After track and field practice last Friday, several Skyview High School javelin throwers came up to thank Kara Winger for throwing with them and sharing her insight.
“It’s my first time meeting a famous person,” one thrower said.
“Well, I’m marginally famous, but thank you,” Winger said. “Famous for Skyview, I guess.”
“You were in the Olympics,” the student replied. “That should count.”
For the record, Winger is a four-time Olympian and a former U.S. record holder in the javelin.
That should more than count. Heck, she even has a key to the city of Vancouver.
But when Winger returns to her alma mater, it brings back memories of when she was Kara Patterson, a high school freshman at Skyview who first picked up the javelin 22 springs ago when her brief foray into high school golf didn’t pan out.
“We didn’t have this (javelin) runway when I was going to school here,” Winger said. “We threw off the high jump apron. And I tell people all the time that’s where I came from as a javelin thrower. Running downhill toward the drain in the high jump apron and then back up to throw into the middle of the field. So when you talk about being exposed to the event, you don’t need pristine facilities. You just need people who are eager to try.”
There were about two dozen eager javelin throwers joining Winger at practice last Friday.
“We typically have about 15 throwers,” Skyview track and field coach John Yajko said. “But I think we got a few more kids out to learn how to throw the javelin. And who better to learn from than a four-time Olympian? How cool is that?”
Winger has made a point of stopping by Skyview every season for the past several years. But because of the pandemic, it had been three years since her last visit.
And so much has happened since then.
The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo were postponed a year. Winger tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee for a second time in 2020.
But she battled her way back from that to qualify for her fourth Olympic Games last summer in Tokyo, where she was voted a team captain for the U.S. track team and then capped it all off by being selected to be the U.S. flag bearer at the closing ceremonies.
And now she is planning one last track and field season where she hopes to cap her career at the world championships in Eugene, Ore., in July.
“I have to qualify for worlds, first,” said Winger, who turns 36 next month. “But that’s the plan.”
This season, her husband Russ Winger is serving as her coach.
“It’s been super fun to reconvene in the track and field realm of our lives,” Kara Winger said. “He’s been retired since 2016 from throwing the discus, and I’ve just missed him in this part of my life. … We’re connecting on this thing that connected us in the first place before we head off into the rest of our lives.”
In addition to throwing the javelin, Kara Winger has a full-time job working for a company named Parity.
“We do intentional sponsorship matching with professional women athletes, and collegiate athletes now with the name image and likeness (NIL) guideline changes in the NCAA,” Winger said. “So I get to pay women athletes via brands they care about, and that’s really fun.”
Once she finally spikes her javelin into the ground one last time, Winger said it will feel a little weird just having the one full-time job. She’s used to being very busy.
“I might be looking at speaking engagements or something like that,” she said. “I don’t think I want to coach full-time, but I would love to do camps now and then. The fact that I come back and there is like a whole fleet of javelin throwers at Skyview High School, it shows there’s clearly interest in Vancouver.”
At Friday’s practice, Winger watched as different Skyview throwers launched their javelins before offering each one some technique tips and encouragement.
Then Winger would work in a few throws of her own, producing a few “whoas” from the interested onlookers and even some nervous giggles from the novice throwers.
“I like to tell kids it’s a weird event,” Winger said. “You can have a little different personality and try it out, and it might be exactly what you’ve been looking for. You’ve just never heard of it before. That’s exactly what happened to me.”
Twenty-two years after first picking up the javelin, Winger is excited about her final track and field season, appreciating it more after battling back from a major injury for a second time.
“It’s been very easy to recognize how fun it is to feel good,” she said. “I forgot how fun it is to be healthy after an injury. That’s been a blessing every single day, like ‘I’m ready to go’ without having to stimulate my quad or do all the things I need to do to get ready. Even though I’m almost 36, I feel better than I did last year. So we’ll just keep the momentum going.”