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.

Super Important Stuff (Javelin Edition)

To start off, I am not a coach. I’m not your coach! I have coached. I’m pretty good at it if I do say so myself, haha, but I’ve only ever done it in short bursts or at camps. Your coach knows you best, and is aware of the problems that you have. Or maybe you’re aware of the problems that you have, and you just need to work on how to communicate your concerns to your coach in a respectful and constructive way. More on the athlete/coach dynamic next week!

That disclaimer stated, let me put another one out there: We all have different struggles. Each body works slightly differently than the other, and things that have been important for me might not be for you. I can only tell you my experience though, and maybe you’ll learn from it! I’ll tell you about the injuries I have had and the javelin lessons I’ve learned from them, and then some basic super important (in my opinion) javelin technical things.

Injuries I’ve had and the lessons they’ve taught me:

1.       Injury: L5 (lumbar/low back) stress fracture.
Lesson: Core stability/lumbar stability/thoracic mobility/rotational fluidity and strength are important.
               I’ve written about this injury before, and how rehabbing after it helped put me on the 2008 Olympic team. I used to try and get all of my flexibility from my back! I simply didn’t know any better, and honestly it can look similar for someone to be using their shoulder and engaging their core vs. getting flexibility from their lumbar spine. Simply activating those core muscles in a little bit different way than I was doing it can protect the low back. I had to learn through injury, but maybe you can learn to do lots of core stuff now!
               Your core is a cylinder. From about diaphragm height down to your hips, all the way around your middle, is a circular tank of muscles you can train to connect your feet and legs to your throwing arm and hand. Do that. Your lumbar area can rotate, but shouldn’t flex or extend too extremely. Rotational strength is crucial in the uncoiling of the javelin throw, so oblique, twisting stuff is helpful, and best if done in a nice, fluid motion like you want the javelin throw to be. Balance training really helped me after my back injury. The movement you want in your back is in the thoracic area (shoulder blades/between your shoulders). Train thoracic mobility (flexion (bending forward), extension (bending backward), and rotation (turning either direction)). Do that with a javelin in your hand or across your back.
               Train your core in ways that make sense for how you know you need to move in an optimal javelin throw, but also train your core in normal ways! There is a crazy plethora of options out there.

2.       Injury: Left Anterior Cruciate Ligament tear (in the course of blocking)
Lesson: Healthy knee movement patterns are important, but dorsiflexion, hip mobility, and glute stability are hacks!
               I had never been taught how my knees should move before I tore my ACL. I obviously didn’t do anything intentionally to put my knee in a valgus position and experience a non-contact rupture of the ligament, but I also hadn’t trained my nervous system and musculature NOT to be in that position. Try your best not to tear your ACL in order to learn this lesson, please!
               Since my bone-patella-bone, ipsilateral autograft reconstruction in 2012, I’ve been amazed at the response the body can have to smart, intense rehabilitation (and now that I’m fully healed, prehabilitation) exercises. I had no idea how important glute stability was to knee health, and perhaps the misfiring of my left glute was a piece of my injury puzzle in the first place. Keeping an eye on the dorsiflexion (toes up) of your ankles is a good idea for knee health as well. Hip mobility is huge for getting your legs into the correct positions without asking too much of your vulnerable knees.
               There are so many supporting factors to knee health that I was unaware of, and those factors can enhance your javelin throwing anyway. Train healthy knee movement patterns (good squat mechanics, proper patella tracking and mobility, VMO function), and enhance those patterns with dorsiflexion for good reaction to the ground among other things, hip mobility for dynamic and efficient crossovers, and glute stability so that your block transfers energy into that solid core you built, above.

3.       Injury: Right shoulder impingement.
Lesson: Prioritize flexibility in the shoulders (duh).
               I had a left shoulder repair surgery in 2015, but I actually had a lot of issues with my right (throwing) shoulder afterward. I think the repaired rotator cuff tendons on the left side just played tug-of-war with my right shoulder across my back throughout the healing process, and I had a lot of pain in the throwing motion as a result. I should’ve prioritized throwing shoulder flexibility throughout that surgery and recovery process, because it’s my bread and butter!! Yours too.
               We get dynamic flexibility from the actual act of throwing the javelin, in gymnastics movements, and in some lifts. But there is a TON you can do to retain that flexibility in static ways as well. Sit on the ground and reach your arms long behind you for minutes at a time. Do a bunch of supine (face up) hand and elbow planks and kill two birds with one stone (shoulder flexibility and core/glute function). Add javelin stretches in even on non-throwing days. Put your hand flat on a wall and turn your body away from it to stretch the front of your shoulder in a sort-of throwing position.
               If you’re naturally flexible like me, it can be easy to take it for granted. Keep any flexibility you have for as long as you can by being proactive about stretching. I love my nightly rolling and stretching sessions with Maddie the Dog!

She “helps” me stretch like any good pet would.

She “helps” me stretch like any good pet would.

Important Technical Stuff:

1.       Right to Left touchdown time (if you’re right-handed).

Decrease it. Get your left foot down as fast as possible after your impulse/penultimate/whatever you want to call it. For me, this means learning how to let the ground come to me, not paw down and back at the ground as I’m moving into my block, because that action just pitches my upper body forward and actually extends my left leg rather than letting it snap down and become a block leg. Driving my right knee down to the ground and turning my right ankle over also helps me get my block down faster. Forcing yourself to need the stability of your block leg (by turning over your right) means it will usually show up for you!

Whatever you need to do to figure out how to have a faster right-to-left touchdown is what you need to do. Get creative. Only focus on that cue for an entire throwing session/week/month of training. Do some sprinting accelerations and listen to the sound of your feet striking the ground in faster succession with each phase of speed. Learn how to make your feet hit the ground faster at the end of your approach.

2.       Acceleration.

What a nice segue! The point of your approach is to build speed to put into the implement to make it fly further. Therefore you must find a way to transfer that speed into said implement. That is what all of your technique is for (sequencing of body parts and positioning), but putting speed into the implement starts with accelerating down the runway.

Is your approach long, but you go the same speed the whole time? Maybe shorten it and speed up gradually. Do you have a short approach, but you sprint out of the back and are then out of control when trying to hit a block? Slow down at the back. Accelerate as you go.

You want to accelerate ALLLLL the way through the throw. I watch a lot of people (and I’m guilty of this as well and am focusing on relearning it right now) accelerate TO their block and not through the throw. Hit that block and then KEEP accelerating the rest of your body around and over it until you finally release the javelin. Block hits first, then the chest can drive through like crazy. Accelerate all body parts into the javelin!

3.       Strong posture and javelin control.

Going back to a nice core! This doesn’t mean you need a six pack to throw far. Also please see my post on controlling the position of your hand. You can accelerate nicely, then have a fast right-to-left transition, but if the javelin is pointed ninety degrees to your right, your throwing hand is by your hip, and your upper body is pitched forward, the implement will land pretty close to you.

Stand up nice and tall. You can lean back a little bit if you have that control. Do TONS of practice crossovers so that your upper body stays quiet while your legs are strong and powerful and fluid in a lateral plane. Dana likes to equate javelin throwers to icebergs: Beautiful and impressively still above the water (hips), dangerously busy and powerful and strong below.

Hold heavy stuff up behind you to train arm and hand control. Maybe play some javelin golf. Get creative to learn how to move around in explosive ways, but keep your core and arm in control of the javelin. You have to throw it right to throw it far, and that starts with holding it in the right place (tip by your eye and fairly parallel to the ground).

4.       Keep the shoulders closed as long as possible.

“Closed” means perpendicular to the foul line at the end of the runway. The javelin has rotational components, even though we run in a straight line! You want your shoulders to stay closed as long as you can keep them that way, because that means that your throwing shoulder and hand will be pointed backwards and away from the sector, and you’ll be building stretch reflex across your left hip/core/right shoulder/entire right arm for a long long time. That stretch translates to distance.

Hit your block as fast as you can, maybe by driving your right knee down to the ground like me. Driving that right knee down means your right hip will drive through, solidifying your left block leg even more than it already is. As your right hip drives through, energy is transferred to your core. Then, your left arm can start to swing open, initiating the uncoiling and sling of your right shoulder/elbow/hand, followed by the javelin soaring away from you in a gorgeous little undetectable dot.

If your shoulders open to the sector early, you shorten your pull. Keep those shoulders closed and give your entire body a chance to help you throw far. Being open with the shoulders not only decreases your distance, but likely hurts your back. Or elbow. Or pec. Or more.

5.       Keep your feet on the ground.

Seems simple, but I struggle with this sometimes, especially post-knee injury. People want to follow through so badly (or just relieve pressure from that block leg), but you get the energy you put into the javelin from applying force to the ground. Keep the block leg firmly planted and turn turn turn turn the right leg and hip for as long as you have that javelin in your hand. Watch Johannes Vetter!!

 So. Move gradually faster down the runway. Control your upper body and javelin position. Get your block down as fast as possible after your impulse. Keep those feet on the ground, and keep your shoulders closed to keep the javelin back as looooong as you can.

Talk to your coach. He or she knows you and can likely help.

Little efforts every day add up to big changes. If I skip a day of stretching my hip internal rotation lately, I’m sorry during my next training session. Neglecting core work for a few days means my back is sore after my next throwing session. If I don’t get in the pool once a week, my elbow misses the slight distraction it experiences when I pull on the water, and I don’t feel quite as fluid when I pick up the javelin again. Take the time to notice what your body needs and give it that. Journaling is a good way to pick up on both patterns that make you feel good and not so good. Pay attention to what is helpful, and do those things! Be intentional.

Dating a Fellow Athlete

Russ Winger, my husband, is the coolest. We dated for about 7 years before we got engaged, and were engaged for a year before we were married. We’ve been married almost 4.5 years. That’s 12.5 years of relationship, and 10 of them happened when we were both athletes! He retired from throwing the discus (PR 66.04m) after the 2016 Olympic Trials, has lost about 50 pounds so far, and is thrilled to be pursuing other interests. I love doing life with him!

We met at NACAC U-23 Championships in 2006, on a developing elite team, but both of us had bigger goals than that level of competition. Russ threw the shotput back then, and continued to do so until I think 2014 (overall PR 21.29m). For multiple years, he doubled at USATF National Championships and made the final in both events. He is a phenomenal athlete and even better person. The highest highs of my career all have something to do with him, including both of us medaling at PanAm Games in 2015 and going to Worlds together in the same year, when I finally cracked a major championship final and got eighth.

2006 NACAC U-23 Championships, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

2006 NACAC U-23 Championships, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

I love my relationship. I am such a huge fan of Russ, and maybe vice-versa. I realize that every relationship is different, but I want to talk about what it’s like to date a fellow athlete! Perhaps you’re wondering, or are having problems that we might have had.

I’m gonna go at this from a pros and cons perspective!

Pros

1.       Shared fitness and health values.

You’re both athletes. Regardless of what sport you do, if you have lofty goals and a good understanding that disciplined, smart training and supporting nutrition and recovery practices make you better, hopefully those lessons will translate to the rest of life! For the last approximately five years of his athletic career, Russ was consistently 300 pounds, which is pretty typical for a male thrower. In his first year of retirement, he lost 30 pounds simply by not eating as much as he had during training. In his second year, he has lost an additional 20 with diet and somewhat inconsistent exercise, and has plans to lose more. I love him so much at every weight, because regardless of training, he has always been a super active person. Losing weight just helps him be that person in a happier fashion.

I’m a somewhat bigger javelin thrower. I’ve learned through experience that a lean body does not mean far throws for me, so I operate with a little bit more of a cushion while I continue in this career. I look forward to the day, though, that meals will be a little smaller, workouts will be a little more outdoor-focused, and weight falls off of me like it has Russ (and I’m confident that it will, because it did when we got married!).

Something to keep in mind is that different athletes require different approaches to the “fitness” required for their sport. It can be difficult to adjust to a different lifestyle and stay healthy (eat like a football player but no longer play football, for example), but it’s my hope for every athlete that shifting focus to a more generally healthy lifestyle after sport is possible. Focus on goal-oriented behavior rather than doing things that made you feel good while you were an athlete. Dating an athlete means that hopefully he or she can shift that positive trait of goal-setting to other areas in life.

2.       Individualism and the ability to understand each others’ priorities.

I grew up with parents who were very much in love and had a great partnership (still do), but were also really independent people within their relationship (still are). My Dad traveled a lot, and my Mom held down the home while also pursuing her own interests and driving me to every sports practice and game. I never thought the amount of time they spent apart was weird, and loved seeing them happy to be reunited.

Dating a fellow athlete is a little like that. You care about each other and each other’s outcomes, sure, but you also have your own stuff to worry about. It’s easier not to get offended when your partner focuses on his or her own goals, because you have your own. Having time to be together and focus on that is important, too, but that’s the next section.

When Russ and I were both athletes, we could train together, and I absolutely loved that. We never had the same training programs though, even though we had the same coaches over the years, so often we would each drive to the Air Force Academy, perhaps warm up near each other, and then split up to throw. If he got done before me, he would come down and film, and vice-versa. We often lifted near each other at the Olympic Training Center, and were each others’ spotters if needed, but would always be focused on different lifts and different technique, and were probably in different phases of training. We each had different priorities, but could sort of orbit around each other in support.

2015.

2015.

Dating someone who is really good at different stuff than you is cool, too. I’ve said one million times that Russ is twice the athlete I am, and I learned a lot from him in the weight room and on the track. Learning from fellow athletes is fun, and can be even easier when that person is your significant other.

3.       Built-in shared interests.

Common ground is not only the basis of friendship, like I mentioned in my last blog, but a really great place to start a romantic relationship. As fellow athletes, shared interest is built right in!

When Russ first visited me at home in Washington at the end of summer in 2006, we went in search of waterfalls to hike, I caught my first tiny fish on the fly, and we played with my childhood dogs nonstop. Over time, we’ve learned to play bridge with my parents, and now we play with Russ’s grandparents as well. We met through Track and Field, and we continued to have that in common for a long time, but we also very quickly recognized other things that we both enjoy. Again, like I mentioned in my previous blog, if you’ve both chosen to pursue sport, you might have other stuff in common, too.

Athletics will fade. It has been so amazing to watch Russ gain momentum in other areas of his life in the past two years. He is truly my leader in that process, and I can only hope to make the transition to regular adulthood as well as he has. Having sport in common is great, but it was merely a starting point for us, and I love how our relationship grew in so many different directions from that. I would hope the same for you.

Cons

1.       Different approaches to the same thing.

Personalities differ. Learning processes aren’t the same across humans. Work ethics run the gamut. Tempers either flare and the wheels come off in moments of frustration, or people buckle down and try harder.

It can be beneficial to date someone who thinks differently than you (see the last section). Sometimes, though, those differences can result in conflict. I’ve always been really good at compartmentalizing and doing what my coach tells me to. Russ is more of an independent thinker. Once, in Germany in 2010, we had rented a car to drive to meets, and were going to drive to our last practice before that trip instead of taking the familiar train route we knew. We, of course, got lost on the way, Ty and Mike were waiting for us, and we were both upset with each other for various reasons. I had a great practice once we arrived, which made Russ even more mad at me when we talked about it later.

I’m really good at being lazy when I need to be. Rest is important, and I love it so. Russ is an incredibly active person. He gets restless and bored with an entire rest day, and there have been times that I’ve agreed to an adventure and then regretted it because I’m tired. We’ve come a very long way in our ability to clearly communicate our needs to each other, and the joy we experience on those adventures together far outweighs any lingering tiredness I might feel in practice the next day, plus he lets me sleep as much as I want in the car!

Dating someone different than you is really fun, you just have to learn how to communicate your approach or needs to that person. The only way to discover those differences is to do life together, too, and realize that it’s not the other person’s fault that you’re wired differently. After that Germany practice, I just had to explain to Russ that throwing in my mind was totally and completely separate from our relationship: I forgot the fight to focus on throwing the javelin, and could then revisit it later. My focus didn’t at all mean that I wasn’t still mad or didn’t care! I just have a weird ability to turn off parts of my brain, and I think Russ learned from me how to do that a bit over the years. In the same way, his questions about technique that used to drive me crazy are now helpful ways for me to objectively watch practice video and not be complacent. It’s difficult to learn how to navigate a different personality, but really worth it to learn something new about the person you love and the different, effective ways to approach sport.

2.       Varying levels of success: Navigating the peaks and valleys together.

The shotput and discus in the United States are stronger events than the javelin. These are facts for men and women alike. It is objectively easier for me to make teams than it was for Russ. We were in the same sport, but had very different paths to travel to be “successful.”

I had a major back injury in 2007, and was in a really bad place right at the beginning of our relationship. Russ moved to Purdue in 2008-2009 to be with me in my fifth year, and was miserable for a lot of reasons (working 3 jobs, training without a coach, and simply being in the Midwest, among others). He had a sports hernia all of the 2010 season (our first in Chula Vista), when I was doing super well. He had surgery to fix it, healed for 2011 and threw big PRs, but then we both struggled through the European season and also never saw each other. I tore my ACL in 2012, but made the Olympic team anyway, and he had done really well all year but missed the team by two spots. I had surgery and then we moved to Colorado. We finally both made the PanAm, NACAC, and World Championships teams in 2015! He did well most of 2016 and then old and new injuries flared right before the Olympic Trials, but came to Rio with me as my coach, as none of my other ones were making the trip.

If you’re in the same sport, the direct comparisons of how successful you are can be really difficult to manage in a relationship. I can imagine that different sports might be a little bit easier? If only because learning about the others’ sport would seem more educational than competitive. This is, again, a lesson in communication! Every athlete is competitive, but eventually you learn that constant competition within a relationship is no good. Our friends Rich and Jackie say that when one member of the team is winning, the team is winning. And if it feels like no one is winning, you can climb out of that hole together! It’s okay to voice frustration, and it’s even okay to say out loud that you’re jealous of the other person’s success, as long as you can separate that from your romantic relationship (and SAY that).

3.       Conflicting travel schedules.

Russ and I were so lucky to have some incredible track trips together. We spent two weeks enjoying Australia and competing in 2012. We lived in Germany during the 2010 and 2011 seasons together, with friends around as well. The championship season in 2015 was amazing: We went on sushi dates at training camp and were then roommates at World Championships in Beijing. After that we went on vacation in Austria with the Kuehls and I went to Paris with Russ for the Decanation meet. Fantastic memories and experiences that solidified our relationship at each stage, for sure!

NACAC Senior Championships 2015 as husband and wife, nine years after we met at NACAC U-23 Championships! We both won in 2015. :)

NACAC Senior Championships 2015 as husband and wife, nine years after we met at NACAC U-23 Championships! We both won in 2015. :)

Those were the very rare times that we were actually together, though. Russ was in Australia for three weeks by himself before I joined him that year. In 2011, we constantly missed each other at the apartment we shared in Köln, as our meet schedules exactly countered each other for two months. He went to Europe right after the 2012 Olympic Trials, and I stayed home to rehab my ACL as well as I could. In 2016, while I was home with our brand-new Madeline and injuries, Russ traveled a lot for competition. Staying home is easier for both of us now that Maddie the Dog is in our lives. 😊

Our epic 2016 road trip!

Our epic 2016 road trip!

Dating a fellow athlete is often like a long-distance relationship. Luckily, we have practice in that field, and many people I know do too! Again, communication is key. Being willing to shave a day off of the front or back sides of a trip for the sake of your relationship is important, too, and taking advantage of the time that you do have together is key. Sometimes I pick fights before I leave for a trip, but we both know it’s just because I’ll miss him and our home!

Questions from Instagram:

“tricks to avoid constantly talking/venting about your sports to each other!!!”

               Ooooooh, good one. This can be an easy trap to fall into when you find someone who you feel truly understands you. I’m guilty of complaining a lot to Russ about one specific thing that I can’t really change in my training life, but I try to always say, “I know you’re sick of hearing about this, but I just need to vent for a second!”

               There are a few things you can do to try and avoid a complainy pattern. A) Set a timer for the complaining. Give it a limit so it doesn’t consume you. B) Always, always have other stuff to do! Take part in your other common interests instead when you feel overloaded by sport. If you don’t have something, start something new together! C) Be really honest. If your partner just doesn’t seem happy and that’s why he or she is constantly unloading on you, let them know that you appreciate their trust in your judgement and the fact that you’re a safe zone, but that you want them to be happy, and it doesn’t seem like they are. On the flip side, if you are the one complaining a lot and it’s weighing you down, do some self-evaluation and see if you need to seek other help (sports psychology) or just do something to change your situation and make it better. I’ll be writing a blog on how to have difficult conversations sometime soon!

“Yes it’s wonderful 😊 😊 “

               Agree!

“Is it hard to keep frustrations in training and competition separate from your relationship”

               It can be? But it has never been difficult for me. I really think (and again, I think Russ got better at this over the years as well) that practice is your opportunity to just focus on you, and your relationship is the time you can either talk about it in constructive ways (or a little bit of complaining if you need to), or do other stuff that you enjoy together. My relationship has mostly felt like a refuge from the difficulties I face on the javelin runway, and one of the reasons for that is that I can be completely vulnerable and open about why I’m frustrated and work through it with the person who knows me best if I need to. But mostly I just love doing other things and laughing about other stuff together. I hope that you can find such solace in another human!

               I have struggled the most to separate career and relationship when I’m injured, and I think that’s because I suddenly don’t have the outlet that I’m used to in athletics, so I’m more difficult to be around. That’s kind of a real-life thing though, and Russ has always taken care of me incredibly well, so those experiences have turned into bonding ones. I hope he feels as taken care of when he’s injured, but he’s more stubborn about it. 😊

Overall recommendation:

Go for it if you’re drawn to someone. I’m so incredibly happy with the person I picked, and continue to choose every day. We met through sport and enjoyed it together for a long time, but also like a lot more stuff about each other than the fact that we are athletes! In the same way that you grow and change as an athlete, your relationship grows and changes, and you have to keep programming good stuff to keep it healthy. Finding a partner that is motivated by goals is pretty easy in the athletic realm. Translating that to every day life and a happy partnership is a little bit different, but very worth it to do together!

 

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!

A High Hand-Drills and Clarifications

I remember Mike mentioning at some point leading into 2012 that my hand *used* to be nice and high. There is a big part of me that thinks the perception of a high hand has more to do with the posture of an athlete who is confident vs. the cowering of an athlete who isn’t than the actual height of a hand, but that’s possibly a sports psychology discussion. For our purposes here, since I was asked to describe some drills for a high hand, how to get maximum flexibility in the throwing shoulder, or mental notes to “leave your arm behind,” I want to cover a few broad topics and then leave you with a list of some drills and video of one!

A high hand is kind of a misnomer. You want a BACK hand. If your throwing hand is too low, sure, it won’t go back as far as it can, but the same is true if your hand is too high. The goal should be to keep the arm parallel to the ground and the javelin almost the same, not some arbitrary definition of “high.” If your arm and hand are back as far as they can go, likely that arm will be “flat,” or “straight,” or “level,” not “high.” Watch Cyrus’s video of my American Record. I don’t think my arm is “high,” I think it’s back. As it was often in 2010!

Compared to 2018, it doesn’t look so different to me:

Those things being said, a nicely-controlled, level and stable arm can FEEL “high,” and there is some specific strength associated with getting into that position. Gaining the specific strength and mobility to get into a good carrying position is a feat in itself, but the second piece of that puzzle is learning to pull on the javelin from that flexible position. Acquiring the discipline and sequencing needed to use an excellent long arm requires its own kind of strength, patience, and mental fortitude. I really think the fear of what might happen when you pull from way back there behind your head is what halts most athletes’ progress in this weird event. There are drills for that, too!

Mental cues that have really helped me leave my arm back as long as possible are twofold:

1.       Dana and I talk a lot about pronation and supination of the left and right hands, respectively. Your left thumb points down and your right thumb points up (if you’re right-handed). Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so if you pronate your left hand/arm as long as possible, you’ll supinate (and leave long and “high”) your right hand/arm as long as possible back behind you. You can see this in the way Barbora throws as well. We try to couple that concept with the rotation of my right leg and hips and then core, but that’s getting too complicated for this blog.

2.       One of the longest-lasting things Ty ever told me was to “hide the javelin behind your head.” I know which direction I’m heading, so putting my hand and the grip of the javelin right behind my head for as long as absolutely possible means it’s back behind me, and still within the frame of my body as I initiate the throw. Part of keeping the longest arm possible in the javelin throw is staying closed (meaning that your shoulders are perpendicular to the foul line as long as possible). If you get open (turn your shoulders too soon to face the sector), you shorten your throwing arm! So “hiding the javelin” helps me stay long, keep my hand “high” (because my head is pretty far off the ground, haha) and stay closed.

Three kinds of drills (that I can think of right now. I’m sure there are more and that people categorize them differently.):

1.       Lateral raise/external rotation strengthening.

Help you develop the strength to simply hold your arm up with a javelin in your hand in a very stable position. This isn’t a normal thing for most people! Even the relatively light weight of our implement gets heavy in the course of a high-volume practice, so doing some strength work outside of throwing is helpful.

  • Hose drags across a field. We did this in high school and it was brutal. A literal garden hose that you hold in your hand in a solid javelin position and then do crossovers. Keep your arm as long and high as possible, and connect your core and lats to holding that position. The quality of the crossovers is not as important as your posture and the straightness of your arm behind you. Elbow bending will likely happen, but do your best to not let it! Do NOT shrug your shoulders. A relaxed shoulder gets more length.

  • Simple lateral dumbbell raises. Hands at waist up to external rotation and holding the dumbbell like a javelin. Start very light. Do not shrug your shoulders at any time in this movement. You could start with palms facing your body and then rotating up toward the ceiling as you raise your arms or start with palms facing out and go straight up. Maybe try both and see what feels best to you!

  • This drill I thought I made up last year but apparently other people do, too:

2.       Decelerators.

Training the throw in the opposite direction that it normally happens keeps your decelerators (mostly some of your rotator cuff tendons and generally the back of your shoulder) healthy. It can also help you really feel strong in the end range of motion if you’re actively trying to get there under load instead of initiating a pull from there. The backs of your shoulders (your entire upper back) not only slow your arm down after you throw, but help you maintain posture and position while you’re approaching the throw and within it.

  • Reverse cable throws. A Jamie Myers special in my programming. Start light. Stand facing the cable machine with the handle where you would normally carry the javelin in your first approach steps (running straight forward). Pull it backwards, turning your shoulders as you go and turning your hand towards the sky like you would if you were holding a javelin. Standard instructions: Do NOT shrug your shoulder. Reach back as far as you possibly can against the load with good posture (point at the wall behind you). Return to start under control.

  • Any kind of pull-apart. Grab a little band at waist-height with bent arms and pull it apart. Put your arms straight out in front of you, palms up, and pull the band apart. Pull it apart diagonally.

3.       Specific strength through extreme range of motion.

Javelin, as we know, involves putting your body into some intense positions. That’s what everyone is after when they ask about how to train this high hand, maximum shoulder flexibility, leave-your-arm-behind thing. And while you can put yourself into that position with some concentrated work, you also need to be able to get yourself out of it in an instant without tearing everything in your shoulder! Cue this section of drills.

  • Put a stick or javelin across your shoulders (like you might squat it). Hold it in your throwing hand like a javelin, and grasp it firmly with the other hand. Push with that other hand so you’re forcing the throwing hand backward another inch. Push back carefully with that throwing hand (initiate the movement from your lat/shoulder rather than your hand/elbow). Repeat. Really small range of motion, but at the very end of the overall picture.

  • Skin-the-cats.

  • Pullovers, sure, but with good core control. Only go as heavy as you can to still keep your butt and entire back on the bench. Get the strength in your flexible shoulders, not your shouldn’t-be-flexible lumbar spine.

  • Banded “standing throw.”

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m happy to answer questions and am always interested to see what other people come up with for drills, too!

Recovery

Recovering from workouts and physically taxing events is really important to a long career. You can get away with not doing it for short periods of time, but that will catch up to you! I am always surprised to learn that people aren’t aware of how important recovery is (especially professionally), but I also forget sometimes that I’m 32 and have been at this a while. I guess I didn’t prioritize recovery until I became a professional for the simple reason that there didn’t seem to be time in college. Now, I love recovery activities of all kinds! There are lots of facets to this idea. Here are some simple categorizations of the different forms, and then answers to Instagram questions at the bottom.

Physical vs. Mental

I’m not sure I believe in burnout necessarily. I think I’m too tough for that, but I’m likely being an idiot. It’s obviously a real thing that many have experienced, but perhaps people who get burnt out just haven’t recognized their own need for a break until it’s too late. And one major contributor to burnout is if an individual doesn’t have support from family or coworkers in his or her pursuits! Mental recovery and mental training are just as important as physical. Luckily or unluckily, my breaks have been forced upon me, but I’ve learned the importance of mental recovery through them.

Knowing yourself and knowing what it takes for you to recharge mentally is really important to not only performance, but training. I find that if I haven’t had enough alone time (see last blog), I sit in my car doing nothing for like a half hour before I have the energy to get out and practice. That’s wasting my own time I guess, but I just can’t bear physical activity if I haven’t had enough mental rest! And if I don’t take that moment to reset and refocus, my practice isn’t as successful as if I’m mentally prepared for it. If I have the mental energy to put my best effort into each throw, drill, or sprint, I’m getting way more out of it than if I was only half checked-in.

The way I see it, there are two seasons in the year, and physical and mental components to recovery within each of those. Let’s tackle all of them.

Off-Season vs. In-Season

I am not shy about loving the off-season. No structured javelin practice, no place I really need to be, all the fun. It’s a really important time of year, and I respect it and its necessity. Regardless of the season’s outcome, letting your body heal from the really specific and difficult things you asked of it for months is important, and letting your mind wander about the possibilities of the future and what can be gleaned from the past is essential.

Off-season physical recovery sometimes means nothing, depending on what happened at the end of the season. In 2018, I strained intercostals and obliques in my last competition, so physical activity wasn’t advised for a while. Sometimes it means just doing something different than your sport though. After my side healed, I did Pure Barre for a month (3-4 times/week), and swam as well. In 2017, I wanted to run Emma Coburn’s inaugural 5K, so I did an endurance experiment that consisted of a couch-to-5K program, lots of planks, and swimming as cross training. I ended up running an all-time mile PR of 7:41 before I started official 2018 training! Doing more balanced training than my fairly violent, unilateral sport during the off-season resets my body in a really important way.

Outdoor time is important all year round, and better together.

Outdoor time is important all year round, and better together.

Russ taught me almost everything I know about the outdoors, and he definitely taught me the value of spending time outside from a recovery perspective. There are so many backpacks I want to do when big chunks of time are available to us in the summers of the future. For now short ones in the off-season of the fall will hold me over.

Off-season mental recovery is also very enjoyable and important. This Fall, I traveled to the PNW, Hawaii, Ohio, Texas, Florida, Bermuda, Idaho, Iowa, NYC, and New Orleans. I spent a lot of time wandering around outside with Madeline. I read books and did new things in other parts of my life that were really rewarding. I actually spent time with friends. Having a moment when I can feel a little less external pressure is really nice.

In-season! I consider this to be any time I’m actually training for javelin again, not just when I’m actually competing, as my recovery strategies are basically the same for training and competition. Physically, there’s a lot to cover from both active and passive standpoints. I will get into that below.

Mentally, there’s a lot that I do to stay sharp, well-rounded, and happy during the season:

I often go to lunch on my own after practice. I’ll watch throwing film or write in my training journal, and reflect on the day’s work. Letting the physical lessons I learned manifest mentally during moments of quiet helps me prepare for the next session, even right after the last one.

Your brain is amazing. It is moldable and foldable. It can do lots of different stuff at once! Sometimes focusing on a problem directly doesn’t work: We have all felt like we are beating our heads against a wall at some point. Do something else. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Read a book. Do a puzzle. Play the piano. Take a class. Teach your pet a new trick. Learn a language. Take photos, then actually edit and organize them. Go fishing. While you’re doing something else with your brain, it will still be processing what you learned at practice the day before. Pursue other interests and let it! Then when you focus back on your athletic passion, that background absorption will burst forth into performance. I started announcing at USAs two years ago, and the mental challenge of keeping track of everything and being somewhat entertaining is fun, plus I’m serving my fellow athlete!

I’ve gotten really good at personal-item travel. I became an Aunt in 2018, and flew home for multiple weekends with just a backpack on the cheapest Frontier flights I could find. These little jaunts back to my family make me SO happy, and random yoga sessions with my Mom are all the exercise I need on such short mental health trips.

Active vs. Passive Physical Recovery

Active recovery is pretty much anything that you feel puts your body back together. I used to have two dedicated active recovery days per week (Wednesdays and Saturdays) when I still did two-a-day training. Now, my Saturdays are basically my only scheduled active recovery days, but I have a lot more time every other day to throw active recovery stuff in if I feel like I need it. Some examples for me are swimming, hiking, yoga (my new favorite is hot yoga, especially in Colorado winter), interval jogs, multi-planar medball circuits, core work, stretching and foam rolling, and paddleboarding. Russ will teach me to fly fish here in the next year! Walking my Maddie Dog is my favorite warm-up activity as well as the best easy active recovery event. Similar to the idea of doing other sports or activities to put yourself back together in the off-season, reminding your body of how good it feels to move in different ways during the season is really healing, too.

These active recovery things aren’t super taxing. Huge efforts are reserved for actual training. If you go too hard on the recovery stuff, you’ll be spent when it comes time to do the real work. An example from last summer of recovery in Europe: I swam competitively in high school, so my pool work is recovery during the season (I’m getting cardiovascular benefit, sure, but I’m mostly just trying to dynamically stretch my shoulders with each stroke.). I was taking the bus that day in Offenburg in May, managed to find a public pool, but didn’t quite know the hours, layout of the pool, how the locker room worked, and what exactly the bus schedule was. I didn’t have much time and almost walked out, but paid my very reasonable 2 Euros after all, wandered around and creepily watched others to figure out the locker system, and had just enough time for a straight 500m swim and hustle back to the bus. I felt way better doing a little bit of something different than I had the whole time I had been in Germany.

Passive physical recovery is just being lazy! It’s the best! Sometimes you have to do nothing! Also in this category is body work, though, and that does take some effort. Sweating through a sports massage that addresses very specific muscular issues is necessary sometimes. Naps belong in the passive recovery realm, and they’re better if you have a pet to snuggle. I love my NormaTec air pressure system while watching documentaries. I’m not a big fan of ice tubs, but I’ll sit in the river on a hot summer day while I watch Russ fish. I could read in bed all afternoon. Sleep is super important. Naps are great, but I also try to get 9 hours of sleep per night.

Kind of in between passive and active recovery is nutrition and hydration. You have to make an effort to eat and drink well, but your body does the work after you put stuff in your mouth! Planning meals and snacks around training is important, as is drinking enough water, but I might give you some different advice than others when it comes to food. I blame a portion of my ACL tear on my diet for the two years prior to that event. I was ill-advised to get leaner, so I did, at the expense of performance, strength, recovery, and ultimately (I believe) soft tissue integrity. Eat what you love and until you feel physically satisfied. Try to make it balanced. Get enough protein, preferably just after workouts. Do research and experiment with your diet to find what makes you feel the best. I love chocolate chip cookies from either Qdoba or Jimmy John’s. If I go to either place for my lunch (a mini burrito bowl or lettuce-wrap #12 with extra avo), I also have a cookie, but not every day. Russ makes me amazing balanced dinners and often breakfasts, and I’m so grateful for his support of my career in this way. I eat a Larabar or Dutch Bros. granola bar on the way home from practice if it’s in the afternoon. Food is fuel.

yum yum yum

yum yum yum

Water is boring. It’s my favorite during workouts, for simplicity reasons, but I find it really tough to drink just water all day. I like tea with some honey, Emergen-C packets (although I reserve those for potential-sickness times), Propel, and LaCroix (we actually DO like it at the Wingers’). I’ve tried infusing water with stuff before like I’m a fancy hotel owner, but I never actually drink it. Maybe I’ll try again. Figure out how you can get yourself to actually be hydrated. Try new stuff!

Questions from Instagram:

1.       As a Javelin Thrower, what are the most important things to have in mind when talking about recovery?

               I would say that you should take stock of which parts of your body hurt the most after throwing sessions, and make an effort to recover those specific areas, even on non-throwing days. After my knee surgery, I would game-ready and NormaTec after every therapy session, which sometimes meant twice (each) per day. Core work will ALWAYS be important as a javelin thrower, and will make your low back feel better if you have issues there. My infraspinatus and serratus on my right side are always tight, so I’m constantly laying on my Hypersphere or a lacrosse ball at night at home. I go to the gym sometimes just to sit in the hot tub with jets pointed directly at the back of my right shoulder or my low back, and then stretch my hips in the steam room. So this is really an individual question, but being proactive about fixing your own specific issues will prepare you for your next throws.

2.       Opinion on ice vs heat immediately after a workout.

               I have never liked ice baths. Russ and I were discussing recently that taking them immediately post-lift can actually hinder your adaptation to the work you just did, too! Inflammation is a natural response to work, and necessary to heal the muscle fibers that get broken down in the training process. I use heat either to warm up (a specific area if it’s hurting in the training room with a heating pad) or as a recovery method (hot tub/steam room) fairly unrelated to any specific training session.

               I tend to use ice in a concentrated way: A Game Ready session on my knee or shoulder, ice massage for my forearm or elbow, or maybe sticking an ankle into the ice tub. My much-preferred method of flushing my system is the NormaTec.

3.       Which aspects of recovery do you put the most time/energy into? Sleep, nutrition, physiology, stretch, etc.?

               I think sleep and stretching/mobility! Much of what I do to warm up is mobility-oriented, and I foam roll and stretch almost every night. Sleep is my favorite. If I have like two days in a row of less than 8 hours per night, I start to go a little bit crazy.

4.       What are your go to recovery foods?

               I love smoothies but I don’t make them enough! One of my favorite snacks is cottage cheese with apple, pistachios, and cinnamon. I also love fruit dipped in equal parts nut butter and plain Greek yogurt! Charcuterie plates give me life like the old millennial I am. Larabars have become my favorite bar. I consider coffee to be a recovery food (I know it’s actually not), but I’ve cut back a lot in the last few years as well. Any dinner leftovers do the trick. Noodles and Company Wisconsin Mac n’ Cheese with grilled chicken is my guilty pleasure.

5.       Why can I not recover like I did 10 years ago?!

I KNOW RIGHT! But our bodies are wiser!

 

I hope you enjoyed this description of how I recover and the many different ways it’s possible!

Introversion in a Competitive World

I consider myself to be introverted. At MOST, I’m an ambivert! I can turn on the charm sometimes, but in order to truly enjoy social functions in big groups of people, parties are few and far between. At those parties, a stranger I meet surprises me with meaningful conversation (this isn’t that rare actually. Yay, humans!), or I have a few very good friends in attendance who I can easily connect with in the crowd. I’m not necessarily shy, but it took me a long time to realize that I could live my life in a way that brought me life, rather than trying to navigate the world how I saw other people doing it.

Interviews have always been a challenge for me. I get nervous and say dumb things. So far they haven’t been TOO dumb, but the same phenomenon happens socially if a conversation goes on for too long. It’s not quite overwhelming, but right on the edge. The best comebacks appear in my head hours later.

Mall trips in groups of teenage girls were torture for me, and as a result happened only a few times. I had no idea what we were supposed to be doing, not really buying anything but also talking about nothing! I hated seeing the drama in the team sports I played, but always preferred to lead by example. If asked for my input though, I could see both sides and be fair. Friend groups for me were fluid: I flitted between them during school hours and had my few really close, still life-long friends that I spent time with outside of those walls.

I get attached. When I used to be in the dating game (thank goodness that was so long ago), I think I was fairly creepy. If I found someone I liked, I latched on! Mostly just friendships were successful with my awkward methods, haha. I’ve been known to offer a sincere apology with a mismatched, super nervous grin facial expression. When I met Russ, I had honed my social skills a bit, but was also emboldened by my good friend Dana and my instant friend, Britney. And all of our friends, Rum!

I know that I’m not alone as an introvert. I’m currently reading Susan Cain’s 2013 book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. One third to one half of the world finds energy and creativity in being alone rather than with other people! Navigating a world dominated by extroverts as a fairly quiet athlete can be difficult and force you out of your comfort zone, therefore out of your optimal mindset for competition. Learning to say no thank you to spending excess time with people or remove myself from long, crowded conversations around meals took a long time. I am social, just not as much as a lot of others seem to be at big meets or major championships, and walking the line between forming relationships that I do enjoy vs. getting as much alone time as I want is always a challenge. It has become obvious to me that quieter celebrations in victory aren’t as photogenic as the boisterous ones, and can therefore go unnoticed. Take my 2010 Prefontaine win that didn’t make the TV coverage that my parents DVRed at home. It takes quite a bit of practice for me to have a good interview I think. Here are some photos of me not knowing what to do with my hands and/or face!

Understanding certain things about my personality and what this world of athletics can be like brings me here, to explain how introversion can be an advantage as an athlete!

1.       Ability to focus.

I know that extroverts can also focus. But I think my preference for alone time also makes me acutely aware that I have limited amounts of it. Wanting to be alone provides me a sense of urgency. I want to get the hard work done while I’m able to focus wholly on it. I work best and hardest either by myself, or with someone that I know really well. Mike Hazle and I were fantastic training partners: While I would absolutely label him an extrovert, we balanced each other very well. There were still a lot of times in our three years together that I was by myself, though, and during those practices, I relished the quiet both outside and in my mind. I’ve grown to like loud encouragement from others (like when everyone is maxing in the weight room), but really and truly improve when I recognize my own quiet strength in the midst of a difficult workout, or in the way I think carefully through a new technical challenge and then implement it successfully. Working through difficulties on my own fuels me in ways that I find invaluable. I practice quiet focus every day, glean strength from it, and take it with me to competition, because when it comes time to perform, everyone is on their own in track and field.

With enough practice, an introvert can reach down inside themselves and find the focus they need to perform at their best, even in the chaos of an Olympic Stadium.

Focus.

Focus.

2.       Independence.

This idea is similar to above, but has to do with the way collegiate programs work sometimes, too. I really hit my stride in college, working with an incredible coach who also was responsible for the pole vaulters, hurdlers, and multi-event athletes. If you’re a collegiate javelin thrower working with a typical throws coach who also oversees shotput, discus, and hammer, I’m sure you have a similar experience to what I did: There simply aren’t enough hours to watch everybody, every day. Coach Zuyderwyk carefully crafted his schedule so that he saw everyone’s technical practices, but auxiliary work was often on our own, and there were very few times he was able to coach me in competition (although those turned out to be some key ones!). I loved being trusted to do work on my own, and the confidence that came from being able to perform solo. I took those lessons straight into the potentially lonely world of professional athletics.

For five years, I lived in Colorado Springs while my technical coach was in a different state. I truly loved my independent practices for most of that time period, and I believe that athletes in general are willing to be hard on themselves when no one else is around. I see introversion mostly as a big plus in this way, but after 2017, I was forced into some reflection on how I could change my input to hopefully change my output in the short rest of my career, and I knew I needed eyes on me regularly again. It was an adjustment to interact with another human at practice! But that process is made easier because Dana knew me well already: Our rapport is easy because we have been good friends for 14 years, and inherently understand important things about each other. A challenge in that transition was to retain some of my alone time. I want to have independent practices, because that is where technical stuff sinks in, and I, plain and simple, love the grind and focus. I have ball days on my own, and recovery work is either in the white noise of the pool or in the quiet wilderness somewhere. Knowing yourself is important: I love being alone and I’m good at it, but I had to let people in in order to grow, too. Independence in realizing those lessons is also powerful.

The independence of introversion serves you to get the hard work done even when you’re completely on your own, whether that’s early in the morning in your family’s basement doing core work in high school, or across the world at javelin practice.

Wandering around by myself in Chula Vista.

Wandering around by myself in Chula Vista.

3.       Solo travel is fun!

I used to judge people who wore their noise-cancelling headphones in the boarding area of airports. Turns out, I was just jealous. I finally bought some in 2015, and those babies are lifesavers on a long solo travel day! I absolutely love zoning out in my artificial quiet, reading books, watching movies, snacking on my delicious snacks that I bring specially for the plane. Layover time means a fantastic nap in a quiet corner somewhere, surrounded by my luggage and as removed from other people as I can get. There’s a really great service-elevator hallway in the Frankfurt Airport. It is entirely more stressful for me to interact with someone throughout a day like this than it is to do it by myself.

The act of traveling alone is something I enjoy, but I also started going on more training trips when we moved to Colorado so that I could be warm, and then later, to learn new things and adjust to time zones before competition. I LOVE solo training trips. The focus is great, the training is usually great, I get TONS of sleep, and I truly enjoy sightseeing on my own timeline. Maddie the Dog came with me to Austin in 2017, and I did hardly anything social for two weeks without her, which suited me (and her) great. In the summer of 2017, while in Leuven, Belgium, I took a day trip to Ghent alone and had one of my more emotional reactions ever to art in front of the Altarpiece. I spent 2+ weeks in Offenburg alone last year, and it was fabulous.

I’ve had some really great experiences with other people while traveling. Things like the Delirium Brewery Tour in Melle, paddleboarding with Barbora and Dana in Prague, and a beer garden with lots of good friends in Cologne are irreplaceable memories. I just know about myself that I have to get amped up for group experiences, while solo stuff re-energizes me! And in this sports world (at least the way I navigate it), there is a lot of opportunity to be alone and abroad. So that “loneliness” actually helps me get ready to compete at my best!

Introversion means you can come up with brilliant ideas on your quiet commute, whether that’s down the street or across the world. Maybe you think up a business idea between classes or go to dinner by yourself with your favorite book. Perhaps your personality means that you reflect deeply on what a group experience in a far-away land means to you, and keep that in mind moving forward. You do you!

A quiet moment wondering how to interact with children during a kids’ clinic in Zurich in 2010.

A quiet moment wondering how to interact with children during a kids’ clinic in Zurich in 2010.

Tools for success as an introvert in a competitive world (especially while traveling):

1.       Good headphones. Hide from the world when you need to.

2.       Interesting conversation points at-the-ready. When you’re confronted with talking to people you don’t know or a group situation you want to participate in without feeling drained, have some stuff to bring up. I like to stay current on my podcasts and some news so I can jump in and be excited about the conversation.

3.       Set roommate expectations early. This can be truly difficult. But being friendly sometimes and brave enough to stay quiet others can be such a relief. I like to take naps or a shower to introduce quiet if my roommate is a talker. Again, a truly tricky subject.

4.       Find a quiet place if it’s not your room. If you can’t manage to strike a balance that feels good to you in your room, find a comfortable, quiet place elsewhere. I sit in Starbucks and write or read sometimes. There are sometimes lobby lounges with comfortable chairs. I’ll opt for the hotel gym rather than a practice facility if it means I can get some solitude. Carve out your space.

5.       Go for walks. Similar to above. Get away from it all, and you’ll see sights as well!

Are you also introverted? How can you carve out a bit more recharging time in your day, so that you’re presenting your best self to the world? There are a lot of ways to be. Don’t be shy about embracing your own.

My Athletic Journey (Part 2)

Big picture item:

Self-reflection is important. Be honest with yourself about where you can improve. You’re not perfect.

 

Part two of My Athletic Journey will cover the professional part of my career, including USATF National Championships in 2009. Again, I’ve told my “life” story many times, and the chronology of it is available in other areas of the internet, so I want to talk about stuff that has happened to get me here through a current, overall lesson lens.

In Part One, I mentioned my major back injury in 2007, and how the recovery and core strength gains I made changed me for the good and, from where I’m sitting, put me on the 2008 Olympic Team. Injuries are opportunities, and that has absolutely been true in my professional career.

Russ and I moved to Chula Vista the Fall after I graduated from Purdue (2009). In February-ish, Mike and I were doing some testing: Overhead forward shot throws as far as we could. Something felt really weird, and after some tests, I was told that I sprained a facet in my thoracic-lumbar junction (a bony vertebra process right in the middle of my back). I had excruciating pain if I tried to arch after that. My previous injuries were either overuse or things that had clear protocol to heal, and then I did this traumatic thing that didn’t seem to respond to anything but rest, and sometimes not even that. I didn’t throw for a month. Nothing seemed to work. I finally tried a fantastic sports acupuncture clinic in Ocean Beach, and the season was saved! I opened at 61.80m at the end of April, the second-best throw of my career at that point. I learned that rest is best and patience is worth it, and to be my own self-advocate as far as looking for new therapies sometimes. I also learned things about risk vs. reward in training programs (how to train smart). Do I need to measure a heavy overhead forward shotput throw? Probably not then, and definitely not anymore.

I tore my left anterior cruciate ligament at the Olympic Trials in 2012. In September, I went under the knife for my first ever major surgery: A bone-patella-bone ipsilateral ACL reconstruction. I had no idea what I was in for. No one could have prepared me for the weird physical extreme discomfort that surgery and the healing process can bring. Becoming accustomed to the sensations that accompany getting range of motion back and breaking up scar tissue is very weird. Trusting that things that feel completely abnormal are normal takes practice. I had never done lower extremity exercises beyond regular exercise before (no one ever taught me how NOT to tear my ACL), so the process of teaching my glutes how to fire and learning how my knees should move was incredibly rewarding. Realizing how deficient I had been in certain areas made me see the rest of my body differently too, and helped me focus on the details of training moving forward to protect my health. Rehabilitation-based exercises will give me confidence in throwing for the rest of my career.

In 2015, I was having the time of my life in the first half of the season. I threw 66.47m in May and won USAs with a big series for me and 64.91m. Then, my left shoulder was torn just after nationals. I may have had existing rotator cuff damage, but something beyond my control tore my labrum, and the rest of my season suffered. I managed to get 8th at World Championships and silver at PanAm Games, but the pain in my left shoulder prevented me from having much length in my right arm, and was a huge, painful negative in a lot of my training. Making the decision to have surgery to fix it in October 2015 put the Rio Olympics in jeopardy for me, but I knew how bitter I was becoming about the injury. That simply wasn’t good for my overall wellbeing, and I also knew that I couldn’t accomplish what I dreamed of while feeling how I did (physically and mentally). My 13th-place finish in Rio is still painful, but I know that I did my best with what I had. My entire left shoulder saga was a big lesson in the fact that life is sometimes not fair, but that we have control over our attitudes and actions.

My last little injury story is about the Spring of 2016. I drove home from Austin in early April, and somehow managed to impinge both a fat pad in my left knee and my right shoulder. I know the shoulder is from my right and left sides playing tug-of-war in my surgery recovery process, but the knee made any kind of explosive movement really painful, too. They were both fairly minor things, but also both prevented normal training for a while, and forced me to cancel plans I had made to compete in May. I’m glad. We adopted Maddie the Dog at the beginning of May, and I got to spend a solid seven weeks with her, bonding and helping her adjust to her new home (her third and forever one, but she didn’t know that at the time and was nervous). If I hadn’t been forced to rest, our bond might not be so close, and that’s irreplaceable to me. Family first.

PanAms and shoulder tape.jpg

PanAms 2015

note L shoulder KT tape.

Something I’ve been reminded of again in the last year or two is that change is my friend. New situations and ideas are stimulating, I think to everyone. I’ve never perceived change as stressful though, even when it maybe should have been.

Some Universities send their freshly-graduated seniors to USATF National Championships (eligibility is up, but they pay for the trip and often the athletes wear the school uniform). Not so with Purdue, which is fine, but was also scary at the time. I traveled with Russ to Eugene in 2009, but we stayed separate from each other (he with Adam, me in the Springfield Motel 6 alone). I borrowed my Mom’s car and drove it from Vancouver to save as much money as possible. My coach wasn’t with me. I had the craziest, most inconsistent series of my life, but I also PRed by 2.5 meters and started my post-collegiate career off with a second senior national championship. Relying on myself, it turned out, was scary but also awesome.

After one year of training with Ty Sevin as my coach, Jamie Myers as my strength coach, and Mike Hazle as my training partner, I experienced the magic of my 2010 season. A thrower’s first post-collegiate year is “supposed” to be really hard, but living in Chula Vista, where my then-boyfriend Russ also felt supported and motivated, prioritizing the thought process that 2010 WOULD be successful despite the odds, and finally getting enough sleep after college translated to all that change meaning amazing results and experiences.

The 2015 season might’ve ended with a surgery, but it was also fantastic in a lot of ways, because it was the first year I was fully back from ACL surgery (I competed in 2013 and 2014, but wearing my knee brace both seasons and with tentativeness). Going through a period of basically 2.5 years without a true full-on javelin throw and then having the success that I did at the beginning of 2015 blew my mind. I felt like a new thrower, because I kind of was after all that rehab and patience. I also had a new name, and similar to the stigma that the first year out of college is difficult, many throwers have struggled in their first season after tying the knot. Russ and I were fully aware of that, and vowed to each other that the Wingers would succeed in 2015. We both medaled at PanAms, won NACAC Senior Championships 9 years after we met at NACAC U-23’s, had great USAs performances, and roomed together at Worlds (and I, by no coincidence, had my best performance at a major).

Jamie Myers is my fantastic strength coach of almost a decade and reliable, honest friend. He has been my training and competition sounding board for as long as he has been in my life. So, when I was fairly devastated at the end of the 2017 season, having a debriefing conversation intermingled with motivated musings from both of us got me excited about the future again. We talked about how there is always room for improvement, for anyone, and that Dana Lyon, my good friend of 14 years, might be the perfect fit for a new technical coach. She was and is. Jamie and I discussed and continue to discuss shifting focus to exercises that actually address issues that I have and impact javelin performance rather than too much general stuff. It’s so fun to continually adapt. This felt like a huge leap, as it meant taking a lot more of an active role in planning my training than I ever had, and I had to practice that to be confident in it. It was a lot easier for me to trust Jamie and Dana than myself in the beginning of this new coaching and training process, but I absolutely love our teamwork now, and we all wholeheartedly believe in my abilities. It’s super fun to be reinvigorated by them.

That last bit leads me to the idea of finding your keepers. Build a community that continues to show up. People who make it obvious that they like you and want to be part of your life in positive ways. It helps a lot if you do that for them, too. Russ loved me through some of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with, and helped me grow enormously in ways outside of athletics. Dana had already been popping into my USAFA practices for five years before I asked her to coach me, and has always been a light in my life. When I found out I tore my ACL, Jamie and Maggie (his wife, my lovely matron of honor) were my first friends who knew and comforted me with quality time together, since Russ was out of town. Chris Garcia has been an incredible resource and enthusiastic supporter ever since I first met him in 2011. There are many more on the personal side. Recognizing these keepers shouldn’t be difficult with just a little bit of self-reflection. Is it easy to be around them? Do you feel motivated to be better when you leave them or talk together? Is there enough laughter? It’s okay to have great relationships with the people you work with. You also have to learn to deal with people you don’t like, but your inner circle should inspire you, and probably vice-versa. Lift each other up.

One of the specific questions I got about this phase of life was, “How do you balance the need for income while training professionally?” As the need for income as an adult is a real thing that everyone deals with and a necessary factor in anyone’s journey through life, it feels appropriate to address that a little in this blog. Without income, I wouldn’t have been an athlete for close to a decade now. I sort of attempted to answer this question (about the business of track and field) in a podcast I recently participated in. This world of sponsorship, ambassadorship, prize money, and donations from family and fans/supporters is difficult and ever-changing, but can be a really fun challenge. The true answer to this question is that I never expected to make money as a professional javelin thrower, but I have. Part 2 of that answer is that I am very careful with my money, and have saved and invested a good chunk of it. I’ve had a couple of really good contracts and a couple of pretty good prize money years, and the way I treated that income fuels the thinner times. I’ve always been aware that income in this sport is fairly unpredictable (and had a few good mentors to clue me into that fact), so my strategy has been to support myself between income opportunities by saving. I don’t ever want to be unable to train the way I know works for me because I’m frantically running out of funds. So I save, and I hustle.

Changing my training in 2018 to a lot fewer hours per week means that I have more time to devote to other projects. Some of those generate income, while others might in the future. In the same way that change doesn’t cause me stress, a lack of consistent income doesn’t necessarily either, but that is only because I am just comfortable enough with how I save money when I have it coming in in bigger quantities. I am the perfect amount of comfortable financially and motivated to continue attracting income opportunities. I also enjoy compartmentalizing my life in this way: Training is when I’m fully devoted to just getting better, and the other hours in the day are spent working to support that time (and spent with Maddie the Dog). I’m a huge fan of people who work full-time and also compete in track and field. If I had to do that, I would embrace the challenge. Many people with “real” jobs work out regularly, so if your training is focused enough, what really is the difference? You can pursue multiple dreams at the same time, you just might need to be a really good communicator. Which I think we all should strive to be. But that’s another blog.

I would be remiss if I didn’t credit the USOC and USATF for at least some of my financial stability. I have been part of the USATF Resident Athlete program at both the Chula Vista and Colorado Springs Olympic Training Centers for the entirety of my professional career. Training facility and sports medicine costs can be huge reasons that athletes (especially in the throws, I think) don’t last very long after college. I’m very grateful for these two organizations for lifting that burden for me. The coaching staff at the United States Air Force Academy has been very generous with their facilities and welcoming attitude for six years as well!

 Again, rapid-fire answers to the original question to wrap up!

“(College graduation) to present, how you became the athlete you are now, the steps that you took.”

1.       Be brave. I had no idea what this career would look like or how far it would go, but I was willing to embrace progress over perfection.

2.       Continually check in with and perhaps re-set goals. What’s working? What’s not? Has progress been completely derailed by injury? What goals can you set within that new framework?

3.       Have a companion. I can’t put into words how much I love my husband and his role in my career. (This doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship, but mine is.)

4.       Keep having fun. This is related to checking in with goals. Enjoyment and passion should be goals, IMO.

5.       Celebrate. Too many people just bore through some of the things that should enrich life. The little moments are the big moments!

6.       Check your own ego. Javelin will humble you. Starting over is an opportunity to start better.

7.       Do something else, too. I didn’t realize how much I missed having other things in my life until I went to grad school. Grow in other ways alongside athletics.

8.       Take care of your body. Stretch a little every day. I go to the public gym just to go in the hot tub and steam room some days. Get as much sleep as you can. Recovery is everything.

My Athletic Journey (Part 1)

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. 😊

Lindsey and I at NCAAs 2006!

Lindsey and I at NCAAs 2006!

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.

Olympic Trials 2008

Olympic Trials 2008

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.

Russ.jpg

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.

A:

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!

How to Return from Injury (Injuries, Pt. 3)

Months of hard work, unfortunately, don’t automatically translate into spectacular performances! Returning to sport can be difficult, but as long as you have done what your rehab required of you (and have learned to be brave along the way), you’re ready. Participating in your sport again can be scary, but I bet you’ll feel more exhilarated to be back than nervous about what could happen. That’s always how I’ve felt!

1.       Trust your rehab.

You don’t do rehab to go back to sport and think about every movement you make! You do rehab to teach your body to move correctly, and do enough of it that those movements become second nature. Then, when you’re playing your sport again, being your best is all you have to think about. Some people itch to get back on the field (or whatever), and other people get obsessive about the rehab process. I’m somewhere in between! Wherever you fall on the patience/impatience or rehab like/dislike spectrum, the hours and hours of teaching your body how to move should always be your secret mental weapon. When preparing to re-enter the sports world after injury, my strength has always come from knowing how hard I worked in physical therapy, and trusting the people I chose to work with and the strength I built to do its job.

The great Chris Garcia told me during my ACL rehab, “You’re not 100% until you’re 100%.” I have video of the first time I threw with any speed beyond a walk again after knee surgery, and the joy is contagious. I almost cried. The javelin went probably 40 meters. Everyone starts somewhere when returning to sport: Keep all of the hard rehab work in mind and approach re-learning your event in the same way. Little victories add up to all-of-a-sudden being 100%. The magic moment when you execute a movement that might have been what injured you or what has been hurting throughout the healing process will surprise you, and then you’ll want more. That’s when you know you’re back!

2.       Continue your rehab.

I did twice-weekly intensive knee rehab sessions all the way through the 2014 season. I have one or two knee rehab exercises in every single warm-up I do in my training. On recovery days, I throw shoulder and knee rehab stuff into my routine. Recovery for the specific joints that have given me trouble in the past is always top priority. My right shoulder developed an impingement after my left shoulder surgery, so rehab on both continues to be part of my regular routine.

Adding rehab exercises on top of your regular training can mean you get overtrained. Talk to your coach and develop a system to build rehab into training! It’s incredibly important, and there are ways to make rehabilitation exercises sport-specific, even if that just means you’re thinking about how to correctly move a joint while doing a tried-and-true drill. I’ve done it both ways (rehab as extra hours of training and incorporated rehab), and I much prefer making healthy movements part of my normal day (see my Instagram story for examples of this). Reminding your body how to move correctly and THEN asking it to perform your sport means you have a better chance at staying healthy: You’ll recruit the correct muscle groups, meaning your movements are also more powerful. Translation? You’ll probably be a better athlete. Rehab is life.

3.       Recover.

Recovery is always important. It’s really easy, once you feel like yourself again, to forget this lesson. Lots of sleep, ice/ice baths, other forms of cryotherapy, air pressure flush techniques (NormaTec), massage, chiropractic, ART, and stretching are just the beginning of ways you can help your body feel better. Keep recovering when you’ve re-entered sport! Your previous injury will feel really good at first, but if you don’t give it an opportunity to shove some swelling out, or you don’t allow all your other body parts to rest, you risk re-injury or hurting another area. Once in a while, I’m very good at spending a whole day at home with my dog, watching shows and trying new recipes in my kitchen, with intermittent NormaTec sessions. Reward that body of yours that healed so well with some laziness every now and again.

4.       Live your best life!

Keep in touch with whatever (outside sport) caught your interest during the healing process. Setbacks happen in returning from injury, so try not to completely abandon other things in life that make you happy when it seems that you’re back in action! Having my little family, finishing my MBA, renovating homes, practicing the piano again, spending time outdoors, and reading for fun don’t distract me from training, but make my training more effective. I’m happy all-around, therefore my attitude in training is great, sometimes even on frustrating throwing days!

2014 USAs in Sacramento (second season post-ACL surgery). Image by Mark J. Terrill.

2014 USAs in Sacramento (second season post-ACL surgery). Image by Mark J. Terrill.

Coming back from injury can be glorious, but it might take more time than you prefer. Stay the course. Trust the process and the awesome team that you put in place. Rushing an injury is like kicking a big rock in frustration; seems like it will feel good to release some emotions, but just exacerbates the problem. You’ll know it when it’s time for a spectacular performance, and it will be 100% worth all of the hours you put into your healing. Say thank you to the people who helped you along the way.

This third entry concludes my injury blog series! See parts one and two. What would you like to learn next? Comment!