By Orrin Farries
A love that clears the net finds ground inside the painted lines of NAIT’s home gym. Ooks volleyball player Jonathan Shapka met his girlfriend, Sarah Melenka, while they were both representing the blue and gold.
“It was at the athlete combine. I was living with Brandon Eagle, our Australian import player who had been at NAIT the year before, and he knew Sarah quite well,” said Shapka.
“I was just getting ready to go on the bench press, and Brandon called Sarah and a couple of her friends on the team over and introduced us,” said the 2nd year outside hitter for our men’s volleyball team.
A power couple in more ways than one, Melenka also played as an outside hitter during her standing volleyball days, but now she plays for Canada’s sitting volleyball team.
“The hangouts with the volleyball teams were big for us, because I know we started really talking at the rookie party, and then the next party, so we saw each other more outside of school and volleyball, which I think got things rolling,” said Melenka.
“Practice every night, games every weekend, and travel on the bus. [We were] forced together through the sport essentially,” said Shapka with endearment.
“The coolest thing about us is that we were both from small towns [and we] lived about an hour away from each other. I practiced for two days a week for half a year at his high school, and never ran into each other and just never met each other until coming to NAIT and playing the sport together,” said Melenka.
While Cupid hit an ace serve in the court of Shapka and Melenka, their relationship was tested by the rigors of the collegiate athlete’s schedule.
“The practice schedule was grueling. We’d practice til 10, and her team would have the practice spot before us, so we just wouldn’t see each other at all that day,” said Shapka.
“We maybe would see each other like 3 hours a week, on a bad week,” retorted Melenka.
Their key to making a relationship work between two high-performing athletes? Segmenting their academic and athletic lives from their personal life.
“His work time is at NAIT, my work and my time is at MacEwan now, so we just try to leave work at work and enjoy our time together away from it at home,” said Melenka.
Sharing a home, Shapka and Melenka have found that there are lessons in life and love that they gleaned from their time in team sports.
“A relationship is a lot like [a team]. You win and lose as a team. You can’t be an individual and expect it to work,’’ said Shapka.
“I like to think that I’m a very strong independent woman, but I still need John, and having that team at home between the two of us is pretty sweet,” said Melenka.
On what they love most about one another?
“I love our story, I like how we were right next to each other and found each other,” answered Melenka.
“Sarah’s will to never stop advancing herself is probably the most significant thing that I fell in love with. She never capped anything, and she’s still breaking through ceilings left, right and center,” said Shapka.
Shapka and Melenka’s love got a bump from their proximity at NAIT, a set from a former teammate, and they are now smashing it as an academic athletic power couple.