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Road to Nationals

My process and inspiration for writing articles for my column each week typically begin with an idea that I had gotten from a conversation, an advertisement I saw, or an article that I read that I found interesting. I will then research the topic and boil the idea down to a manageable 600-900 words. This week, however, I had a different idea. I thought I would give you all a first-hand account of some unique experiences and opportunities my family and I have recently encountered (and I have well-exceeded my 900-word space).

You might have read the recent Webb Weekly feature about some local track athletes that did especially well at the PIAA State Track Meet in Shippensburg. More specifically, you may have read about my son, Peter, who won the javelin state championship with a throw of 214’3”. At that time, that throw moved him into 2nd place in the rankings for top throws for boys’ high school track in the country.

Since winning the state championship in an especially competitive state and district and achieving a high national ranking, many people have asked me what is next for my son and if there are any more competitions in the near future.

High school track is unlike some other sports that may have formal competitions beyond the state level. For most track athletes, if they are fortunate, competing at the state level is the highlight of their season and career. There are, however, multiple “national” level meets, mostly held in June, that are sponsored by major athletic shoe companies such as Nike, Adidas, and New Balance, or meets such as the Junior Olympics. These meets will also draw the best athletes from around the country for bragging rights and a chance to compete against the best of the best.

Somewhat of a last-minute decision, Peter has decided to compete at the New Balance Nationals held in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania facilities June 15-18. So, by the time you read this installment, the meet will have taken place, and I will, hopefully, have some good news about how Peter faired in the competition.

A little bit about the meet. This weekend, the New Balance Nationals will host approximately 8,000 of the best high school athletes from around the country. Though this meet is independent of the scholastic track system, athletes still need to meet high standards to be able to compete. Javelin, specifically, has a minimum qualifying of 168’ for the Championship division. Though this doesn’t sound like much with the numbers that have been recently listed by state competitors, I would like to put this into perspective. 168’ would win most Division 2 and Division 3 dual collegiate meets anywhere in the United States. So, to see these local high school athletes from Wyoming (PA), Danville, Southern Columbia, Jersey Shore, and other nearby towns throwing well into the 200s just shows you how crazy good our local talent really is.

The events are spread out over four days, with the javelin taking place on Sunday. The day will begin with a check-in time beginning at 7:30 a.m., and the event will start at 9:00 a.m. Currently, there are 62 javelin throwers registered. This includes almost all of the top throwers from Pennsylvania and some of the best out-of-state throwers — a sort of who’s who in the throwing world.

The throwers will be seeded, with the top throws receiving the highest seed placement. They will then be divided into groups called flights that usually consist of 8 to 12 throwers. The lower-ranked flights will go first and take all three of their throws. Each flight will work through all three of their attempts until the top-ranked flight goes. The reason for the flight system is so there isn’t an excessive time between attempts by a single athlete so as to prevent the athlete from getting “cold” and/or injured. When the top-ranked flight completes their throws, the top throw by each athlete is ranked, and a finals group of usually nine athletes is organized. Athletes competing in the finals are once again seeded (ranked) and get three additional throws. The top throw of the meet wins.
Our preparation

The javelin is a complex event that is far more than just throwing a pointy stick. It requires strength, speed, power, timing, and a very high degree of technical skill. Because of the complexity of the event, javelin throwers typically don’t peak until they are 30-39 years of age. Far older than the mid-20s of most sports.

Among other competitive regulations, the javelin must weigh at least 800g for men and 600g for women and be 2.6m-2.7m for men and 2.2-2.3m for women in length. A top-rated javelin is usually made of carbon and can cost more than $1,200. In addition, top-rated throwers usually receive highly specialized training beyond their high school coach and only train in javelin.

Unfortunately, largely due to living in a very rural part of Central Pennsylvania, Peter has had almost no opportunities for advanced training nor trains with the best facilities or equipment. In addition, to score points for his team, Peter was unable to specialize in the javelin and actually divided his training time among four different events.

However, Peter did have a few things going for him that have made him an exceptionally skilled and highly recruited thrower in only two outdoor training seasons.

First, he is an exceptional all-around athlete, which is rare. He can see a movement once or twice and pick it up quickly. He was an exceptional soccer player, in addition to other sports, and could have competed in college in any of several sports.

Second, he is very coachable and can receive and follow through with instructions. As most coaches can attest, not everyone takes instruction well.

Third, he is exceptionally strong and powerful. At around 200 pounds, he can lift more weight than most Division 1 linemen in football that weigh 300 pounds. For example, he can squat almost 600 pounds as a high school athlete. Just to give you an idea of how heavy that is, it is the equivalent of two refrigerators and would likely crush a normal person!

Last, and most important, his work ethic is unmatched. He and his twin brother Nick would get up at 5 a.m. to train at the local YMCA before school most days, go to class, go to track practice, then usually go to their part-time jobs. When his high school coach wasn’t available, Peter would drill on his own.

After winning states, Peter intentionally tapered down his training to give his body a break.

Currently, we are taking a well-needed family vacation at the beach. We will be leaving our beach rental a day early and driving six hours to Philadelphia, where we will stay overnight, then head straight to the competition the next morning.

To have javelins to train and compete, we actually rigged a case to the top of our van and have basically been traveling up and down the east coast with three javelins in a large tube. To train, Peter and I have been getting up at 5 a.m. at the beach and driving to a nearby park before anyone in the area gets up. You can’t exactly practice throwing a javelin with people walking around. He and his brother have also been grabbing light strength workouts at the fitness center in our development.

With two children graduating from graduate school and two graduating high school, district and state competitions, early morning training, and hectic travel schedules, it has been a very stressful time. It has also been extremely exciting. We, like most parents, are looking forward to watching our children grow, develop, and fulfill their dreams, including Peter’s upcoming national competition. Whether he wins or doesn’t throw well, all of our running around will be worth the effort, as it is the journey that is important. Stay tuned for updates on track and other things.