The Magic of Good Training Partners

I just got home to Colorado from two weeks in Chula Vista, California, my original post-collegiate training home. Russ and I moved there coming up on ten years ago. I loved it. Thought it was magical. It is again.

San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park when we visited Chula Vista for Spring Break 2009!

San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park when we visited Chula Vista for Spring Break 2009!

I’ve talked a lot in the last year+ about how fantastic my coaching situation is. I love love love love love working with Jamie and Dana. They are two of those rare, fabulous people in my life that just get me. You know the ones, that you always have some extra five minutes of conversation to cover before leaving each others’ side. Who say aloud what you’re thinking before you can form the words. Who are there for you in the hardest of times, and proudest of you in the best of times as a result. The ones who surprise you often with statements and observations that burst forth belly laughter. Absolute gems of friends.

As far as javelin is concerned, Dana and Jamie are all I need. The way we’re working together has my focus so much more locked in than it has been in years. All of us being together in Chula Vista on this trip resulted in some of the best practices of my whole life. I can feel performance building even more than I did last year, because I know our system works, and the technique isn’t quite as new as it was in 2018. Sunny and 70 San Diego conditions help everything. But let me tell you about an X factor that I can’t believe I keep forgetting about.

Good training partners are what I want.

I have had many fabulous training partners over my years as a javelin thrower. Let me take you back.

High School:

Rachel Baardson. Lisa Haakensted. Adam Mobley. Kate Helms. People who enjoyed javelin, sure, but also just made me laugh. After the silence of swimming and intensity of basketball in high school, track practice was just such a time of friendship. Sure, we worked hard, but we also talked and laughed and enjoyed outside the whole time. My high school track friends were the original training partners who are friends. Friends who just happen to be training partners.

College:

Lindsey Blaine. Quietly focused. Someone I, to this day, don’t feel cool enough to be friends with. A woman with relentless drive. I always just wanted to impress her. In training and in life.

Jim Schwingendorf. My dear, dear friend, fellow BGRite and party crasher, and neighbor. Whose Dad was my Catch Phrase soulmate. Jim nicknamed me “Knee Sweat.” Always ready with a joke and always giving 1000%. It made me so proud when Jim and Steve Carlson both made regionals in 2008!

Betsy/Laura/Elaine/Kylie. Four sweet freshmen when I returned from Beijing for my fifth year. Their endless energy in their pursuit of knowledge was so special at the end of my time as a Boilermaker!

Purdue T&F Banquet 2008: Me, Jim, Steve, Lindsey!

Purdue T&F Banquet 2008: Me, Jim, Steve, Lindsey!

Professional:

Mike Hazle. That guy. We met in Beijing in 2008 and then were the best training partners in the world in Chula Vista for three years. So unlike each other but somehow perfect together. One of the most loyal people I’ve ever known. He knew exactly how to fire me up and I like to think I was good at calming him down (sometimes he needed that). The end of his career and what sometimes feels like the beginning of mine overlapped, and I couldn’t be more grateful for his leadership and friendship. He was creative in his approach to training and appreciated every day, which taught me to do the same, regardless of how we felt physically. Jamie still writes “Hazle squats” into my lifts sometimes. In May of 2012, Mike suffered an elbow injury, shifting his focus from a second Olympic Games to his other passionate aspiration of serving in the military. I didn’t understand at the time that he was serious, but we started rucking from the runway to the weight room instead of walking. His goal of BUD/S was halted by serious ankle issues that required surgery (on both) before going an alternate route. His ankle surgeon was my ACL surgeon, so we’d pass each other in the doctor’s office parking lot that Fall, both of our dreams shifted into something we didn’t really see coming, and exchange the same encouraging words we always had. I was proud when he finally won a USATF National Championship in 2011 after four consecutive silvers. I loved being at meets together in Europe. But my pride in him as a U.S. Veteran leaks out my eyeballs when I think about it too much.

After my knee surgery and Russ’s and my move to Colorado in 2012, my focus kind of had to shift to myself. I went back to school. I was just healing. We got engaged at the end of 2013 and then I bought a house and then we renovated that house ourselves. I spent time traveling to see Ty by myself in NOLA and Texas, and loved the freedom of those trips. Russ was my periodic training partner and travel companion until he retired in 2016. What I’m saying is that I’ve spent a lot of time inadvertently learning how to train alone. And I do simply love the training. I do cherish time focusing on my job, listening to music, by myself.

I’ve visited Chula Vista at least once a year since we moved away. It is always fun to see Jamie and feel supported when he comes to watch my throwing sessions. But now there is this little tribe of training partners that make the place an unmatched treasure again.

Mike Shuey (Shuey in this blog, for clarity). Intentionally light-hearted but obviously earnest in his pursuits. A newly-minted 80m thrower with a lot left in the tank. Very tough: He’s had some of the weirder injuries I’ve heard of and shaken them right off. A family man with great comedic timing and sometimes-too-good sarcasm. He came to Colorado last year and Russ and I took him fishing, plus I got to learn that we practice well together when he came to the Academy with me to throw with Dana. Very athletic, and getting more so all the time. Questionable musical taste within workouts, but that is something we absolutely have in common.

Max Rohn. Fellow Coloradan. Many would call him a hero. Someone who fully appreciates cool life experiences that have come his way through uncool life experiences. New enough to the javelin throw to want to soak up everything he can, and brings an attitude of gratitude to every session. A strong person without being stubborn where he doesn’t need to be. Up for debate on anything. Excellent mannerisms, periodically including my favorite, finger guns. An old soul with a young zest for this Track and Field adventure that he started later than most, and is likely enjoying more than many as a result. Apparently some of the best humans come from Penn State (Shuey coached Max a bit while they were both still there. See also: Jimmy, Darrell.).

Brent Lagace. A periodic companion for Shuey in throwing sessions. Lovely, relaxed energy to be around.

Justin Phongsavanh. Great hair, and great hair flips because he probably knows it, haha. Has the best surprised face right before he laughs out loud. We can talk about electricity and dogs. Justin is a seated thrower, and Dana and I were both humbled and intrigued to try it out and give him our input. His questions challenged the very way I think about how my able body throws. I’ve been around para-athletes for a long time, but not many para-javelin throwers. They’ve sharpened my focus on how best to do what we all do.

Erica Wheeler. One of my original javelin heroes. This ’96 Olympian is the Paralympic javelin coach at the CVEATC, and therefore works with Max and Justin. Still the Washington State High School Record Holder, I’d seen her name for two years on record books before watching her win Nationals in 2003, when I was there for the very first time to compete as a junior. I just thought, “She’s from where I’m from. I want to do that.” It is so much fun to interact with her in a collaborative coaching capacity, and Dana agrees. We had an absolute blast putting our brains together and geeking out on the javelin.

I spent two awesome weeks with that group of great people, plus my two coaches. I know that Russ and I moved away from Chula Vista for good reasons, and those all remain, but knowing that such an excellent community exists there again means I’ll be back more often.

The bottom line in an ideal training situation is to love what you do. I LOVE training. I love the process of making my body feel good and perform through movement. I love the knowledge that every little thing I do physically is contributing to my ultimate goals. I love being outside and active, often, even when it’s cold in Colorado. I love the necessity of good hydration and adequate nutrition. I love working hard: Asking that extra little bit of my muscles when they’re burning and shaking, putting mind over matter. I love the feeling of surprising explosive power and stretch reaction. I can do that on my own and enjoy the heck out of it. But I forget how much better it is, together. Every track athlete is internally motivated. But there is just something special about celebrating other peoples’ success alongside your own. The X factor of fabulous training partners isn’t something I imagined I would find again. The right people, who yell strength into your muscles when the barbell suddenly gets heavier. Who can’t help but whoop with you at that tiny javelin dot that you made rocket away. Who join in on celebration dances, the more ridiculous the better.

This might all sound really sappy. But I’ve been around a long time, and the magic of good training partners is a big deal. It probably means more to me than it does to them too, and that’s okay. I also realize that I am now the Mike Hazle in the Chula Vista equation: The perhaps wise, sometimes ridiculous, older athlete. I don’t live there anymore, but training there for ten years now makes it feel like mine, and if I can periodically drop in and meld back into that great community, I can’t wait to contribute again in some way.

Have you had great training partners? Did you tell them how much you appreciated their role in your career? You should.

Next week: How to be a good training partner! I’ll flip the script of this blog. More practical advice than just gushing and reminiscing. 😊

The Coach/Athlete Dynamic

I was going to approach this from an “as you move through life, your needs as an athlete change” standpoint, but as I outlined and freewrote and thought about it, there are just a few really important things to take care of on either side of the coach/athlete interaction. It’s a dynamic that can be just fantastic, but it also has the potential to be stressful if the two parties are not on the same page.

I’ve been really lucky to have mostly excellent coaches throughout my entire athletic career, across all sports that I’ve played, at all ages. There have been a few that taught me what to avoid though, and in some instances I really wish that I’d learned those lessons before I had to do it the hard way. A really good follow-up to this blog is going to be one on how to have difficult conversations, I think!

Mr. Steve Hook, my basketball coach all four years of high school (JV and then we both got promoted to Varsity). His daughter was a senior my freshman year, and watching him treat everyone fairly even with his daughter on the team was a really cool lesson in professionalism. Mr. Hook was the first coach who I felt like really noticed my hard work, and encouraged it in a way that just fed my drive to get better.

Mr. Steve Hook, my basketball coach all four years of high school (JV and then we both got promoted to Varsity). His daughter was a senior my freshman year, and watching him treat everyone fairly even with his daughter on the team was a really cool lesson in professionalism. Mr. Hook was the first coach who I felt like really noticed my hard work, and encouraged it in a way that just fed my drive to get better.

Mr. Ron Wargo, my high school swimming coach of four years and AP English teacher senior year. A motivating, tough coach who pushed us exactly right and made us laugh when we hurt a lot from his workouts. He was the special needs teacher at Skyview and therefore the team was really inclusive and so fun as a result. RIP to a great man.

Mr. Ron Wargo, my high school swimming coach of four years and AP English teacher senior year. A motivating, tough coach who pushed us exactly right and made us laugh when we hurt a lot from his workouts. He was the special needs teacher at Skyview and therefore the team was really inclusive and so fun as a result. RIP to a great man.

As you move through your life as an athlete, you become more autonomous, right? When you’re a little kid, you’re just having fun and getting exposed to sport. In middle school, you might be acquiring more expertise and developing technique in your given favorite athletic ability. Once you hit high school, you’re changing a lot as a person and an athlete (ohhhh, gangly basketball days. I blame growth spurts for so many missed layups.), and dealing with a lot of external pressure you didn’t see coming. A coach is just trying to direct angst toward results, and do his or her best to guide you into a successful future. College continues to throw change at you, but suddenly you’re an “adult.” So now you get to provide a bit more feedback to your coach on your athletic journey, because maybe you’ve acquired some knowhow by now! But you’re still such a block of clay to be molded, so also fully commit to the program you’ve committed to and trust that coach. Then, if you continue on to post-collegiate athletics, you’re kind of the boss??? And learning how to navigate relationships you thought you understood when you’re not sure where the power lies gets even more weird. That’s when figuring out how to have difficult conversations is paramount.

So, as you read this short list, think about where you’re at in your athletic journey. Should you feel like you are the boss yet? Be honest with yourself. Do you have more to learn? Are you patient enough (with yourself and your coach and the process you’re going through together)?

These are things that both of you need to do:

1.       Believe in your abilities (as an athlete).

Seems obvious. Why would you be working together at all if either one of you had doubts that you could succeed? But if both of you aren’t all-in in your beliefs that you can accomplish goals, one of you is wasting the others’ time. There will be moments in practices when you doubt yourself for a minute, and your coach can say, “Come on, I know you can do this!” And other moments when your coach might say, “Okay, we’re done for the day, we’ll try again tomorrow,” but you know you’re on the verge of finally nailing that one position, so you want one more attempt, and it’s glorious. Without that consistent hunger to improve from both of you, you’ll have a hard time being your best.

I put the second part of this point in parentheses because I think it’s important to trust a whole person, be it athlete or coach. The best coaches I’ve ever had showed me that they were also fantastic people in one way or another and expected the same from me. Of course you can make mistakes as a human! But being held to a high standard doesn’t apply to just athletics. When I drank underage with some teammates at Purdue and got caught, Coach Zuyderwyk didn’t yell or berate me, but the disappointment was so, so palpable, and it crushed me. When you know you’re representing a good person, being a good person is the only choice you have! And that should go both ways.

Jamie Myers has told me for years that he will be thrilled to be my strength coach for as long as I am a javelin thrower, regardless of my training situation. In 2017, when it became apparent that I needed a new technical coach and to shake things up a bit, it was so fun to talk to Jamie about our plans for my future: Even though we hadn’t discussed it yet, we had the same ideas about how to move forward together with new challenges for each of us! Each of our excitement about those challenges told me that we both believed in not just me, but us as a team.

Jamie! In Sacramento in 2017. We had only worked together for 8 years at that point, ha!

Jamie! In Sacramento in 2017. We had only worked together for 8 years at that point, ha!

If you have questions about your coach’s or your athlete’s belief in what you’re doing together, ask. It’s harder having question marks floating around in your mind than knowing for sure, believe me. Which brings us to…

2.       Communicate.

So cliché. But so important.

Talk about your goals. If you as a coach/athlete team aren’t aware of what the other person is trying to get out of you, you’ll probably be frustrated. A formal exchanging of thoughts on how you think your progress is going can happen as often as you need it to, but I try to keep that kind of unloading to a weekly thing (or even less) rather than letting serious overarching analysis creep into every day of my life (that’s a heavy burden and, IMO, impossible). Daily reports are for how sore you are, what you’re thinking about technique, how you slept, and things like that. And jokes and lightheartedness.

Be open about your concerns if you have them. As a coach, maybe you’re worried about a recurring injury your athlete has had and you can work on a new approach to it together. As an athlete, perhaps you’ve always struggled with a certain technical aspect of your sport that you need help with: A good coach will search for ways to help you, even if that specific thing isn’t in his or her wheelhouse. Learn together.

Another part of the communication puzzle is timeliness. If you’re expecting to hear from your coach before a certain week (maybe you work together long-distance and are receiving your programs via email, for example) and that doesn’t happen, you’re left scrambling. That doesn’t inspire confidence. If your coach is home while you’re traveling for competition and you don’t send results updates, sure coach can look them up, but what does that silence say about your ability to express what you might have learned with the person who likely cares the most? Be accountable by communicating in a timely manner.

Talk about your interaction if you need to:

When I asked Dana to be my technical coach in the fall of 2017, she was floored. She wasn’t sure for a few months if it would work, and I wanted it to be completely her decision to step on board. When she agreed, of course I was thrilled, but I also did my best to be really honest with myself about how I should approach this new dynamic of our close-to-fifteen-year friendship. I talked to my former sports psychologist about it, and she suggested I set goals for us as coach and athlete. I had never thought about such a thing before! So I brought my journaled goals for this new chapter of our friendship to Dana’s and my first coach/athlete dinner (we have them often), and we went through them together. I knew that I needed to check my ego completely if I was going to ask my friend to teach me all new technique, and I told her that. One of my goals for us was to have a blast, and while that was probably a given, the fact that we’ve been able to change so much of how I throw, travel together, and both believe 100% in where we’re going means that it’s SO FUN to succeed as a team. The key is that we talk about all that. Often.

3.       Respect each other.

There are so many nuances to this.

Respect each other verbally.

Here again is foreshadowing for a blog on how to have hard conversations. If you both do believe wholeheartedly in what you’re doing, depending on your personalities and how they mesh, tempers may flare in times of frustration. You’re going to work together again tomorrow, so keep the yelling at each other to a minimum, please! It’s better to walk away and regroup later than to damage the future of your partnership with hurtful words.

The ability to be frustrated and either contain that (channel it into positive effort) or explain why in a rational manner is a life lesson; one that I think is perhaps the real MVP from throwing or any sport! Being in a competitive mindset, getting those rage hormones going, and then turning around and being respectful and articulate is actually super fun. Amping it up in practice sometimes is important, but if the wheels come off, that’s not your coach’s fault, and from the other side, your athlete is trying their best. No one wins the blame game. Same goes for disappointing performances. They happen and you work through them together.

Respect each other’s time.

Be on time for practice. Both of you. Be focused within that practice on the task at hand. Of course you can talk about other things, but you’re there for a reason, and focusing mostly on that reason will yield the best results. This one practice per day is not the only thing that is going on in either one of your lives, so do the work on time and efficiently, and go your separate ways happy with how much you got done.

Those magical practices when I’m done with my warm-up right when Dana arrives to watch me throw, the iHeartRadio station I chose is perfect for the day, we laugh during picking time and then every throw’s technique just builds on the last are just so, so satisfying. It’s easy to stay focused, too, because we both LOVE what’s happening and want to keep it going. It’s FUN to work hard and see results, and a good coach/athlete dynamic makes that kind of practice a natural and regular thing.

Respect each other’s intelligence.

This is more in reference to everybody leaving their egos at home than actual intelligence. The best coaches know exactly why they’re having you do certain things at different times of year, so if you have questions as an athlete about that process, asking them should be totally fine. In the same way, if you’re an athlete recovering from injury, let’s say, and are supposed to be doing x amount of rehabilitation per week but aren’t, getting defensive when a coach asks about your progress is 100% your fault. Understand that people are smarter than you give them credit for, and will be able to tell if you’re not doing your job. If you ARE doing your job, there is no reason to have an ego on either side of this process.

There’s also no reason to hide anything from your coach as an athlete: The only way you can get better is to give your coach all the information he or she needs to operate at full capacity. If you have limitations, express your concerns, and a great coach will be able to work around or help you address them.

There really is so much to say about coach and athlete interaction at every stage, and I’ve had a lot of experiences along the spectrum of negative to positive. I’m happy to answer more specific questions in the comments! These three things were just kind of the biggest that I could think of this week.

I do believe that many different kinds of people can work together effectively. I’ve had coaches with lots of different personality types and been successful in various ways with each one. Learning how each person communicates most effectively takes a bit of time, but I believe it’s possible to figure out most interpersonal interactions, and it’s another life lesson that comes from sport to be able to do so!

This is Paul Merca’s photo of me attempting to “coach” Russ at World Championships in 2015. Not everyone has the coaching, gift!! Hold on to the good ones.

This is Paul Merca’s photo of me attempting to “coach” Russ at World Championships in 2015. Not everyone has the coaching, gift!! Hold on to the good ones.

Instagram questions:

“good coach that matches personality/training style vs great coach that might not”

As above, I see a lot of value in both. Obviously, if you’re enjoying the process with a coach you get along great with, you’re probably going to be excited to go to practice and get better as a result. On the other hand, being pushed out of your comfort zone personality-wise might result in learning a ton more. My advice here would be to ask yourself what you need to reach your goals. Do you need to just enjoy the process more in order to do the work? Option A. Do you have glaring holes in your training that a more advanced/knowledgeable/”great” coach might fill, but it will be uncomfortable? Prepare your mind to endure some discomfort and dive right into Option B. It’s a very personal thing.

My subsection to almost every question like this is to have something else in your life as well. My former coach and I didn’t not get along, but it was never truly comfortable, you know? But that never bothered me because a) he taught me a lot, b) we saw some success together and c) I had other things in my life that brought me a lot of joy. A coach won’t solve all of your problems, even if you get along great with them. Be happy in life in general, and that will bolster your training, promise.

“How important is it to have a good dynamic with your coach, specifically on the college level.”

Again, I’m a firm believer that many different kinds of people can work together successfully. Even if your coach/athlete dynamic isn’t great, that doesn’t mean that your coach isn’t a good coach or that you aren’t a good athlete! I do think a good coach/athlete dynamic in college is important, and I think there are a lot of ways to improve it, you just have to put in the effort. I was really grateful for mine, but a big part of that (and I was considering this even before I got your question) is also your teammates. I had fantastic teammates at Purdue who also adored Coach Zuyderwyk, and the confidence we all talked about having in him just grew as we all agreed. If maybe your team has taken on a more negative tone and that’s influencing your opinion of your coach, try being brave enough to put a stop to that downward spiral. Try something new that your coach suggests, be open to how it helps you, and then talk to your teammates about it. Change the tide and create positivity not only in your own life, but on your team.

Be a Good (Individual) Sport

Good sportsmanship is important, regardless of what specific activity you have chosen to compete in. Child or adult, male or female, team sport or individual, shaking hands and saying, “Good job” should always be part of the experience. Some people compete differently than others, and respecting another person’s process is part of sportsmanship as well, but when the match concludes, being able to treat others how you would like to be treated is just as much a part of sport as throwing far, jumping high, or scoring lots of points.

This year, 2019, will be my 18th overall season as a javelin thrower. I’ve competed with all kinds of individuals. I can’t pretend that I’m the perfect competitor, and likely that doesn’t exist, as I’m sure any behavior can be subjectively perceived by somebody as not ideal. But I’m here to tell you that athletes in individual sports can and should be friends! Especially in the field events within track and field.

Mostly, I think throwers already have this down. I have formed wonderful friendships through teammates and competitors alike, but the negative experiences have also been pretty darn negative, so I think it’s a worthwhile conversation. If you can strike the balance of doing what you need to do to perform well and also support your fellow athlete, you’re succeeding! I promise it’s possible to do both.

Two big reasons you can be friends in field events, and if you’re not friends, you should at least be sportsmanlike:

1.       You have no effect on someone else’s performance.

2.       You’ve all chosen to do this niche, weird thing. You probably have stuff in common.

Let’s start with the first one. Individual sports are either combative or not. Wrestlers, fencers, judo athletes and boxers literally fight each other to see who wins. Divers, gymnasts, jumpers and throwers take turns performing, and scores or distances decide the victor. In an individual, non-combative sport, there is nothing you can do to change someone else’s outcome: You only control your own destiny. Knowing that, focusing on it, and relying on your own strengths and talents is how you win. Then, having enough confidence in your own process that you can genuinely support others’ efforts can be really empowering.

At a basic level, yes, you have no effect on someone else’s outcome. If you aren’t nice, though, just know that a strong competitor will beat you anyway. Almost nothing fires me up more than someone being unnecessarily rude within a competition, and my track record in rising above that behavior with far throws is almost flawless (and luckily, it doesn’t happen that often). In the other, happier direction, cheering others on can make a big difference in certain situations.

Barbora Špotáková told me a really neat story a few years ago about the Beijing 2008 Olympic Final. A Russian, who has since been stripped of her silver medal, was leading the competition. It came down to the sixth and final round, and Barbora was in silver medal position. The last two people to throw would be Barbora and that current Russian leader. She was nervous, she said she didn’t know if she could do it (pass the leader), and suddenly a few other women who had been her top competitors for years and years encouraged her. They told her that they believed, and Barbora threw 71.42m to win her first Olympic Gold. I’ve sung my friend Barbora’s praises many times, but this story of many other competitors lifting her up when she needed it (and, I would argue, when the sport needed it) speaks volumes of her as a sportsmanlike, strong competitor. Those other women had done their best and focused on their own outcome to that point, but also saw the role that they could play in empowering Barbora, who had it within her to win, in that moment.

Cheering people on within competition isn’t something that really has to happen. Because in the same way that you’re in charge of your performance, so is everyone else! It’s not your responsibility to cheer others on, it just can be your privilege. Another way to be a supportive presence in the course of a meet is simply staying in your own lane. Everyone has their own process, whether that’s blasting metal through headphones, napping in the warm-up area, being chatty, or appearing moody but maybe just being focused on the task at hand. Respect others’ processes. Don’t bound up to a quiet person and demand conversation. Put your own headphones or earplugs in if someone’s loud music starts to bother you. Find your own quiet corner to lay down between throws if you need to. Let others do as they will, and focus on your own job while they do the same. Everyone is different, and there isn’t one right way to be.

It's true that everyone is different, but you also are all doing the same thing. Point number 2 is that perhaps you have more in common with your competitors than you think! And common ground is a basis for friendship.

It would be difficult to forge a full-fledged Friendship on the javelin runway in the midst of competition, but hints of one might begin there. Being a respectful competitor can open the door for conversation and camaraderie off the runway, though, and you might be surprised by just how much you have in common with and like your fellow throwers.

I first (very briefly) met Dana at the 2004 Olympic Trials, where she did well and I was 19th out of 21 competitors. We threw against each other again in April of the next year at Cal Berkeley, where I threw 52 meters for the first time, in large part due to inspiration by Dana (who won). We met again at NACAC U-23 Championships in July of 2006 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where she won in dominating fashion and I was seventh. We had an absolute blast with Britney Henry, Russ, Adam Kuehl, and everyone else amazing on that trip. Would I have become life-long friends with and a happy wife to these people if I had sulked about my performance? No. They’re some of the most important ones in my life, and now Dana is my fantastic, fun coach. I love that we became friends through our competitive years and are now making dreams come true together.

Photos above are 12 years apart: Dominican Republic to Vail, CO! <3

OT 2012.JPG

In 2012, during warm-ups for the final of the Olympic Trials, Dana had everyone get together for a group photo (it was her last Olympic Trials). In this photo, Ari and I stood right next to each other. We didn’t really speak again for five years. Then, at a meet at IMG Academy in 2017, she, Maggie Malone and I were roommates and the only elite javelin throwers in attendance. We decided to help each other out in competition as no one’s coach had come, Ari PRed and made her first world team later that summer, we swam in the ocean, and it became clear really quickly that we were meant to be Friends! I’m visiting her in Houston this week, training together and watching Kimmy Schmidt. If we took ourselves too seriously as javelin throwers, we would have missed out on a friendship that I treasure dearly. We met throwing the javelin, but we’ve bonded over a lot of other things! And friendship will last longer than javelin.

Maybe you have friendship potential with competitors that you haven’t recognized yet. Friendship will last longer than any sport, not just specifically javelin. Sportsmanlike behavior, in my opinion, is much easier than the opposite. In my experience, being closed off, nervous, and protective of your own space is more difficult than just relaxing within a competition. Trying to take myself really seriously has always resulted in tightness and disappointment, and that’s a trap I’m trying my hardest not to fall into anymore at the biggest meets each season. Dana accompanying me to Zurich in 2018 was huge for keeping me relaxed and having fun when it mattered the most.

Post-2018 Diamond League Final, happy in the stands!

Post-2018 Diamond League Final, happy in the stands!

That last idea leads me to answering a question I got on Instagram:

Q: In high school I always felt judged and nervous at a meet, how do I fix that for college?

A: You’re nervous because you care about the outcome! I still get nervous, because I want to do well, and represent those who believe in me to the best of my ability. Being able to handle nerves, though, comes down to knowing that you did everything in your power to be ready for the opportunity that you’re facing. Focus in on a few cues that have worked really well for you leading into competition, and only worry about executing those. Having objective goals and knowing you have developed the tools to achieve them through hard work helps relax you, and then far throws can happen!

Perceived judgement is a little bit of a different thing. 1) If you think competitors are judging you, stop that right now. It’s not your job to worry about what they’re thinking, and likely they’re too worried about their own job to give you a second thought! Only worry about what you can control, and others’ thoughts don’t belong in that category. This takes practice but is such a valuable mental tool! 2) I used to get really worked up about the crowd watching too, so if spectators’ attention is what makes you feel judged, I get you! The thing that I came to realize, though, is that people are watching because they want to be wowed. Spectators are there because they want to see something amazing happen!! So their attention is always positive. Focus on that and hopefully you’ll grow to feel their presence and cheers as support rather than pressure. I’d love to hear how it goes!

How to Prevent Injury (Injuries, Pt. 1)

I started writing a blog about how to return from injury, then found myself writing about three different facets of injury. So now I am writing three different blogs. This is the first one!

Ideally, we wouldn’t have to miss out on playing time because our bodies betray us. Sadly, that hasn’t been my experience, but there are a few things you can do as a developing athlete to try and ward off injury:

1.       Be well-rounded.

As this world gets more and more competitive, it is more and more common for athletes to focus on just one sport really early in life. That can lead to injury. Continue to be a well-rounded athlete for as long as possible.

I’m a huge advocate for playing other sports, especially growing up. Tee-ball and softball were my first sports, I played soccer, volleyball, and basketball, swam and finally tried track and field in 8th grade. I vividly remember getting cut from the first basketball tryout I went to, and even took a tennis lesson once. I used to golf with my Mom. We went on (very few!) ski trips in elementary and middle school, and surfing on vacation in Hawaii. I was a three-sport athlete all through high school, and my track season each year remained relegated to track season until I was a scholarship athlete at Purdue. I had traumatic injuries, sure (turned ankles, some connective tissue damage from throwing in the cold, a bruised tailbone after an off-kilter rebound, a broken arm (from mud football with my friends)), but I didn’t experience an overuse injury until I became a single-sport athlete. Take a moment to google “overuse injuries in youth sports,” and let that plethora of returns motivate you to stay well-rounded.

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These days, my well-roundedness includes walking the dog every day, running with her, swimming laps each week, and hikes with my Russ. He and I have talked about how great hiking is for glute and core stabilization, and therefore for knee and back health. My healthiest professional seasons have been in conjunction with home renovation (read: manual labor), and I guarantee it’s because I’m moving my body in different planes than it needs to to throw the javelin. Give your javelin muscles a break. Do something ELSE physical that makes you happy.

2.       Pre-hab.

You’re probably familiar with the abbrev. “rehab.” Its lesser-known partner, prehabilitation, is my favorite. Athletes (and this was the case with me) often have to go through injury and the subsequent rehabilitation to realize that there is something they could have done before disaster struck to possibly avoid it. I had no idea how my knees *should* be moving before I tore my ACL, and now that I have the knowledge, my heart hurts sometimes thinking about what could have been if I’d been proactive before.

Seek out a physical therapist who employs preventative therapy. More and more, physical therapy clinics are diagnosing imbalances and weaknesses in clients and tailoring specific programs to help individuals overcome them and prevent further injury as a result. You might come in with a specific complaint, but a fantastic physical therapy office won’t just treat the culprit and send you away, they’ll take a look at how your entire body is moving and help you correct things you didn’t know were wrong. Pain in a certain area doesn’t mean that area is the only problem. If you are in Southern California, PLEASE go see Sports Performance Physical Therapy. If you’re somewhere else, it’s likely that the SP Team could help you get linked up with a quality provider in your area.

Athletes have egos. That is an age-old truth. But please remember that the way your body moves is just a fact. You’ve done nothing wrong to this point to make it move “badly” or “well.” If you’re already an athlete, you’re doing great, but imagine how much better you could perform if you weren’t hindered by little hiccups in your movement. Check your ego and just go see. Ironing out the kinks that you’re not fully aware of could mean complete freedom on the playing field. That's the opportunity that a good PT is living for. They are wonderful people who love sport and only want to help you perform at your very best. If you’ve already been introduced to a clinic through injury, that’s unfortunate, but use that relationship to build on your foundation when you’re reintroduced to sport after the injury rather than turning your back on what’s easy to compartmentalize as a difficult time in your life. Turn that rehab into prehab, and become the best you.

3.       Rest and recovery.

Work work work work work, then RECOVER. Regardless of sport, recovery from activity is essential to avoiding injury. You get nothing from the high quality work you put in if you don’t give your body an opportunity to absorb it. If you deny your body the chance to heal from all of the micro-trauma it goes through in training, eventually it will retaliate.

Recovery days could be anything in my book. If I’m just at home, I’ll do some core and go for a swim after yard work. If I want more adventure or I have something planned with Russ and Maddie, it means paddleboarding, hiking, fishing (sitting in nature’s ice tub while Russ fishes), or other outdoorsy fun. If I’m in Europe and travel days have been particularly frequent, I count that exhaustion (plus always core) as my activity for the day and cut my swimming way down, prioritizing rest otherwise. Active recovery is anything that balances your body back out from the stresses of the sport you do. Bonus points if your chosen method of recovery also relaxes your mind (my outdoors and family focus).

Recovery also includes things like massage therapy, chiropractic work, NormaTec system usage, contrast baths, etc. Again, putting your body back together after hard work and before more hard work happens. You must reset and restore the body before you ask more of it, or you’re just piling on to a stressed system. If I ignore this part, eventually I’ll be feeling pretty good in a lift, and all of a sudden my old friend the back spasm will show up. Recovery is important for good performance, yes, but that’s because it allows quality training to continue.

Rest is something altogether different than recovery. I LOVE me an entire day at home with Madeline, walking when we feel like it, napping, cooking new recipes, maybe pulling a weed outside, playing piano, and binge-watching funny shows. I can be very, very good at an off day. Sometimes the three of us will go out to the farm to play Bridge with Russ’s grandparents and enjoy a gorgeous sunset fetch. Complete rest days are necessary for body and (my) soul.

I was sick last week. I won’t go into too much detail, but GI distress away from home is no fun. I barely left my hotel room for three days and still didn’t quite feel right during warm-ups for the Athletics World Cup. The worst night of my sickness, I was up and down all night from 11pm-on, but slept well when I was down, then slept until 3pm. I had absolutely no trouble sleeping that night either. Come competition day, I was surprised by how good my body felt, even if my stomach was still complaining! The reason is rest. It is so healing. Do it.

 

My career is not a great example of how to avoid injury (L5 stress fracture 2007, ACL tear 2012, L shoulder labrum and rotator cuff tears 2015), but it is a great example of how to learn from difficult experiences and return to action, and for that I hope you'll heed my words. I wish I’d done more to prevent injury earlier in my career, especially from a prehab standpoint. Be wiser than I was.

Part 2 will revolve around the mental aspects of being injured; preparing for a surgery and the immediate aftermath of that, the first few physical therapy appointments, and getting through the really trying parts of the recovery process. Please let me know if you have specific questions for that blog! I have some saved from my Instagram request for questions on this topic before.

In Part 3 I plan to talk about return to sport. Most of you asked about this, so thanks for your patience!