Friday, April 19, 2013

Peart eyeing nationals, again

By Sam Horn, Sports Writer

The cool wind whisked across my face as I walked through the freshly cut grass toward the throwers’ pit located at the far end of the football field across from Olson Gym.
   
As I arrived at the pit, I began to hear the deep beats and inventive rhythms from Macklemore’s album, “The Heist,” which was blaring on the speakers. When I eventually reached my destination, the man I was seeking stood head and shoulders above the rest.

   
His eyes focused on the task at hand as he picked up what seemed to be a medieval mace and started to swing it around violently before releasing the dangerous weapon, wreaking havoc on the grass as it abruptly landed after traveling several meters.
   
The behemoth of an athlete turned around after his throw, and his demeanor changed all of a sudden. One moment, he was in the zone. The next, his face turned into a smile and he waved at me, signaling me to come over.
   
I dared not venture toward the net, as there were hammers flying, but figured it would be safe to approach him. The man stepped outside of the ‘net cage’ and heartily shook my hand.
   
“Hello, my name is Kyle Peart.” Those were the first words I heard the burly individual say once I started to shake his hand. Peart could be mistaken for a man in his mid-twenties, but he is a junior at Pacific Lutheran University.
   
After exchanging pleasantries, I had the privilege to witness Peart throw the hammer, which I had earlier thought was a mace. I say it was an honor, because watching the reigning Northwest Conference hammer champion hone his skills at this art was nothing short of extraordinary.
   
Peart’s massive hands treated the hammer like a ragdoll as he whirled around in the thrower’s circle and flung the hammer in the still air. Judging from what I had seen from Peart’s throws, I would have never guessed he did not begin throwing until his first year at PLU.
   
Peart got his start in the art of throwing the discus and shot put during his freshman year of high school. He had several friends on the track team, and they successfully persuaded him to join the team.
   
Because of Peart’s size, all six feet and six inches of him, the coaches immediately recognized his potential for the throwing events. Peart used his height to his advantage in other sports as well, as he played basketball and water polo throughout his high school career.
   
He was originally going to attend a junior college in California for water polo, but decided to go to PLU and throw. Dan Haakenson, the throwing coach, said he is glad Peart chose PLU.
   
I could sense from the beginning that Peart and Haakenson have a good relationship. Peart didn’t have to tell me that — I could observe it.
   
They cracked jokes and laughed at each other’s remarks, while at the same time, Haakenson gave Peart some helpful feedback. From my experience, it’s important to have a good coach who you can not only be friends with, but also receive critiques from in order to make you a better athlete and person.
   
“[Peart] is a really likeable guy. He’s determined to be a good leader and teammate,” Haakenson said. “As an athlete, he has a strong desire to be successful on the field. He does what’s required for him to succeed.”
   
Part of Peart’s success has come from the fact that he has never had to overcome any lasting injuries. Of course, he has had to deal with an aching back or a sore ankle, but these are common problems for all athletes. However, Peart does wear a brace on his left knee to keep it warm and secure.
  
Peart has also been lucky enough to have a supportive father who guides him and encourages him throughout his collegiate throwing career. Peart said his father shoots him texts occasionally, asking him how practice went and saying how excited he is to see his son throw at the next track meet.
   
Peart has been on the track team for three years and that has allowed several older, remarkable athletes to he his mentors. Conor McNeill was one of those athletes who mentored Peart and made him a better athlete.
   
“When I came to PLU, I thought there was no way that I could compete with Conor [McNeill]. He was such a beast,” Peart said. “After a while, I began to learn from him, and he just told me to keep at it and I would get better.”
   
McNeill, who graduated in spring 2011, now serves as an assistant coach for the football program at PLU, as well as the track team. He owns several weight lifting records at PLU, and every day, when students work out in the Names Fitness Center, they are reminded of his physical prowess.
   
I had the opportunity to meet McNeill, and while he isn’t as tall as Peart, he has shoulders the size of Mt. Rainier. I can see why he excelled in both track and football when he attended PLU. Peart is now gearing up for the Northwest Conference meet, which takes place April 26-27.
   
Peart’s workout regime has begun to simmer down, as he said he doesn’t want to burn himself out. When you’re throwing the shot put, discus and hammer twice on any given day, it’s important to be aware of your physical and mental state.
   
At the beginning of the season, Peart worked out at Names Fitness Center five nights per week. As the season has worn on, however, Peart has dialed his workout regimen down a notch, now only working out three times per week in the gym.
   
Soon enough, Peart will only work out twice per week in order to prepare himself not only for the all-conference meet, but also for nationals. When you take first place for the hammer in your conference your sophomore year, the odds of you repeating are in your favor. With that being said, Peart is looking to place in the top 20 in the nation in an effort to go back to nationals for the second year in a row.
   
“[Peart] works very hard in the off-season and always rises to the competition when he needs to,” sophomore David Stenger, a longtime friend of Peart’s, said.
   
You can only compete in college for so long, however. After four years, an athlete has to say goodbye to college and say hello to the work force. Peart is majoring in sociology and has aspirations of being a police officer. Many of his family friends are police officers, and that path toward the call of duty, Peart said, has always been appealing to him.
   
Leaving the interview, I knew I had just spent the last half hour with a track legend at PLU. To come into college as a young first year with no experience in throwing the hammer must be hard, especially if you observe a boulder of a man like Conor McNeill tossing the hammer effortlessly.
   
What is more impressive is the fact that Peart learned all he could from Haakenson and applied those bits of advice to throwing the hammer. The throwers competing at the national tournament this year and next should be afraid. They have to compete against Peart, who has truly risen to the competition and proved to everyone that with hard work and passion, accomplishing the impossible is possible.