|by Howard W. Hewitt • April 22, 2005|
Wabash Track and Field Coach Rob Johnson’s time as a 2000 assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic team is paying dividends for his young track athletes.
Tom Pukstys, a 1992 and 96 member of the U.S. Olympic team, worked Friday with four freshmen javelin throwers. Pukstys, the ‘grand old man of American javelin throwing’ according to USA Track and Field, is now retired from active competition. He lives and works in Chicago as a sports performance trainer working with young athletes. (See photo album at bottom of page.)
"I enjoy my sport tremendously," the nine-time national team member said. "Coach (Johnson) knows how I feel, he was around. People saw the look on my face and knew I was having the time of my life. Now the only option I have is to coach people and give them the same feelings that I have. Today was fun."
Pukstys told the four freshmen he worked with that his edge was his mental skills more than his physical ability. That allowed him to concentrate throughout the hour-long session on technique.
"It’s frustrating when you first start and you don’t really have a coach who knows it," said Little Giant Lincoln Smith. "Sometimes you feel like you’re stuck. But this really helped me to just get a base I can really build on now."
Smith had never thrown at Lakeland High School, near Howe, Ind. "I did shot and discus and came here and wanted to throw. They suggested I try javelin. Besides, we have some pretty big guys in shot."
Smith was joined by teammates Keegan McLaughlin, P.J. Smith, and David Coddens.
Coach Johnson, who had a long-time association with the Olympic Development Committee and US Junior National Teams, wanted his talented freshmen to benefit from Pukstys' expertise.
"I feel fortunate to have had an Olympic experience and have a connection with Olympic caliber athletes like Tom," said the 30-year Little Giant coach. "For these kids the first time they come to college is the first time they see a javelin. I have such a good group of freshmen I wanted them to get a good foundation."
Pukstys, who was U.S. world record holder from 1993 to 2004 and recorded a personal best of 87.12 meters in 1997, said it’s the joy for his sport that he likes sharing.
"For me it was a form of expression and it was me trying to let people see me and how I wanted to see the world," he explained. "Competing for me was the ability to see what I could do. It was like a war against myself and my physical skills. I enjoyed the sport obviously and I allowed for people to see that. I wanted to show them that I tried very hard."
Hewitt is Wabash College's Director of New Media and Web Editor.
Above left: Pukstys shows the Wabash College freshmen the proper throwing form.
Below right: Freshman Smith throws a medicine ball with Pukstys watching to learn proper arm position.