The commonalities between 4A Greater St. Helens League rivals Curtis Stradley of Battle Ground and Gavin Lee of Heritage stretch farther than being two of Washington’s top javelin throwers.
But that’s a good start.
Both were standout running backs in football. Both are friendly competitors in their specialty track and field event, even when facing off for the third time this spring at this week’s 4A GSHL District meet.
They also picked up the event the same way: wanting to try something different.
Stradley forwent high school baseball after two seasons in search of new calling, while Lee passed up on hurdles full-time after his freshman year in favor of an event he didn’t know existed.
Now, the two are elites and aiming for a podium finish at state in two weeks, but first, must get through districts, which run Wednesday and Thursday at McKenzie Stadium.
Stradley has held the state’s top throw in all classifications since uncorking a school-record and personal-best 211 feet 1 inch — which also was tops in the nation for a brief time — last month. Lee isn’t far behind at 190 feet, sixth-best in Washington, progressing with a personal-best mark over three consecutive meets.
Stradley’s experience with the javelin has only lasted 14 months, yet he became the nation’s leader within minutes.
In his first two years at Battle Ground High, the fall, winter and spring months were occupied by football, wrestling and baseball, respectively. Stradley’s talents as a two-way standout in the backfield and linebacker led to signing a letter of intent with Western Oregon. His father, Ken Stradley, a former BG standout in the 1980s, was an All-American quarterback at Central Washington.
Yet baseball last spring no longer fit the younger Stradley, but track did to work on his speedwork for football.
As it turned out, the javelin was more his forte.
Trevor Phillips, the Tigers’ throws coach as well as an assistant football coach, said Stradley’s natural athleticism coupled speed and explosiveness needed for the javelin made for a perfect match.
And then this season, everything lined up perfectly April 14 at the Wolfpack Invitational in Tumwater.
Funnily enough, Stradley didn’t actually warm up; he was fresh off running in the Tigers’ 400-meter relay when he jogged to the makeshift javelin runway at Tumwater District Stadium for his series of throws. By now, most competitors were finished.
Within minutes, Stradley went from 153 feet to launching what Phillips describes as a “big burst” — 211-1. In fact, Phillips turned to see where the javelin landed after recording, yet it was still flying.
Stradley was in awe of a throw he described as effortless.
“I knew it was good,” he said. “It felt good.”
That throw not only was a 28-foot personal best, but it was the nation’s leading throw for three weeks. Fourteen states offer javelin in high school competition.
Phillips said this season has been a turning point in Stradley’s progress. Before, he’d get one phrase of a throw in — such as finishing explosion or speed — but was missing the other ingredient.
“He’s starting to put everything together now,” Phillips said.
Now, a future throwing career in college is an option, too, Stradley said.
But first, he has more distance in him this postseason.
“I’m looking forward to pushing that mark,” he said.
Aiming for records
Gavin Lee respects his elders. He knows all about Sean Keller, the 2012 Heritage High graduate who threw in the 2012 Olympic Trials after setting multiple javelin records for the Timberwolves.
Lee is aiming for one of those records: 227-11, which Keller set at the 4A state meet as a senior.
“That’s the next milestone for me,” he said. “Why not go for it?”
With the exception of running a 1,600 relay anchor leg in March, Lee’s sole focus this spring is the eight-foot spear.
The decision to cut out the hurdles after last season wasn’t easy, but a move he felt was necessary. His times dipped from his personal-best 41.24-second time as a sophomore; hurdling at 175 pounds junior year, a weight he wanted for football, proved difficult for Lee.
But the decision to focus on the javelin was elementary.
That shift is evident through preparation and consistency. He’ll jog up to a mile as part of his warm-up routine on meet days. He’s no longer in the weightroom for bulk, but rather, repetitions on free weights.
The difference this season is night and day, he said.
“I could barely get 175 (feet) last year,” Lee said. “Now, I’m just cruising.”
He opened the 2017 season at 178-5, already surpassing a personal-best 175-5 from 2016.
Lee is averaging 181 feet over seven meets, including back-to-back meets of PRs, hitting 190-0 April 15.
It helps, too, having a challenger like Stradley pushing him on every throw, as he chases Keller.
“That’s where I want to be,” Lee said.