terrance was quickly adopted as the Norwich University swim/dive team mascot during Zemanek’s time at Norwich.

“I think Mike’s biggest aspirations in life were to be a good person, a good friend, a positive role model, and to help those in need,” McGreevy said.

During the summer between Zemanek’s sophomore and junior years he told his parents he wanted to attend the Vermont Police Academy to obtain his part-time police officer certification.

“What drove Mike to become a police officer? I would have to say my insistence that he get a part-time job to work his way through NU, Mike’s dad and I were New York state troopers, and he wanted to emulate his parents and serve his community,” McGreevy said.

Zemanek graduated Norwich University in 2012 and continued his career in law enforcement.

“Mike was tireless in his pursuit of an excellent academic standing and an excellent physical condition. He also encouraged others through positive, motivational leadership, and humor, to achieve academic success and to be physical fit,” McGreevy said.

According to McGreevy, Zemanek’s nickname was Z-Man, and his superhero monument can be found in Northfield Vermont Hope Cemetery.

“The legacy Mike left behind was something Mike’s step-dad (state trooper staff sgt. Gerard Edward McGreevy) always told him: “The strong are here to take care of the weak.” Your life is not your own. Your personal success is the foundation upon which you build, to help others who are weaker and/or less fortunate,” McGreevy said.

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