Rock the CATWALK model profile: Jill Jankowski paddling her way towards this year’s event

Editor’s note: This year we are highlighting some of the Rock the CATWALK community models – showcasing their talents, passion and careers leading up to the annual fashion show.  

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

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Five years ago, Jill Jankowski opened SUP Cleveland, one of only two stand-up paddleboard companies in the area. Inspired by her then-newfound love of the sport, she worked to bring Clevelanders and visitors out on the water, giving them a different view of the Sixth City.

“I wanted other people to experience what I experienced, which was really awesome,” she said. “It’s a very unique experience — you’re out on the water, it’s quiet, you get a different perspective of the city, you are enjoying this great, big, beautiful body of water we have. I wanted to give people another way to get out on the water and for Clevelanders and visitors to be able to do something different.”

SUP Cleveland offers lessons, yoga paddleboard excursions, group events and equipment rentals out of Edgewater Beach. Jankowski partnered with several Greater Cleveland organizations, including the Cleveland Metroparks3 Sisters Yoga + Fitness and Girls With Sole. Several businesses and organizations have held teambuilding retreats with SUP, including Magnificat High School, Cleveland State University Residence Life and the Union Club of Cleveland.

“People go out on the water, some people might not know each other as well, but when they come back they’ve all experienced this crazy thing — they fell in the water and everyone is razzing each other or new experiences people can share together,” she said. “I knew I wanted it to be more than just lessons, something interesting and different and that’s what it’s become.”

Jankowski is passionate about sharing stand-up paddleboarding with Greater Cleveland, as well as combining it with her interest in giving back to the community. Moving into the off-season, she is looking at ways to set up charity races. Like on-land 5K’s, where participants would be sponsored by friends and family, with the money raised going to selected organizations.

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“Not only is it something enjoyable and fun and healthy, we’ve partnered with larger organizations to help raise money by races,” she explained. “That was one of the main goals I wanted to do, was to use this to also give back to someone. I can take people out and teach all day long, but we want to be able to use it to benefit people who might need a little bit of help.”

Jankowski was surprised at the offer to take part in this year’s Rock the CATWALK (RTC), but accepted it wholeheartedly. She was familiar with United Way through her other job at American Greetings — which runs an annual campaign — but this is the first time she’s been involved with the organization directly.

“United Way clearly benefits a lot of people, given its scale and scope,” she said.

Her first involvement with United Way, this year’s event is also Jankowski’s first CATWALK. She describes her personal style as “modern eclectic,” with a wide range of bold, fun pieces.

“I’ve spent a lot of time being practical as a writer, as an editor, so I like to [be] casual, but any excuse I can find to try something crazy, I will,” she said. “[My style is] kind of all over the place, there’s no personal statement, it’s just based on mood and that can change at any time.”

Spending a lot of time being practical for work, she’s excited to see what fun outfits her boutique offers for the runway.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me, probably,” she said. “So anything you want to throw at me, I’m in. It can be bold and crazy, as long as it’s modern, [and] fun. I’m excited to see [the boutique] and work with the designer.”

Fringe Boutique in Moreland Hills is Jankowski’s boutique for RTC. Fringe owners and designers Dana Demetriou and Sherry Medrick are proud to showcase their Cavalier’s championship handbags on the runway this year, and hinted to fall styles including fringed and “cold-shoulder” tops, as well as a multitude of pieces in navy, ox blood, army green and white.

This year’s Rock the CATWALK is Thursday, November 3 at the Global Center for Health Innovation. Doors open at 6 p.m. and tickets are on sale now. For more information, contact Megan Shadrach.

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