Talk with Jennifer Bleakney for five minutes and you would have no idea she is a state champion field hockey athlete, a track and field star or a potential member of the US Women’s Under 21 National Team.
Bleakney, a senior at Atholton High School in Columbia, is a soft-spoken athlete who tries to avoid the spotlight when it shines her way.
“She does not mention anything about herself,” her grandmother Judy Frank said. “She’s very modest. Her friends don’t even know she’s in the paper half the time.”
Bleakney was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Baltimore Sun three weeks ago after leading Atholton High School’s field hockey team to a state championship in 2012, and then she won three competitions at this year’s Howard County indoor track and field championships among other accomplishments. She was honored May 27 at a luncheon with the award’s other finalists. (Loyola Blakefield’s Ryan Conrad was named Male Athlete of the Year.)
“I was truly shocked that I was selected,” said Bleakney, who last week was named The Sun’s All-Metro girls Track and Field Performer of the Year.
When asked how she prepares for each match, Bleakney said she enjoys listening to music because it calms her down, but for the most part she loves the competition.
“I just get super excited about playing,” she said.
Bleakney said she is not afraid of a challenge, and that applies both on and off the field.
“I’m just a very confrontational person,” she said. “If I have a problem, I just kind of face it.”
In Bleakney’s four years, she has become close with all of her teammates through a series of experiences that included the state championship.
“We had worked really hard that entire season, and we were kind of the underdogs that season,” she said
of her championship sophomore season. “Any team sport just really brings you close to who you’re with and you form really good relationships.”
Bleakney also plays on the West Chester Eagles club field hockey team in Pennsylvania. For the last three years Bleakney has traveled with the Eagles during the season to play teams in New Zealand and China. Her mother, Debbie, says this has been a great opportunity for her daughter to grow.
“They were in a very native part of China, three hours from Shanghai,” she said and added that one of the team’s coaches speaks Chinese and acted as the translator.
“The girls really had to learn the culture because they couldn’t talk to them on a daily basis,” she said.
Debbie Bleakney added that between all of her daughter’s sports, she has had very little time for anything else outside of school.
“She’s gotten to learn what it’s like to give something up,” she said.
Frank called her granddaughter a “real team player” and said Bleakney is the only member of the family with athletic ability.
“We don’t know where it came from,” she said.
Danny Stern, a family friend, said he met Bleakney’s family when he and his wife moved to Baltimore 47 years ago.
Stern and Jennifer’s grandfather, Fred, worked at the Social Security Administration together and shared a carpool. “That’s how we became friends, and we’ve been friends ever since.”
Stern said he attended Bleakney’s bat mitzvah as well as that of her siblings. He too did not envision her becoming a top-flight athlete.
“When she emerged as this super athlete it was very surprising,” he said.
Bleakney has committed to Syracuse University, where she will study special education, a passion that dates back to her days of being in a mixed pre-school classroom with special needs students.
“I think from an early age just being in that environment just kind of inspired me,” she said.
A busy summer lies ahead for Bleakney. She travels to Lancaster, Pa., June 22 through 26 for the Young Women’s National Championship, where she will be one of 135 athletes competing for the U.S. Women’s Under 21 National Team. Next month, she heads to Syracuse to begin training. She said she is really excited, having visited the campus several times.
She said, “The first time I visited there I just fell in love with the school.”