By Siobhan Bauer
SEATTLE, Wash. - As a developing athlete, having the opportunity to converse and work with individuals who are at the top of their game is invaluable. Their experience and insight into the highly competitive, post-collegiate world provides a great platform to be a mentor to young athletes who are looking to develop their own skills.
Throughout the past year, the throwers on the Husky track and field team have been fortunate enough to interact on some level with four world-class athletes including former Husky Aretha Thurmond, two Pac-12 alumni, Ryan Whiting (ASU ‘10) and Jill Camarena-Williams (Stanford ‘04), and Boise State graduate Jarred Rome, a Western Washington native.
All of these athletes have spent time with the Washington throwers in different ways. Camarena-Williams was on the staff for UW summer throwing camps this past summer. Whiting has traveled to Seattle for some one-on-one work with Husky throws coach T.J. Crater, who has doubled as Whiting’s personal coach for the past four years. Rome also used the Husky facilities for the occasional training session.
Crater began coaching Whiting before leaving Penn State to come to Washington in 2011. Once the duo started working together, Whiting recorded a ninth place finish at the 2012 London Olympics, a gold medal at the 2012 World Indoor Championships, as well as a silver medal at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.
Coach Crater recognizes how important getting another point of view is. He explained, “I can tell our athletes how to get there but when they hear it from people who have actually, physically done it, and they’ve lived it and they’ve stood in that ring or on that runway and thrown, it’s another perspective. And that’s something I can never teach them.”
“It definitely makes a difference to have these throwers around,” explained sophomore Hannah Sherrill. “I know for me, I have spent many hours watching them on YouTube, and it is amazing to actually get to see them throwing and drilling in real life. Seeing them in person and talking to them really made me want to follow in their footsteps. By meeting them it made me and others realize how hard we have to work if we want to throw as big as they do.”
Sophomore Alyx Toeaina explained that having these throwers around, “makes practice exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. You're excited to be around such elite throwers, but you also want to do very well in front of them.”
The biggest benefit to having the elite athletes on hand is less about mimicking techniques, but more in terms of learning the mental and personal side of growing into an elite athlete.
Washington Hall of Famer and four-time USA Olympian Aretha Thurmond took time to come back to the track and share valuable advice to the athletes whose shoes she filled years before. Sophomore Hannah Sherrill explained that, “the most helpful things I have received from them is what I can do to better myself outside of practice and time management advice. When talking to Aretha, she expressed the importance of being mentally strong and gave tips on how to stay focused and relaxed during meets.”
Sophomore Bev Coleman said one thing she picked up is, “no matter what the situation is, always keep your head up and turn those bad practice days into good practice days as well. Everyone had to start somewhere and we shouldn't discourage ourselves, but put in the effort it takes to be where we want to be.”
While there is a bit of a star-factor aura when meeting big name athletes, at the end of the day, to these college athletes, they are getting an opportunity to interact with them as if they were colleagues or teammates. Jack Scheideman, a redshirt freshman, expressed that, “They are the best of the best, and have done so many things for our sport so it is a great opportunity to meet them. Also just to listen to their advice; they have all been in many of the same positions as us and have succeeded.”
Allowing his athletes to gain the most from the interaction, Crater said, “I make it a point to step away and let the ice be broken and let our athletes ask things like ‘how far did you throw in high school? Or ‘I saw you in the Olympics,’ and give the opportunity for the kids to be able to say that they really had a conversation and not that they just saw them at practice one time.”
That was not lost on Coleman. “I have admired Aretha since I was in junior high and being able to say I've met her face to face is a huge experience for me,” she said. “Being able to watch the Olympics and say that I know some of these amazing throwers is a great feeling.”
Whenever their schedules allow, Coach Crater says he wants an open-door policy if these elite throwing talents are looking for a place to train. Ultimately, Crater explained, “it’s about just getting around them and just seeing that they’re real people, they’re good people and they care about their sport. It makes the kids that much more fired up about it, because they’re thinking ‘I can do that too!’”