Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tucson Zoo adventure!

Russ and Drew Ulrick are in Brazil, and they got second and third at the meet in Uberlandia today!
Good work, guys. :)

Speaking of those two...the three of us (Russ, me and Drew) got to go to the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson on Sunday before Russ and I left town! We were lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes tour from one of Adam's roommates, Jed. It was amazing. When you go to a zoo, all you see is the animals in their habitats, minding their own business and maybe not seeming that happy. When you get to go on an exclusive tour of the Tucson Zoo and meet animals like Shaba the elephant, Denver and Texas the giraffes, DJ the mandrill, and Kobe the polar bear, you see the special relationship that the keepers form with the animals and what a great service zoos do for education, not to mention sustaining species of animals.

We got to feed the giraffes carrots! I tried to pet one of them, but I guess they don't like that very much. Their tongues are black instead of pink so they don't get sunburned! I heard somewhere a long time ago that a giraffe tongue can take the skin off of a human, but I don't think that's true, as I still have the skin on my hands.

I don't know if you know this about me, but I LOVE elephants. In March of 2009, Russ and I came to San Diego to visit the training center and make sure we wanted to move here, and on our trip, we got to see a two-day-old elephant at the San Diego's Zoo's Wild Animal Park. I am not even embarassed to say that I cried a little bit when I saw him. Up to this point in my life though, I haven't had (that I remember) a close encounter with one. So, when Jed's girlfriend Cassie took us into the elephant exhibit to meet Shaba, a huge female African elephant, I was beyond words. Cassie asked Java to lay down and stand back up, lift up each of her feet, wave her trunk at us, and fan out her ears, among other tricks and behaviors. We got some great pictures at that point, and came back later to touch the bottoms of her feet (she's ticklish!), her side, and her tail. SO COOL.

Drew likes monkeys, so we met DJ, a male mandrill. He was in the overnight room behind the exhibit when we met him; he smiled at us, gave us a little head bob (apparently a sign of dominance...), and we fed him peanuts through the door of his room! It was awesome to see his little fingers reach for the food through the cracks! He doesn't eat the peanut shells either, so it was even more impressive that he peeled them off and just got at the good stuff.

Russ's enthusiasm for bears might equal mine for elephants. He even made little black bear stencils to put on his discuses, and they are really cool. The last animal we visited on our tour was Kobe, a 700-pound female polar bear. She was waiting at a chain-link fence behind her exhibit for Alicia, her trainer, when we all walked up! We each got a turn standing next to her and asking her to perform her behaviors for us; "Kobe, tongue" for her to lick our fingers through the fence or, "Kobe, open" for her to open her mouth wide and show her scary teeth! Once she did what we asked her to, we got to feed her a cracker! To have your fingers that close to a polar bear's mouth is kind of intense. I was struck by the urge to try and reach through the fence and pet the bear's head, and this sentiment let me know that I should never be a polar bear trainer; I'd most likely lose my perspective on the reality that these animals are extremely powerful! Better safe than sorry!

If you ever have the chance to see how zookeepers and trainers interact with their animals first-hand, it would be a big mistake to pass it up. It was simply incredible!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tucson Elite

Ever since I first heard about the Tucson Elite Throwers' Classic at the University of Arizona, I have wanted to attend! However, I haven't gotten the chance because of a clash between this meet and the collegiate championship season.
This weekend was my first trip to Tucson, Arizona; loved it.
I drove the 6.5 hours with Russ on Tuesday morning after a massage for me and acupuncture for him at AcuSport Health Center. We have fun on road trips, no matter what he might tell you! A new trivia game on the iPad was helpful :). We drove straight to the track and did a shake-out, got some dinner with Adam Kuehl and girlfriend Courtney, and put in some shut-eye! Wednesday was a day of pre-meet practice, greeting thrower friends that arrived that day, and rest.

Tucson Elite is set up to mimic a bigger, championship season competition. The two-day format imitates the Olympic Trials, Olympics or Worlds in that there is a qualifying round (three attempts per athlete) followed 48 hours later by a final contested between the top 12 athletes from the qualifier. It's awesome to get some practice competing close together like this! There was a meet Thursday and another one Saturday. The meets started at 4pm with women's hammer, followed closely by and at the same time as all of the other throwing events! Women's javelin was at 7:30pm, and Russ threw discus at 5:30 and shot put at 8:30. I've never really done a shake-out/get-the-muscles-firing jaunt the morning of a meet, but I tried it out on Thursday. Kept it minimal; just a bit of a walking warm-up, maybe two 20-meter sprints and some low jumping before getting lunch and relaxing all afternoon (I watched Planet 51; juvenile but cute!).
Thursday was fun! Saturday was more fun!
Thursday I threw 60.33m on my first throw, and 60.14m on my second, followed by 4 throws in the 50s. It was my first meet with two throws over 60 meters! Then Saturday (I didn't do a shakeout/warm-up in the morning), I threw 61.74m on my first throw, 57m on my second, and 61.17m on my third! Two throws over sixty one meters. The biomechanists that USATF employs to analyze the different throwing events were in attendance, and watching video that Steve Leigh took from Thursday helped me keep my right shoulder higher, control my speed at the beginning of my approach, and try to keep my chest up at release on Saturday. Here's my best throw from Saturday (61.75m); as you can see, the chest still has a long way to go :).

As previously posted, my plan was to throw on May 20th (Thursday) in Tucson, then on May 26th (Wednesday) in Uberlandia, Brazil. However, Brazilian Visa drama struck on Friday morning around 6:45am. I received a wake-up call (literally!) from the lady helping me at the visa agency I am using in Chicago. She told me that she didn't think they would receive my Visa on Friday, meaning they wouldn't be able to overnight it that night, and I wouldn't be able to leave on Monday as planned because I need it (and my passport, which they have) to travel. The Consulate isn't open on weekends, so Saturday wasn't an option either. I talked to them this morning, and it really doesn't look like I'll be going to Brazil after all. The frustrating thing about this experience is that I followed directions. I called numerous times to make sure I was submitting the right paperwork and signing all the dotted lines I needed to, but it's not working out. Coach Jim Lathrop, my strength coach at Purdue, gave me a great piece of advice once.
He said to worry about what you can control.
I can control my attitude about the change of plans. I can control how I prepare for whichever meet will be my next. I'd rather focus on those things than get worked up about something I can actally learn from. Speaking of things I can control; it is well within my control to drive to the Brazilian Consulate in LA next time and get the Visa myself :).

Russ did amazing this weekend!!! He PRed in shot on Thursday, throwing three fair throws over 20.30m (the World A Standard from last year) with a best effort of 21.25m (69' 8"). Then on Saturday he had six shot throws over 20.30m, with exactly the same best effort of 21.25m! It was awesome to see him so fired up and competitive; he has been working so hard on technique and cementing throwing concepts that it was nice to see him let loose! He also had three or four discus throws on Saturday over 60m! What a STUD! Here's his best throw from Saturday, courtesy of Will Conwell's YouTube account.

Britney was incredible as well!! She PRed in hammer on Saturday, twice. Her fourth throw was 70.90m, and her sixth was 71.15m. That's an America-leading throw :). I was so excited when I heard that I teared up! Go you.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Entertainment and the Great Outdoors!

I did something "trendy." I don't normally go out and buy things to keep up with the Joneses or what have you, but for traveling and entertainment purposes, I purchased an iPad. It's light and small, has great battery life, and I can read books on it! I love to read but I sorta hate traveling with books, so problem solved. Let's just all hope my eyesight doesn't suffer! The games I can get are really fun, but Russ pointed something out yesterday; people spend lots of money buying these expensive pieces of equipment, only to play simple, basic games on them. For example: large, powerful office computers are often used for Solitaire! That's not to say that we both don't enjoy playing Unblock Me on my iPad, though.

Russ wants to start spearfishing. Before I met him and we started dating, I had no idea there were so many different kinds of fishing to be done! Anyway, I think spearfishing is interesting, but unlike the other kinds of fishing I've tried with the best BF ever, I have no interest in participating in this kind. I would, however, like to get into other water activities! Snorkeling, scuba diving, stand-up paddle boarding, etc. Snorkeling here will be much different than what I remember it being when I was little in Hawaii, though; cooler water temperatures and murkier water are slightly scary to me! Therefore, I bought a nice wetsuit yesterday that was on super clearance sale as a first step to delving into new underwater fun. I'm excited!
Upcoming meets for me are as follows:
Tucson, Arizona: May 20th
Uberlandia, Brazil: May 26th
Maringa, Brazil: May 30th
Hopefully: Rome, Italy: June 10th
If Not: San Diego Mesa College: June 12th
Des Moines, Iowa (USA Championships): June 25th

The meet in Rome is huge. The Diamond League makes its debut this summer, and the first meet with women's javelin is tomorrow in Doha, Qatar. Rome is the second. The start list for Doha doesn't have me on it and I'm sad, but I just have a little more proving myself to do!

I'm feeling awesome. I've been a little tired lately, but going to bed a little (sometimes a lot) earlier, taking a few more ice baths, and keeping up with my vitamins is essential for getting fresh again! When your body is complaining and you don't know quite why, make good decisions to get it better.
How you feel is mostly your responsibility!
All in all, I have been repeating generally great technique, and I feel like I have good power. I've also been getting back into a comfort zone in the weightroom; I'm still a little nervous that something might cramp up at any time since I've had such problems with that, but it's no way to live life, so I'll get over it soon :). I'm really looking forward to my impending flurry of competitions!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

International Experience

Happy Cinco de Mayo!! Kudos, Mexican army, for defeating the French army in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

Today was a rest day for me, or at least a recovery day. I did a walking warm-up, hurdle mobility for my hips, and a bunch of rehabilitation stuff that helps the little, complicated parts of my body (ahem, shoulders) stay together.
I love days like this because I walk away from practice feeling whole and balanced.

I'm competing in two meets in Brazil at the end of May; Uberlandia on May 26th and Maringa on May 30th. In order to enter Brazil, Americans need a Visa. The process of getting one can be pretty complicated, and I spent the day post-practice filling out paperwork in order to get one. I don't know if you've ever gone through the process before, but it's a good idea to start early. Oops. Sometimes that's not possible in the track and field world!
Best to be flexible and open-minded at all times.

After dealing with all the business, I headed down to the field to watch Mike and Andreas Thorkildsen throw. Lately we've had a bunch of foreign throwers around the training center, and it's simply an awesome environment! Everyone is happy to be here and working alongside each other to improve; it's so fun to see four discuses (disci?) flying across the field at a time instead of just one, and getting to know everyone has been great. Alas, there will always be more ring throwers than javelin throwers!
I think there's something you can learn from everyone you meet,
and there's a lot I can learn from athletes that have already been in the professional track and field environment for a while. Tero Jarvenpaa, Mikaela Ingberg, and a younger thrower, Miko (who is very good but I don't know his last name and I feel terrible) are three Finns who trained here too. Mikaela is amazing. She has SO much experience and is super willing to share ideas, opinions, and advice. I'm not much of a brain-picker, but I asked her a fair few questions :).

Anyway! Watching Andreas and Mike throw today was really cool. I don't know if you know this, but Andreas is kind of a big deal, and to be able to even attempt to learn from a javelin thrower of his caliber is exciting!! Plus, he's a nice guy, willing to help younger, more inexperienced athletes (read: me).

Basically, this summer will be about getting as much international competition in as I can! I want to learn to be tough and always ready to release a big throw. This probably won't get accomplished in just one season, but I tend to expect a lot from myself. Being surrounded by people that encourage and challenge me to improve is never a bad thing!

Here's a picture of Mike, since he's my current favorite training partner :).