It’s not everyday that we have a world class Olympic athlete roll through Force Barbell HQ, but that is exactly what happened when Olympic javelin thrower Kara Patterson sat down with fans on May 10th.
Patterson is a two-time Olympian, and just recently competed in the London games…with a completely torn ACL!
She is the current American record holder in javelin with a throw of 66.67 meters. While at Purdue, she was a first-team all Big Ten performer twice, three-time all academic Big Ten, two-time All-American, and the 2008 Big Ten field athlete of the championships and Big Ten field athlete of the year. She is a four-time USA outdoor champion. Patterson made her Olympic debut at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Check out Kara’s American record throw!
Dan and Kyle took some time to talk to Patterson about the Olympics, weight lifting, her personal life, and the mental grind that an athlete endures.
Dan: At Force Barbell our main objective is to change lives. We like to do that by exposing people to different aspects of sport. My passion lies in Olympic weight lifting and Tyler’s lies in track and field. And Indiana’s a little different; in Indiana we want to expose kids to a bigger picture of what track and field consists of. Could you tell us and give us your experience of getting involved in javelin.
Patterson: Well I’m from Washington state, and when I came to Purdue I knew there were no high school javelin throwers in the state of Indiana, and not to mention most of the Midwest, and it’s an interesting thing to come and be a part of it. Freshman year of high school my geometry teacher was the women’s track coach at my school. And I swam and played basketball for my high school already, and before that growing up I played softball and volleyball and indoor and outdoor soccer.
I tried track and field in eighth grade and didn’t love anything that I did. So when he (the coach) looked at me and said that I was an athlete and to come and throw javelin I said “oh, okay I will give it a try.” I PR-ed (personal record) by 15 feet at state my freshman year and got second, and then won the next three years. And then I got called by colleges and when I visited Purdue the people were amazing and my coach, I knew, would do really great things for me. Plus Serene Ross had thrown the Purdue school record, which was an American record, and to have that lofty of a goal to break her record was really important to me. It took me a long time, but I finally did it in 2008.
Dan: So take us back to when you were a kid you experienced all of those different sports; what got you involved in a multitude of sports?
Patterson: I think just the friendships that I made with teammates were my driving forces. I don’t come from a family of athletes really. My family is in shape and athletic, but no one was a standout athlete. But, as soon as I tried something, and became instant friends with people, I knew it was valuable in my life. We also moved around a lot when I was little, so it was a really great way for me to meet people.
Dan: As a kid growing up, were you able to find role models in track and field, and role models that were female?
Patterson: I wasn’t exposed really to track and field until eight grade. I guess I did in fifth grade a little bit on the grass track that they mow out in the front field. But, there was a woman from Washington, her names Erica Wheeler, and her state record was really far when I was in high school, and she was still throwing as a competitive athlete. I got to meet her really soon into my career, and just the fact that she was from Washington and she was still competing, and I had no idea that was possible when I started. But to be lucky enough to meet someone like that, that could show me the way to get to that level. A lot of times athletes don’t meet someone like that, and so they literally don’t know that there is professional track and field.
Dan: Could you give us advice? And any parents, to help get more exposure? I think that is the number one goal.
Patterson: I mean in this day and age literally you can Google, like “what is professional track and field?” And back then, huge credit to my mom for figuring all that stuff out. Because there are avenues that you can go that don’t expose you. It’s really just about being proactive and searching for whatever your sport is. It’s good to go to these events, meets, camps that you can spectate at, and meet and greet.
Dan: Was javelin something that you picked up easily? Or did you spend hours and hours slaving away at the track? And how was the mentoring between you and your coach, and what was the process to get you to that point, in such a short period of time?
Patterson: Well when I started in eighth grade I didn’t even know about javelin. I did high jump, discus, and long distance running. I didn’t love it. I didn’t love any of it. My high school basketball coach even laughed at me when I told him I had done high jump, because I am not that explosive of an athlete. But, I worked really hard at javelin, and the only reason I went out for the team was because he (coach) said something different from what I had already tried. There was still something that I could explore in that sport, and it felt good for him to single me out and say “YOU could be really good at throwing javelin.” When you have somebody that starts out supporting you and encouraging you in a specific path, I couldn’t help but work hard and be inspired. Because I knew that he cared about the results I was going to get, and he still does. And he is still a part of my life. You have to hold on to that educator that is going above and beyond. Since it was so foreign to me I had to work really hard at it, and it was really awkward. I remember that my first competition was way better than anyone expected, but the whole year was a struggle after that to maintain that distance.
Dan: When you were in high school, did you have strength and conditioning at your high school?
Patterson: I didn’t consistently lift until college.
Dan: Talk about the throws and the mentor-ship of the specific throws while at Purdue. And also your relationship with your throws coach.
Patterson: He recruited me out of high school, and he could not have been better for me as a coach. He was as hard on me as he needed to be, and was a great motivator. His calm way of motivating athletes is so awesome. One of my favorite things about working with him, was when I made the Olympic team in 2008 I was still a Purdue athlete, and Purdue sent him to Beijing and to be able to share that with him was so awesome.
Dan: At what point did you realize that the Olympics were a reality for you?
Patterson: We had a meet at Purdue my sophomore year, and it was on April 1st and was 30 degrees, snowing sideways. It was so cold and dark, and just gross…..and I had a five meter personal record. It was into the worst wind ever and I threw 56 meters. It was just crazy, and I thought to myself that was in terrible conditions, and not an accident of course, I had been training hard for it. If that was a product of just basic hard work, what else would I be capable of doing? That was kind of when the seed had planted. I always had thought about it.
Dan: Be honest, when you had that moment of realization do you think you worked harder?
Patterson: I think I was working as hard as I could up to that point. I was so lucky to have a really good training partner, Lindsay Blaine. She was from Washington, and she had thrown farther than I had in high school. I had to work so hard everyday to keep up with her, to follow that great example that she set.
Dan: Did you understand the importance of Olympic lifting when you went into the weight room?
Patterson: Oh yeah, I understood the importance of lifting right away. Especially because I was so sore after the first week, I was like “oh I have a lot of ground to make up.” I had never felt that stability before; throwing javelin was kind of a third of my life in high school. I didn’t train for it year-round. I was always conscious of being in shape for it, but I didn’t throw javelin until it was track season. But I would go to the gym in the morning and run before swimming practice in the afternoon. I was always aware to be ready for the sport I was about to participate in, but lifting wasn’t something that I ever thought about. So having the opportunity to do that in college was awesome. It took me a couple of years to understand how lifting would work with my body.
Dan: What was your favorite lift to train?
Patterson: I liked cleans, because I felt comfortable in that range of motion. I liked snatches for javelin, I just wasn’t very good at them, but I am getting better now that I have learned how to use my legs. I liked cleans, because they seemed like the quintessential strength training lift.
Dan: Give us a little bit of a road map since you left Purdue.
Patterson: I moved to California, to the Olympic training center out there the fall after I graduated in 2009. I was there for three years and I just moved to Colorado Springs to their Olympic training center this past December.
Dan: What’s the biggest difference going from a collegiate track and field athlete to a professional?
Patterson: It’s the more individual aspect of it. I had one training partner, instead of the whole team. And to have a coach that understands professional track and field. Also, just the money. At Purdue, if you wanted to get a custom back brace you could. If you have an amazing sponsor like I do, Asics, then they will help you out. There aren’t a lot of throwers that are fortunate enough to not have another job.
Dan: How does that pressure relate to you? Do you feel external pressure?
Patterson: I tore my ACL at the trials, I competed on it torn in London, which I am really happy about for a lot of reasons. My contract that I signed with Asics in 2009 was scheduled to expire in December of 2012, so I tore my ACL right before this. They are the greatest company that I could have possibly worked with. I wasn’t freaking out about it, but it was always in the back of my mind. Like “could I lose this? Are they going to stick by me?” Of course they did, but it was just a question mark for a couple of months. I never even voiced it because I didn’t want to talk about it or address the issue, and just see what happened. And they didn’t even just sign me for one more year, they signed me for four more years. So I am so grateful for that.
Check out Kara and Russ’s commercial here:
Kyle: What were the steps in getting your sponsorship?
Patterson: I talked to some post-collegiate athletes that I knew already. I talked to someone that was already an Asics athlete, and she told me to put together a slide show, and I could show that to potential sponsors. Generally you get an agent, and they have connections with a shoe company, and they put together a proposal.
Dan: Would you ever let the lack of financial support deter you from competing?
Patterson: I’m someone who loves a little bit of struggle. Just the little bit of extra work you have to put in to get your work out in and making sure you’re doing everything you are supposed to do is really good for me. It helps me focus on the task at hand. If I got to the point where I would have to get a job, and I have thought about this a lot, I think that would be really fun. There are some companies that are really awesome to some track and field athletes.
Kyle: In all individual sports there is the mental grind, how do you get things moving when things are bad?
Patterson: I am big on rest. I don’t think that people understand how important that is. Over the past couple of years I have had little nagging injuries that I have tried to push through, and I felt like I was disappointing my coach if I didn’t show up to practice everyday. Then it all culminated in to tearing my ACL. So if I had taken some more time to recover, and listen to my body better, that probably would not have happened. My coach will literally tell me to go home sometimes. Being okay with that, is part of mental training. It is a mental grind to keep training, but also to be okay with knowing when to take it easy.
Kyle: Do you think being more well-rounded in other areas of your life will help you in your performance on the field?
Patterson: I think it will, I mean I saw a lot of improvement in college, through my five years of undergraduate education. Since then it has been somewhat of a struggle. It was kind of the only thing going on for me. I was frustrated with it for awhile, I had been thinking about getting an MBA for a long time, and I just applied…so here we go.
Dan: Do you ever see a point where you would just concede because you are old?
Patterson: No, I don’t just because I’m old. It’s hard for me to think about after Rio, just because I am excited for other things in my life. But if I feel amazing at that point and want to keep going I am going to do it. It is also hard to think about because I am going through this recovery process.
Dan: What has been your favorite experience in track and field outside of the Olympics?
Patterson: I always think about the Big Ten championship in 2008. That was where I threw to get on to the Beijing Olympic team. I fell in warmups and I sprained my left wrist really bad. Afterwards I was shaking really bad because it hurt so much. The first throw I had was a five meter personal record and Purdue record. To still be on the Purdue team and have everyone there…it was the best.
Dan: If this was not your profession, what do you think you would be doing?
Patterson: It has been fun to do all of my speed skater rehab, and I would love to be a winter Olympian. But I am not dare devil enough to do downhill skiing.
Although we will not be able to see her compete in the 2014 downhill skiing at the winter Olympics, she plans on competing in the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro. We would like to thank Kara Patterson for the time, and wish her the best of luck in the future. Kara in a great role model for all young inspiring Olympians.
One last note, you are going to see Kara’s commercial for Asics during the NBA Finals, you can get a preview at www.asicstraining.com.
Live Light, Lift Heavy,