Two big things:
1. Guts over Glamour. I’ve always trusted myself and what I think will work over what people might say or think I *should* do, even if I’ve stuck with certain things too long. The “best” coach or “best” program or most glitzy offerings were a) not available to me or b) not as attractive as opportunities that were right in front of me.
2. Progress over Perfection. I was not the best in high school. I threw nowhere near as far as Erica Wheeler’s Washington State high school record or Madison Wiltrout’s national high school record. I never won NCAA Championships. But I kept pushing forward.
I’ve told the story of how I grew up to be a javelin thrower many times, but I want to describe some specific components of it that feel important to where my head is at right now. I have some takeaways from my childhood, the college recruiting process, and finding my way at Purdue that you might be interested in.
My Dad is not military (he’s a civil engineer), but we lived in seven different houses in three states before I entered fifth grade in Vancouver, Washington. We almost went to California again from there in the middle of my sophomore year, but he made the sacrifice to commute to the bay area instead so that I could finish high school in the same place. He later commuted to SeaTac for the same reasons.
I played tee ball as a tiny child with my brother in Seattle. I started softball and soccer when we lived in Hawaii. Craig and I were on a swim team together there, too. When we got back to the mainland, I added basketball as well. Spring of fifth grade was my first introduction to track and field via the adorable mown-into-the-hillside oval at Felida Elementary School. I played middle school volleyball but refused to dive on the floor. Sports were always my method of making friends after arriving in a new place. I used to take PE so seriously that I would wear athletic shorts underneath my jeans in 6th grade, when we weren’t required to dress down, but I WANTED to. This was just before breakaway sweatpants were invented. I would have been their ideal customer.
Towards the end of middle school, a few things happened that pointed me toward individual sports. A coaching blunder during a premier soccer team’s semi-final match that allowed me to be in goal briefly (as NOT a trained goalie) and get scored on, causing the team to lose 1-0, resulted in my own enormous guilt and vicious beratement by teammates. I hadn’t been on their team all year (had only been a practice body during the playoff season), but I caused their downfall. They hated me that day, and while I recognized very quickly that I didn’t deserve that anger (thanks for all those wise car conversations, Mom!), the experience was powerful. Similar toxic behavior had been happening on my softball team for years, plus I was terrible at batting, so I quit and tried track and field in the spring of 8th grade instead (middle distance, high jump and just a little bit of discus).
My high school sports were swimming, basketball, and track and field, which I won letters for all four years. I also sang in the concert choir sophomore year with my brother, and took German because he had done so (and ended up loving it and still using those skills to this day). Honors classes included English, history, and eventually calculus. My high school was young when I was there! I was the first-ever individual state champion for Skyview in 2002. I was a decent post player, but I’m sure I only got to go to the state basketball tournament with the Varsity team freshman year because I had finally grown and was a good teammate. Swimming is the hardest sport I’ve ever done, and the women I befriended in that pool are a few of my soulmates. I used to run a few days a week before school during swimming season to stay ready for the land sport of basketball.
My takeaway from playing lots of different sports, prioritizing academics and other extracurriculars as well, and moving a lot growing up, is to stay flexible and multi-faceted. After learning to adapt to new environments and people as a kid, I was not only brave enough to go across the country for college, but I now travel the world by myself. I absolutely credit my longevity in the javelin to being a multi-sport athlete growing up, and recognizing the value (read: fun) in participating in various activities (athletic or otherwise).
I thought that my best shot at a college scholarship would be division 2 basketball, but once I picked up the javelin, I realized what a blast it was to put effort in and see results come out. I had tastes of that control in swimming, but a natural knack for the event made my experience on the runway even better. My college recruiting process started the summer before senior year of high school. I had won two state javelin championships at that point, and had met Lindsey Blaine that spring at the Pasco Invitational. She told me the day we met that she was going to Purdue University, a place I had never heard of before! I set up official visits that fall to University of Washington, Stanford, University of Missouri, and Purdue.
Becoming a Husky would’ve kept me really close to home, and I wanted to expand my horizons. Stanford obviously has prestige, but I wasn’t thrilled with the high-pressure situation I experienced on my visit there. I liked the coach and feel at Missouri, but I would have had no training partners. Lindsey was my hostess on my official visit to Purdue and became my fantastic training partner, there were four other female throwers in her grade on the team, Coach Rodney Zuyderwyk is exactly the kind of quiet-but-awesomely-motivating person I gravitate toward, and I really liked the big university in an isolated midwestern town. I also had no idea what I wanted to study, so the wide variety of highly-acclaimed academic programs at Purdue was attractive!
I did not get a full ride to Purdue. I only earned 100% scholarship during my final year as a Boilermaker (after making the 2008 Olympic Team). But where there wasn’t money, there was an excellent team atmosphere, great training partners, and the absolute best collegiate coach there could have been for me.
My parents and high school boyfriend were the people I talked to the most about where I wanted to go to school. Looking back, I can’t remember having any conversations with my high school coaches about my decision, which doesn’t seem that weird now: My parents and the boyfriend, plus some good friends, knew me best. I had always compartmentalized my sports (the only one that got anywhere close to year-round was basketball), so relying on those who knew me more completely felt more natural and reliable. The takeaway here is that trusting yourself is really important. Rely on yourself and just a few select others. It gets really easy to be overwhelmed and distracted when you solicit lots of opinions, especially when only the opinions of those closest to you (who have your best interests at heart) really matter in the long run. Do your due diligence in the form of research, of course, but ultimately, your decisions are up to you.
Lindsey and Coach Z. were such huge factors in my success in college and beyond, and an in-depth look at that deserves its own blog post. I think college athletics dynamics can be so challenging, and I’d love to share more about the ups and downs of my experience with these two leaders guiding me. Sometime. 😊
My third biggest takeaway of this first part of my athletic journey (I’m cutting this blog off at college) is to set big goals. I recently went through a box of stuff at my parents’ house, and I had forgotten just how early I started doing this. One of the many reasons I wanted to go to Purdue was that the school record had been an American Record when it was set (60.06m by Serene Ross). My high school PR was 48.64m. That precedent of excellent javelin throwing provided an automatic lofty goal. I hurt my back really badly in 2007, but had had enough success in the javelin before then to indicate (to me and Coach Z. at least) that the Beijing Olympics were a possibility in just the next year. I had to improve by more than five meters to hit the Olympic standard, in the year after a major back injury. An arbitrary-but-huge goal I decided on during the rehab phase of that injury was that I would have the best abs in the NCAA, haha. I don’t have the genes to display a ripped 6-pack unless I’m really restricting my caloric intake, but that thought process contributed to my serious commitment to extra rehab and core work, which for sure was a big reason I could throw much further and make that first Olympic Team.
Part of setting big, giant goals is believing in yourself first, but also having people around you who believe, too (see takeaway number 2). In that box I just went through at my parents’ house, I found a piece of paper Russ made for me during that 2007-2008 push to the Olympics. I used to make elaborate colored goal sheets that I hung around my room as constant reminders of where I wanted to go. He took the initiative to make me one because he not only had similar goals, but wanted to support me in my process. Set big goals, figure out which steps to take to get you there, and bring your loved ones along on the journey.
I’m going to kind of quick-fire answer the question that sparked this two-part blog series in closing. Stay tuned after that for part 2 (post-collegiate, next week)!
Q: Beginning to present, how you became the athlete you are now, the steps that you took.
1. Was active in general. My brother and I were always outside.
2. Tried lots of stuff. Many sports, many activities. New things.
3. Talked about my path with loved ones. Spent so much time with Mom in the car and at the kitchen table, and recognized through his actions that Dad saw strength and potential in me.
4. Kept it fun. Loved the people I was around and the excellent coaches I had through high school. If I didn’t love it, I looked elsewhere.
5. Committed. Once I decided on Purdue, I was all in to that system.
6. Listened and learned. When I had setbacks, I realized that I wasn’t equipped to deal with them yet, so relied on those who were prepared and willing to help.
7. Worked really hard. Why would you not, when you’re able?
8. Was grateful. Coach Z. learned right along with me as we developed my technique. Lindsey was such a leader in ways that she doesn’t even really know I appreciate. Other roommates and teammates were incredibly supportive. I tried to be as great to other people as they were to me.
There will always be more. But that’s all for now!