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Penn heavyweight rowing junior Isak Žvegelj's YouTube video "Started a podcast!" posted on Feb. 6, 2021.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

As the son of an Olympic medalist, it isn't too surprising that junior Isak Žvegelj has been continuing the family legacy in the sport by competing on Penn heavyweight rowing.

But when he's not on the water, Žvegelj's most notable attribute is his creativity, which he has been pursuing through his YouTube channel with over 4.7 million total views.

“I see creativity as a process of getting to know myself and as a process of self-expression,” Žvegelj said. “It makes me fulfilled that my ideas can actually have some impact.”

Žvegelj has been uploading to YouTube for over 10 years. His most successful videos have been ones featuring Lego machine builds, one of which currently has over a million views.

"I have produced various types of videos in the past," his channel description reads. "From candy machines, to paper guns, to short sketch movies."

Recently, Žvegelj has been focusing more on voicing his thoughtful reflections. He began a podcast during the COVID-19 pandemic as an outlet to talk in his most honest self, which he produces in both English and Slovenian.

“I really recognize the idea of social media more, how it plays a big role in my life, and I found meaning sharing my ideas with the world,” Žvegelj said.

His topics have included reflections on his athletic journey so far, his goals for the future, and also a guest interview with his Olympian father.

“My dad inspired me definitely towards [my rowing] journey,” recounted Žvegelj. “I've been in sports for most of my life … but the one I ended up sticking with was rowing.”

His father, Denis Žvegelj, won bronze in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in coxless pair rowing. But his son has made great progress in his own right. In 2018, Isak Žvegelj competed in the World Rowing Junior Championships, placing fourth in the C final of the double sculls event. During the pandemic, Žvegelj kept practicing at home, and he made Team Slovenia for the Under-23 World Rowing Championships in 2021. He placed fourth in the C Final with his pairs partner, Aleksej Tratnik, and he even competed against his Penn teammates from the United States.

Competing at the international level came with levels of pressure, admitted the rower.

“You were selected … to represent your country, and the results you get speak for the country as well," Žvegelj said. "It feels different than any smaller competition for sure, but I think it's these types of competitions [that] is what makes a good athlete."

Representing Slovenia internationally has been one of the highlights of Žvegelj's rowing career, but he has been working through new challenges as an international student at Penn as well. Žvegelj initially noted the differences in culture between the United States and Slovenia and has still been learning how to adjust to the United States. While the pandemic prevented Žvegelj from practicing with his Penn teammates, the rower has finally been racing down the Schuylkill River with the rest of the team this season, which he credits for helping him adjust to a new environment.

“Rowing helped me adjust,” Žvegelj said. “The team of 40 guys has a really strong bond [and] that really just gets me right into the core of the culture. I recognize that the period when I'm here, the four-year period of studying [at Penn], is a unique opportunity, so I'm really taking that as a privilege to be here.” 

But staying creative has been essential to Žvegelj as well in staying on top of his responsibilities.

“[My creative ventures] help me with mindfulness, being aware of the present moment, and being aware of the important stuff because sometimes the mind just gets full of tasks, and then you lose [track of] your priorities,” he reflected. 

The rower concedes he’s not entirely sure what’s in store for the future. But with an impressive background and a planned summer research project with the Stuart Weitzman School of Design, Žvegelj is ready for whatever comes his way. He’s not counting out a possibility of competing in the 2028 Olympics, where he hopes he can further his rowing career to new heights far beyond the Schuylkill River.