Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Kaitlyn Long Working on Mastering the Ball and Chain

Hammer throw winner Kaitlyn Long with three teammates on the podium at the NSIC
Championships. Photo by Winona State

She's only a freshman at Winona State, but already Kaitlyn Long is having an impact with a ball and chain.  A triple sport athlete in high school, Long is now focused on the weight throw indoors and the hammer outdoors, and she's already won one national championship.  This week she triesto add a second.

"I'm really competitive," she says in something of an understatement.  In an interview after her indoor weight throw win Long declared that ultimately she was hoping to break records in her events not only in DII, but go after DI marks as well.  If she can accomplish that, she says: "I have a big picture goal. I think it would be great to make the Olympics."  All this from someone who hadn't thrown the implements until she arrived in Winona.

Despite the lofty goals, she is also realistic.  While success has come rapidly in her events she doesn't go into her events thinking about records or titles.  She concentrates on getting the best out of herself on the day, hoping that will take care of how well she finishes.  Going into the NCAA indoor nationals, Long says, she wasn't particularly nervous.  "I felt really calm," she said, noting that one reason for her improvement has been sessions with a sports psychologist.  "He helped me think of more positive things,"  Long said.  "I've always been, like, strong.  Adding the mental part has been really important.  Before I felt like I only had part of the package.  Now I feel more confident."

"All my coches in the past have told me that I adapt very well.  My basketball coach(in high school where she also played volleyball, as well as competing in track) would always tell us not to get too high, not to get too low."  Stay on an even keel, control your emotions.

"I took a psychcology class my senior year(of high school) and I really enjoyed it,"  Long said.  Psychology is now her major at Winona State.  She's able to meld the cerebral with the physical in her quest for athletic excellence.  It allows her to break down what she's done, absorb what is needed to improve, and then implement it in the throwing ring.

She's understands her strengths and weaknesses and, like anyone struggles, to find the right balance.  "I'm like a control freak," she says, and can get upset if things aren't going her way, but she's learning to control that.  After winning the NCAA indoors, she was bothered for a time that she had come close to a record throw, but didn't quite make it.  She didn't let the disappointment linger, however. She quickly put it aside and began to think about the positive things that happened, filing the missed record as an incentive for the next competition, a goal for the future.
Kaitlyn Long. Photo by Winona State

She also knows how to decompress.  "I like being around people,'  says Long.  "I'm hardly ever by myself."  During the summer, she adds, she and a friend take a big trip somewhere.  While she got around the Midwest a bit through participation in AAU basketball during the summers in high school, she hasn't been abroad.  Maybe Paris, as she has studied French as a second language. Before that though she'd like to visit San Diego.

Her coach, Mike Turgeon says they have been building slowly on the raw talent he observed when he saw Long perform in high school.  What he noted about her was her physical potential for the weight and hammer events.  While she is over 6 feet tall, her "wingspan," reach from finger tips to finger tips with the arms spread is 6'5".  That wingspan is an advantage in weight/hammer throwing as it allows more speed and power to be generated on each spin.  More momentum built to launch the ball and chain.

Like indoor NCAAs, the outdoor championships will be, first and foremost, a learning experience.  No grand expectations, just compete well and get the most out of yourself on the day.  Whatever the result, take what you've learned and build on it for the next time.  It's a formula that's already brought success. "I try not to overthink it," says Long.  Just execute what she's learned the best that she can, and learn from what she's accomplished to continue to improve. It's the long journey attempting to go from novice to master one throw at a time.

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