BOGACZYK: Herd’s Heiniger Goes Far for Javelin Success
The Word on the Herd-April 27, 2016
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – It’s an 810-mile, 12-hour drive from home to Huntington for Heidi Heiniger, but the Marshall track and field freshman will tell you it’s not always about the distance.
“It hasn’t been hard to focus so far because of where I am in the process,” said Heiniger, who has made her college debut throwing the javelin for the Herd. “It’s more about the process. I know that I can fix more things and eventually get there.
“No, I’m very focused on myself – that does sound bad. But to me, it’s ‘Yeah, they can go throw that, but hey, I can eventually do that, too’ – if I keep working toward it.”
What Heiniger was saying is that it’s an introspective approach, and when she’s competing against more experienced and more successful throwers, she doesn’t concern herself with their performances.
So far, so good. The blond Heiniger has three wins in Herd outdoor meets this spring, and Friday will throw at the tradition-rich Penn Relays in Philadelphia. That’s a long way from her farm home in Sabetha, a Kansas town of some 2,500 residents tucked into the state’s northeast corner, near the borders with Nebraska and Missouri.
Travis Coleman, the Marshall assistant coach who works with the throwers, has to stretch far and wide to find javelin prospects. Fewer than 20 high school federations allow the sport. Heiniger said Marshall had what she wanted, so …
“Travis contacted me over the summer (of 2014) and I really liked it from the start,” Heiniger said. “And I really wanted to throw javelin after high school, and since Marshall is Division I, that’s what I wanted – go to as big a school as I could. And then I came on a visit and really loved it.
“I’d gotten recruiting letters from South Dakota, talked with the coach there, and some from Ivy League schools – but I didn’t want to go that far away.”
At the Penn Relays, she will be on the campus at the University of Pennsylvania, one of those Ivies. Her victories to date came at north Florida, Western Carolina and Virginia, where last weekend a throw of 42.80 meters (140-5) is her collegiate best … but more than 3 ½ feet below her top effort at Sabetha High School, where she was in a 2015 graduating class of 55.
“We’ve changed a lot of technique from high school,” she said. “In high school, I mainly just threw with my arm. Now, I’m learning to use my speed and my legs more to throw. Eventually, that will get me where I want to go.”
Coleman has his athletes write down a goal in preseason and Heiniger’s was “at least 150 feet.” The Herd record in the javelin was set in 2013 by Amanda Kennedy, at 48.24m (158-3).
“Heidi’s success thus far can mainly be contributed to her mindset and understanding of the process we are working on,” Coleman said. “Every athlete that comes to college wants to be good, and Heidi is no different. Where she excels the most is understanding there’s a process to becoming great.
“Most freshmen step on campus and want to rule the world, but they forget every athlete at the Division I level has the same talent and potential. Heidi knows she is one of hundreds of javelin throwers in the country, so she sets herself apart by buying fully into the program and process and doing the little things we work on to the best of her ability.
“We’ve spoken about potential and what the goals for each athlete are as they get through school. We have short- and long-term goals. The goal for this year is to break 150 feet (45.70m) and right now she has hit 42.80m which translates to 140-5, so she is getting close to her short-term goal already. To some 10 feet sounds like a lot to gain, but with an implement that only weighs about a pound, all you need is that one throw that cuts through the air just right and there is no telling where it will land.
“The good thing about her goal is that it would give her a great chance to be a Conference USA champion in her freshman year as well as punch her ticket to NCAA first round – and those are huge accomplishments for a freshman.’
Heiniger, 19, has plenty of support. Her parents, Cory and Shelia, “have driven something like 15 hours one way each of the last two meets to watch her throw six throws and turn around and drive home,” Coleman said. “While they are spending 30 hours in the car, Heidi’s older siblings travel back home to the family farm to take care of the animals and do the feedings until they get back.
“That is how her family runs and you can see that it has been instilled in her – you support your friends and family and they do the same for you when you need it.”
Heiniger, Marshall’s only current scholarship athlete from Kansas, is a biological sciences major also minoring in chemistry, and she is enrolled in the MU Honors College. She posted a 3.75 GPA in her first semester, and her curriculum choice may one day take her home again.
“I’m not really sure exactly where I want to go with it, but eventually I’d like to take over my family’s farm or at least help in operations, because I really like working with the cattle,” Heiniger said. “So, I think I want to focus in that area. And Marshall doesn’t have agricultural degrees, so I thought biological sciences was the closest thing to that.”
She said her family owns and operates a farm of about 1,000 acres, growing corn, beans and rye and tending to about 200 head of cattle. Heiniger said the commitment and effort it takes in farming has contributed to her athletic success and team ethic.
“That contributes a lot, I think, just the determination and hard work you put in, and you don’t quit once you start,” Heiniger said. “I played volleyball, basketball and did track and field in high school, played softball in the summer … My sister, Connie, played basketball at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. My parents went to her games all the time, too. They’re very supportive and I really love and appreciate that they come to watch me.”
Heiniger said the most difficult part of her first track and field year at Marshall was having the patience to get through the indoor season, which does not include javelin competition. She didn’t get to make her debut until mid-March at Wake Forest, while her teammates were running, jumping and throwing every weekend once the spring semester began.
“It was definitely difficult,” Heiniger said. “I had to wait a long time and I was really ready to go, to compete and see how much I’d improved from high school. And I wasn’t really sad, but kind of seeing everybody out there competing, I have to admit it was frustrating.”
Now that she is past her early success, with the C-USA Championships only two weeks away, Heiniger can reflect on her first five weeks of collegiate competition.
“I’ve been kind of surprised, yes,” Heiniger admitted. “The first time I won (at the UNF Spring Break Invitational) I was very shocked, I guess. Because, I figured, you know, you come to college and everybody’s got to be at least slightly better than you are or maybe around the same.
“And to have won three times, that’s amazing to me. I’m very happy about that. But I’m most happy I can contribute and perform for our team.
“Travis has helped a lot. He’s definitely helped me improve on my technique and he’s very supportive … He tells me I can’t get ‘in my head.’ In high school I got in my head and then I wouldn’t compete very well. But Travis is very much like, ‘Hey, if you don’t do well, that’s OK. We’ll get it next time. There are always more throws.’ He works on your confidence.”
That Sabetha-to-Huntington trip, she figures, is not how far you travel, but what you do with it.
“Finding Heidi and getting her to Marshall were all just part of the process we go through every year,” Coleman said. “With the javelin only being contested in a handful of states, you are forced to get out of your comfort zone of recruiting at times. You have to be OK being told ‘No’ by recruits from far away, but anytime you get that one that is on board for going away for college and wants a new adventure then it makes it worth it. Heidi was one of those athletes.
“One thing Heidi possesses for a freshman that just can’t be taught is her ability to go out and compete no matter the situation. Many freshmen are forced to learn how to compete when they come from high school. It can be extremely tough for a freshman who is used to winning easily in high school to go out and throw a PR (personal record) and maybe not even make finals.
“As an athlete you can only control you and nobody or nothing else, so if you go throw farther than you ever have in your life and somebody else beats you, then they beat you and there is nothing you can do about it but go back to practice and work just as hard as you did the week before to throw farther than you ever have – and hope that it is enough to get the job done for you and your team. That is one thing Heidi has ingrained in her … She also holds a great understanding of herself and what she needs to do to prepare to throw.”