He says he’ll be back. He says there’s time. He says he’s young.
But, after all, some things are more important in Sean Keller’s world than trying to throw a spear the length of a football field.
And, so, when you reach Keller on the phone and ask what he has been up to, he’s quick to answer, “I haven’t been doing much javelin training.”
Less than a year ago, Keller was the talk of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. Just weeks after graduating from Heritage High School, he finished eighth at the Trials, a then-18-year-old competing against professionals and accomplished college throwers.
He threw a personal-best 253 feet in the preliminary round, which is like a high school kid beating Kevin Durant in a 3-point shooting contest.
He followed that a few months later by winning a junior competition in the javelin Mecca that is Finland — by 29 feet.
In other words, saying that Keller is a gifted javelin thrower is like saying that Shakespeare was a decent writer.
But something was gnawing at Keller as he won that meet in Finland. The world, you see, is bigger than track and field.
“In Finland, I already knew from there that I was probably going into the military,” he said. “I’ve always been attracted to
it. My grandfather was in the service; my dad went to the Naval Academy. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, until javelin came along.”
Aye, there’s the rub.
While many gifted young athletes find their athletic dreams derailed when life intervenes, Keller found that athletics were derailing his dreams.
That started with his junior year in high school, when he suddenly started throwing 200 feet. By his senior year, he was the best thrower in the nation, challenging the national prep record and easily winning a second state championship.
He says he talked with some college coaches, but not seriously. He moved with his family to Yakima when his dad, Mike, had a job transfer. He took some classes at Yakima Valley College.
But now he’s ready to plot his future. He’s enlisting in the Marines in two weeks, and eventually wants a career as a police officer.
“My whole family agrees that I need it,” Keller said. “A lot of bad habits. Growing up with ADHD wasn’t the best.”
As for his dad?
“I guess from my point of view, that’s what he wants to do,” Mike Keller said. “I think it will be great; I served in the service. And he’s talked about being a cop since he was a little kid.”
The temptation is to recall a quote from running legend Steve Prefontaine, who famously said, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
But Sean Keller insists that he is sacrificing nothing by taking time away from the javelin.
“Some athletes take a year off because of injury,” he said. “I’m just taking a year off to take a year off. I’m not done throwing forever; this is probably the only year that I’m not throwing.”
In the end, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Keller is a gifted athlete; he’s on track to be an Olympian someday. Yet while it might sound like anathema in our sports-obsessed culture, that skill is not as important as serving your country or serving your community.
“I like being a part of it,” Keller said of competing on the national or international stage, “but being away isn’t going to kill me.”