November 9, 2012 -
By Southwestern Sun
Amanda L. Abad
For six years Jenny Zuniga was losing. She almost lost everything.
Today she is a big winner, even if her Southwestern College water polo team is struggling. She is alive and free from the violent relationship that nearly ended her life.
A natural athlete, Zuniga began playing soccer when she was five. She played four years in high school, was varsity captain her senior year, and excelled in club soccer.
“My parents kept me in soccer,” said Zuniga. “It was one of the greatest things they have done for me. It made me become more competitive. It taught me to push myself harder than most people. It kept me knowing that as long as I keep practicing or trying, that I will get better.”
Her drive to compete brought her to cross-country, track and field, golf and an acceptance letter from San Diego State University. Unfortunately, she said, the Beautiful Game lost its luster when she fell into an abusive relationship.
“I started dating this guy shortly after my junior year of high school,” said Zuniga. “He was my first boyfriend and I did not know how a relationship was supposed to be. Coming from a Hispanic family where the women tend to the males, I was not educated on the fact that women have rights in relationships, too. Eventually, I was being manipulated…controlled.”
Domestic violence includes physical, sexual, mental and economic abuse. It is one of the most chronically underreported crimes, according to The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Research shows that one in every four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.
“I felt ashamed. I didn’t know what else to do,” said Zuniga. “I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t even know how I felt about it. I placed him on a higher pedestal than I placed myself. I continued to let it happen, I wanted to die. I lost everything because of him.”
After years of mental and physical torment, she said she lost her self esteem. Zuniga stopped competing in sports.
“It wasn’t until I turned 21 that I decided to stop putting up with him,” she said. “I stopped fighting back and left. I finally realized, as he lay on top of me, choking me so that I couldn’t leave. If I stayed with him any longer he may have killed me.”
Faith brought her spirit back to life, she said. Support from her church and her water polo team that helped her remember who she was.
“I didn’t realize how much I changed,” said Zuniga. “I forgot how smart, athletic and talented I could be. I finally had the freedom to heal and to speak out against domestic violence. I felt phenomenal.”
Claudia Chavez said she met Zuniga about a year ago at Cornerstone Church of San Diego.
“Jenny began to attend my Women’s Family Life Group on a weekly basis,” said Chavez. “I got to know her strengths and, most importantly, her heart.”
Zuniga said her pastor gave her pricless advice.
“The condition of your heart will determine the course of your life,” she recalled him saying.
By letting her heart heal, she said, she finally found her true calling —helping people. Zuniga said she gives presentations in class about domestic violence against women and men.
“I am a certified domestic violence counselor,” she said. “I’m also starting a club at Southwestern College to show people it’s okay to be nice, to care about people. We are going to show people that there is happiness, joy and peace in everyday life.”
Aleena Houseman, a friend and water polo teammate, said she really admires Zuniga’s positive outlook.
“She has such a need to help people, to help make other people’s lives better,” she said. “She inspires me to be a better person.”
Chavez said Zuniga’s nightmare with domestic violence had a deep impact on her life. It is like getting into a horrible car accident, she said there is a long and painful healing process.
“After some accidents, we are never the same,” said Chavez. “I know Jenny has a strong faith that God will continue to heal her and allow her to help others that have been impacted by domestic violence. If her experience enables her to speak to the multitudes and be used to bring healing to others that have been hurt by domestic violence, then yes she is a better person.”
Returning to athletics was easy for Zuniga, she said. While taking a swim class, she was approached by a teacher and was challenged to join the SWC women’s water polo team. She said she joined because she was mentally and physically ready to be challenged. It takes dedication to be a water polo player, she said.
“Water polo was very intimidating at first,” said Zuniga. “The other girls have been playing since high school. I had never played before and I’ve maybe only watched a game once or twice on TV. I’ve continued to practice. I know I’m not perfect, but I’m willing to practice and get there.”
Houseman said Zuniga is very hard-working and extremely motivated.
“She pushes herself to be the best she can be,” said Houseman. “She never gives up or cheats herself out of anything. She just wants to succeed in everything she puts her mind to. It’s just in her personality.”
Chavez said that Zuniga loves the leadership and competitiveness of sports.
“Sports helps her build herself up and remind her how amazing and strong of a woman she is,” she said. “I think that her participation in sports helps her physically, mentally and spiritually.”
Zuniga, a psychology major and a women’s studies minor, is taking 15 units this semester, and she plans to get her Master’s Degree in communications. She practices three days a week for two-and-a-half hours, and has a swim class two days a week.
“I stay at school knowing that this is a place where I can concentrate,” said Zuniga. “Sports and school is what I’ve always done in my life. I forgot how good I was at this.”
Zuniga said she plans to compete in a half-Ironman triathlon next year. She also plans on joining the cross-country team.
“I did cross-country in high school,” said Zuniga. “I’d be good at it. As long as I keep pushing myself to these limits, as long as I don’t give up. I have a better state of mind being a survivor, a conqueror.”
No need to check the standings, she said. Jenny Zuniga is already the winner.
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