There are few Kenai Peninsula athletes who can say they have had a shot at the Olympic games.
Soldotna is about to add one to the list.
Paige Blackburn, a graduate of Soldotna High School, is aiming to qualify for the London Olympics today in Eugene, Ore., in the javelin throw.
Even if she doesn’t make it, she still plans on representing the United States at the North America, Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) Under-23 Championships in Guanajuato, Mexico.
“I’m pretty stoked, it’s my first time here among the elite in the nation, so it’s pretty exciting,” Blackburn said. “I’m going for a PR (personal record), and going to the Olympics, I would need a pretty huge PR, but crazier things have happened.”
Blackburn, who recently graduated from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., won the Mountain West Conference javelin title with a school-record toss of 170 feet, 5 inches, and was named USTF Mountain Region Female Field Athlete of the Year.
The Olympic trials “A-Standard” requires a throw of 60 meters, which is roughly 197 feet, and if no athlete throws that far, Blackburn said the winner of the event automatically qualifies, no matter the distance. She is currently ranked 17th out of 24 women at the trials.
“I think I could throw 200 feet someday, hopefully Friday,” Blackburn said. “That would be cool. It’s unlikely for me this year, because I’d have to have a 30-foot PR, which is pretty enormous, but I’m being optimistic.
“I’d be pretty happy if I could improve by 10 feet, which would put me at 180 feet.”
She also became just the second thrower in Mountain West Conference history, male or female, to score in all six throwing events at the Mountain West Conference Championships. Blackburn primarily throws in the javelin, shot put, discus and hammer throw competitions.
Blackburn said the key in the javelin is staying relaxed in the upper body.
“If you try to throw it as hard as you can, then your muscles will be really tense,” she said. “You have to attack it with your lower body.”
Her senior year at the Air Force Academy, Blackburn won the javelin title and finished second to the eventual national champion in the discus throw at the Mountain West Outdoor Championships.
Blackburn admittedly is rather new to the javelin throw, partly due to the fact that Alaska high school track and field does not offer the competition, so she only picked it up in recent years.
“In high school, all we had was shot and discus, and I played basketball and volleyball, and then I came out for a recruiting trip to the Air Force Academy, and the coach saw my build, and thought I would be a good thrower,” she said. “One of the things you have to do to get in the Academy is a physical fitness test, and one of the events is the kneeling basketball toss, which is like throwing a soccer ball inbounds on your knees. He saw that I had a really good mark, which was like 2 feet better than a national champion from a few years ago.”
Even so, Blackburn enjoys the competition, and the responses she receives upon telling others that she is from Alaska.
“Everyone I talk to is surprised I’m from Alaska, and the fact I’m a DI athlete is what surprises them,” she said. “They say stuff like, ‘How did colleges find you?
“I have a lot of pride being from Alaska and representing the Peninsula.”
Blackburn said the pressure to perform is certainly there, but years of mental focus training in throwing events has prepared her to compete in both Oregon and Mexico.
“It’s easy to get discouraged if you have a bad practice, but you have to believe in yourself, which sounds corny, but you need to have that,” she said. “My four years at Air Force, I threw all the throwing events and honestly the experience I have throwing javelin is more like that of a sophomore or early junior just because I haven’t thrown it much until this year, so I know that there’s a whole lot of potential that I haven’t tapped into yet.
“The last couple months I’ve thrown it much more, so I feel more like an actual javelin thrower.”
Of course, competing in the sport and graduating with a civil engineering degree is no easy task. Blackburn, who graduated second lieutenant, has focused on structural engineering within her degree, and would like to eventually use that to teach later on in her life, and hopefully retire in Alaska.
“I’m young for a javelin thrower, because most of the best throwers are 25 and 26 years old, and I’m only 22, so this is a good learning experience,” she said. “Eventually, I would like to live in Alaska again. I can’t stay away for too long.”