SEATTLE - One throw was all it took to erase the memory of a forgettable year.
Sidestepping up the runway at USC’s Loker Stadium on March 21, Quinn Hale fed off the adrenaline rush of his first competition in nine months, lined up the javelin along his right arm and sent it shooting through the air, puncturing the grass exactly 235-feet, 7-inches away, or a little more than 78 yards on a football field. The throw was a career-best by 13-feet, a major step forward, and a long-awaited one.
Hale joined the ranks of Washington’s talented javelin crew in 2012, and enjoyed an excellent freshman season that saw him take fourth at the Pac-12 meet and just miss a bid to the national finals by three spots.
Looking to advance to the All-America level achieved by his teammates Kyle Nielsen, Joe Zimmerman, and Jimmy Brookman, it never quite came together for Hale as a sophomore, with his best throw of the year falling a couple feet short of the mark he established the year before.
It was a season that would be the envy of hundreds of college throwers – reaching NCAA Prelims again and scoring at Pac-12s for a second time with a sixth-place finish – but a year had come and gone and Hale had not moved closer to his goals.
“Last year it wasn’t the year that I wanted, and coming into this year I was really motivated to show that I could PR and that I could throw up near the national elite level in college,” says Hale. “Going into this year I had that on my mind all the time. Proving that last year was just a fluke.”
Although it quite literally fell from the sky, that first throw of Hale’s 2014 season did not come out of nowhere. It was the product of months of motivated training, and working with assistant throws coach T.J. Crater to fine-tune the technique that makes javelin much tougher than an outsider might think from first glance.
I think just working on the technique with Coach Crater and really focusing on a couple things helped me get to that next PR.
“I have heard a lot of people say, ‘I could chuck that a mile’ or ‘that doesn’t look that hard,’ but there are so many things that could go wrong with javelin,” says Hale. “One degree difference in your javelin’s angle can cause ten feet depending on where you are throwing. I think a lot of people come out and try to throw the javelin and can see that on their first couple throws when they can’t fly it straight.”
Count Hale among those who had a rude awakening when he took up the sport in high school at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma. His older sister, Alivia, had made it to the Washington State Championships throwing the javelin, so when Hale started to lose interest in baseball, he decided to give the javelin a shot.
“When I first came out I was awful,” Hale admits. “I threw 119 feet my freshman year, compared to a guy like (teammate) Curtis (Clauson) who was throwing in the 170s. But I really liked the sport and just kept working on it and worked my way up to 212 by the end of high school. It was just something that came with time.”
For someone who was used to regular and rapid improvement, hitting a plateau last season was tough for Hale, and proof that the better one gets, the harder it is to make improvements.
Breaking through the plateau required two things: “The first was getting in the weight room and working hard, adding a little strength, a little speed, and getting stronger in areas that help the throw,” Hale says, which is easy enough to understand.
The second aspect is harder for the non-javelin-junkies to follow, but sounds like a pitcher tweaking their wind-up: “The second part was improving the right side of my body, and really getting that through and getting fast on the right. Last year I kind of sat on the right and my ankle would pop up and I wasn’t getting through the javelin. I think just working on the technique with Coach Crater and really focusing on a couple things helped me get to that next PR.”
Hale also had to take more ownership this season as one of the only upperclassmen in a throws group made up almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores. He and redshirt sophomore Curtis Clausen are the only throwers in their third years with Crater, and their coach came to them at the start of the season and made it clear that this was their time to step up.
Clauson is also looking to outdo his freshman PR, but under different circumstances, as he missed all of 2013 after having elbow surgery. His first meet back was at the Stanford Invitational earlier this month, where he threw just a foot short of his career-best. While rehabbing last year, Clauson says, “I could definitely tell Quinn was frustrated, just in his training I think, he wasn’t all that focused. Once the guys like Jimmy and Joe left ahead of him, he really took the role of being a top guy and trained like it. You can definitely tell how it’s transitioned into his throwing this season.”
We all feel that we need to come in and score a lot of points in the Pac-12 and carry on that javelin legacy at UW.
In each of the past four years, the Huskies have had at least three scorers in the Pac-12 men’s javelin every year, with four in 2012. Hale and Clauson and sophomore Carson Fuller, an All-America honorable mention as a freshman, want to extend that streak.
“We all feel that we need to come in and score a lot of points in the Pac-12 and carry on that javelin legacy at UW,” says Hale. “That was a big thing and I knew that I was one of the veterans of the group, and it’s just about leading the way and showing the NCAA that we are still a great javelin group and can carry on this tradition.”
If Hale can continue to improve, he should have a great chance at competing not only at NCAA Championships, but potentially the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, something he pinpointed as a goal if he throws post-collegiately. After that, he’ll put to use the degree in accounting that he’s currently working towards.
That one throw could be just the start.
“It felt like a weight had been lifted off my back,” Hale says. “Now I can just work towards nationals and get to that meet that I’ve never gotten to before. I’m in a major I enjoy and I am just going to enjoy these last two years.”