Blake Wood currently holds the fourth-longest throw in the state in all classifications.
Javelin wasn't Blake Wood's first choice.
In fact, Wood, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High, did not know the sport still existed until last season. In his mind, javelins were things he read about in history books. Imagine his surprise when he reached out to Lakewood Ranch's track and field coaches about potential events he could try and they asked not about his speed — he wanted to be a sprinter — but about his wingspan.
"Before I knew it, I was throwing," Wood said. "I found it fun, so I decided to stick with it."
Wood can't be blamed for not knowing about the sport. The Florida High School Athletic Association held its first javelin state championship in 1925 but banned the sport in 1950 because of safety concerns. It was brought back to regular-season meets in 2018 with new safety regulations, like requiring all javelins to have rubber tips 35 millimeters long and 5 millimeters thick. It works exactly how it sounds: participants get a running start and throw the javelins as far as they can. The farthest throw wins.
Last year was supposed to be the sport's return to the state championship meet, but the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the meet. Instead, 2021 will see the first javelin medals awarded in 71 years, and Wood has a chance to have one around his neck. At the 2021 Ram Invitational, held Feb. 26 at Riverview High, Wood won the javelin with a toss of 157 feet, six inches — a toss that was six feet, two inches better than Lemon Bay High senior Reece Willis, who finished second. Wood also holds the fourth-longest throw in the state (168 feet, nine inches) in all classifications, set at the IMG Academy Invitational in February.
Wood wasn't always this skilled. When he started last season, he said, he had no idea what he was doing, and to some extent, he still does not. Wood said he's honed his technique by watching world-class javelin throwers on YouTube and copying what they do. He will then practice those things while watching himself in a mirror. Last season, Wood said, he was using his arm too much. This year, his focus has been on generating power from his lower body and letting his arm simply guide the javelin to the right launch angle.
That video training, plus some weightlifting and rotator cuff exercises, gave Wood the edge he needed.
Mark Stephens, the Mustangs' throws coach, said Wood is still raw despite his more refined technique, as he only had three weeks of real practice last season before the shutdown. However, his natural gifts allow him to speed up the learning process. Any background in a sport where you throw things, like baseball, basketball or football, helps in javelin, and Wood previously played basketball for the Mustangs. Stephens said Wood's footwork is good, and his timing in the transition between the run-up (moving straight ahead) and the crossover (moving with your body torqued to the side to increase throw power) is getting better.
"I would say his technique is just above average right now," Stephens said. "But there's no doubt in my mind that with his length and athleticism, he will be up there [on the podium] at the last meet of the year."
Wood said he's noticed the sport already growing in popularity. Last season, he said, there would be around 20 boys javelin participants at each meet. At the Ram Invitational, there were 32. The women's side of the sport is also growing; there were 27 such competitors at the Ram Invitational.
Wood said he believes all interested parties should give the sport a shot.
"There's honestly not much to it," Wood said. "I had no expectations when I started and now I'm here. You won't know if you like it until you try."
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