- October 7, 2020
Ever wondered what it feels like to throw a javelin?
According to the people who do it, the feeling is primal.
"I envision an animal down there that I'm trying to hunt," Lakewood Ranch High junior Levi Freed said. "Sometimes it hurts (to throw far), but it's all part of the experience."
The feeling makes sense.
Freed and the other javelin throwers at Lakewood Ranch are learning a skill that dates back to the days of hunting and gathering societies, those who used spears to bring home their food. The sport of javelin grew out of those days and later became widely contested in ancient Greece. It was added to the Olympic games in 708 B.C.
The Florida High School Athletic Association held its first javelin championship in 1925 but banned the sport in 1950 out of safety concerns. The sport returned to FHSAA competition in 2018 with new safety rules in place, including a mandate that all javelins have rubber tips at least 35 millimeters long and five millimeters thick in case anyone is accidentally struck during competition. It stayed a regular season-only sport until 2021, when it returned to state championship track and field meets.
The competitors at Lakewood Ranch said they have no safety concerns — at least, not enough to get them to stop. The sport itself is too much fun, they said.
As the sport is new to most because of its recent return to the high school ranks, its competitors have discovered it in different ways. Freed said he found the sport through his brother, Caleb Freed, who competed in the sport at Cedar Park Christian in Bothell, Washington, and finished ninth at the 2016 state championship meet (148 feet, 10 inches) as a senior. Ever since watching his brother at the state meet, Levi Freed knew he wanted to give it a shot as well. Now he is and as of March 11, Freed ranks 15th in Class 4A with a 152-foot, 1.25-inch toss, a throw he made March 9 at the North Port Invitational at North Port High.
Not everyone has a family connection. Mustangs senior Tony Lenchinsky said he started his track and field career last year as a sprinter, but picked up javelin after catching a glimpse of the Mustangs' other throwers. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, Lenchinsky said.
"I mean, you're throwing a spear, what's not cool about that?" Lenchinsky said. "It looked interesting. I gave it a few throws and the coaches said I had potential."
Other throwers did not pick the sport themselves, the sport picked them. Or, at least, someone else picked it for them. Mustangs junior Madie Adams said her coaches mentioned the sport to her at a practice last season and encouraged her to try it. Adams did, and was quickly hooked. So hooked, that Adams hired a personal throws coach, Andy Vince. Adams said they primarily worked on her block — the contact the thrower's lead leg makes with the ground that helps the throwing arm accelerate — as well as her run-up to the throw itself.
"The way I was positioning my feet wasn't as efficient as it could have been," Adams said of the changes. "He fixed my last step on the runway and it helped a lot."
Adams' year-over-year improvement has been dramatic. She finished 10th at the Mustangs' district meet in 2022 with a throw of 79 feet, 5.5 inches. In 2023, her best throw is 99 feet, 7.25 inches, which she hit Feb. 24 at Riverview High's Rams Invitational. It ranks 23rd in Class 4A.
When the Mustangs track and field teams practice, they section off a sliver of the school's football field for javelin use. People know to stay out of the throwers' lane, but with other field events mainly happening in the corners of the stadium instead of the field, there's little danger of hitting anyone with a stray throw.
Javelin might never be a mainstream track and field event, but the Mustangs are preaching its gospel anyway. Adams, who also plays on the school's soccer team, said she told her teammates about her second sport and most of them didn't get it. She even brought one of her personal javelins to a soccer practice so people could try it afterwards. The verdict, Adams said, was that javelin was more difficult than they thought it would be.
It may look simple — run, step and throw — but using proper technique can make the difference between a throw that soars and a throw that dive bombs into the dirt. Lenchinsky said a thrower's success is based 60% on technique and 40% on strength, in his estimation. But it is also about feel. In addition to the throwing motion itself, throwers use different grips based on what's comfortable for their hand.
It can be a frustrating process, the throwers said, but no matter whether a thrower learns from a brother like Freed does, from a coach like Adams does, or from online training clips like Lenchinsky does, the most important thing remains the same — the feeling of a good throw.
"It's the best thing ever," Lenchinsky said. "You watch it fly, and you're like, 'Whew.' It's incredible."