CONESTOGA – Katie Drake has tried to create a successful arc in life with every decision she has made.
Her positive choices have helped her become one of the best collegiate javelin throwers in the country.
Drake soared into the national javelin conversation during her sophomore season at Doane University. The Conestoga graduate won four titles at area events and finished 12th at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Outdoor Track and Field Championships. She said she was pleased to have climbed into a winning elevation with her javelin efforts.
“I’ve been really happy with the progress that I’ve made,” Drake said. “It’s taken a lot of work, but I think I’ve gotten better each time I’ve gone out for a practice or a meet. I enjoy it a lot, so it’s been fun to see my distances get longer this season.”
Drake, who helped Conestoga win a state softball championship as a senior infielder, signed with Doane’s track and field program after setting a CHS-best mark of 10-0 in the pole vault. She said she was receptive to the idea of learning how to throw a javelin when Doane coaches asked her to try it. She said she soon learned there was more to the sport than just a hold-aim-throw motion.
“I knew I could throw a ball pretty well, so I thought that I could throw a stick too. I thought it would be easy to pick up,” Drake said with a gentle laugh. “I was wrong about that. It is not the same at all.”
Collegiate women throw javelins that are seven feet long and are made of aluminum, steel and carbon fiber. Athletes grip the object with one arm and race down a runway to the throwing line. They then hurl the metal-tipped spear as far as they can.
Athletes may not turn their back to the javelin landing area at any stage of their approach and throw. They must toss the javelin over the upper part of their throwing arm and their body cannot cross the foul line at any time. The javelin must also strike the ground tip first and fall within the marked 29-degree-wide landing area.
“It’s different than anything else I’ve ever tried,” Drake said. “When you go down the runway you’re not quite shuffling your feet, but you’re not going in a full sprint either. Then you have to release it with the right amount of speed at the right angle or it’s not going to go very far. It takes a lot of practice to figure it all out.”
Drake finished 12th in the Great Plains Athletic Conference Outdoor Championships as a freshman with a toss of 109 feet, 9 inches. She then made huge strides at the beginning of the 2018 season. She began the year with a second-place toss of 120-3 at the Hastings Bronco Invite, and she claimed javelin championships in her next four appearances for Doane.
Drake’s winning streak included a throw of 135-5 at the Jim Dutcher Memorial Classic in Crete. That distance allowed her to automatically qualify for the NAIA national event.
Athletes from across the country traveled to Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium in Gulf Shores, Ala., for NAIA action May 24-26. Javelin throwers contended with rainy and humid conditions throughout their competition near the Gulf Coast.
Bailey Dell of Northwest Christian (Ore.) University won the national title with a throw of 155-6. Morningside College’s Kati Kneifl (153-6) and Northwest (Wash.) University’s Anna Miller (146-8) placed second and third. Drake captured 12th place with a distance of 123-7.
Drake said she was inspired by watching other top javelin athletes at the national meet. She said it was a valuable experience to view how veteran throwers approached their craft.
“I’m really glad I had a chance to see everything up close there,” Drake said. “It wasn’t like I was watching it on TV from halfway across the country. Being there and seeing all of those girls make throws like that was really motivating for me. It made me think, ‘I want to do that too.’”
Drake said she has multiple targets to reach during the next couple of seasons at Doane. The first is to continue working on her elementary and middle school education degree, which includes an endorsement in science. The second is to try to break Mary Karol Raymond’s top Doane javelin mark of 153-2. The third is to return to nationals and become an All-American by finishing in the top eight places.
“I’ve still got two years to go, so hopefully I can continue to get better,” Drake said. “I definitely want to be an All-American, and I want to get that school record too. Those are big goals for me right now.”