The last time Soldotna’s Paige Blackburn was competing for a spot in the 2012 Summer Olympic games, she was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed college kid riding on hope and enthusiasm to qualify.
These days, the former Alaska high school state champion is gearing up for another run with time on her side.
In May, Blackburn was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant in the United States Air Force, an achievement preceded by her move to the Hawaiian island of Oahu in January. There, Blackburn is planning her next steps to her athletic career as a javelin and discus thrower. It’s all part of a long buildup to the 2016 Summer Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s been a big learning experience,” Blackburn said by phone from the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam facility. “In 2012, I was kinda at the bottom of the (U.S.) trials, and was one of the youngest, but I am way more prepared now.”
The 2009 Soldotna High School graduate will put her greater experience to the test in a competitive meet in Hawaii at the end of this month.
Blackburn graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2012, the same summer she attempted to qualify for the London games. After coming up short, she continued on to compete at the North America, Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) Under-23 Championships in Guanajuato, Mexico.
“That was my first exposure to big-time competition,” Blackburn recalled.
The 2012 Mountain West Conference javelin champion finished 22nd in the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials, not quite enough to gain her a spot on the national team, but as a First Lieutenant in the Air Force stationed in Hawaii, Blackburn is working pretty hard these days.
Starting at 5 a.m. and going until late dinnertime, Blackburn detailed a typical day in her life as “a grind.”
“I go work out for two hours, shower, go to work all day, get off at five, drive to the University of Hawaii, and I’m down there until it’s too dark to practice more, then I drive another forty minutes home,” she listed.
The hard work evidently paid off. Last summer, she finished seventh in the javelin event at the U.S. National Track and Field meet in Des Moines, Iowa, with a career-best throw of 52.97 meters (173 feet, 9 inches).
Going into the championships, Blackburn was ranked eighth in the discus throw. Earning personal bests in both events in 2013 — 57.39 meters (188 feet, 3 inches) in the discus — spurred her to attack her athletic career with a renewed vigor.
“Before last year, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to throw post-collegiate,” Blackburn said. “It was kind of an experiment. It was super successful and way more than I expected, so it put my heart into a longer commitment.”
Blackburn recently submitted paperwork to join the Air Force World Class Athlete Program, which provides the opportunity for athletes to train for national and international competitions. Many involved in the program end up trying out for the Olympics.
The only problem for Blackburn has been the recovery time that has put her back a bit after suffering a sacroiliac joint injury from a javelin throw in the fall.
“That really hurt me, it set me back,” she said. “I’ve started throwing again in February, and hopefully I’ll be fully recovered for this next meet in July.”
The injury that Blackburn had involved the joint connecting the sacrum and ilium bones of the pelvis, reducing her ability to explode in a proper throwing motion. However, with greater experience comes greater recovery methods, and Blackburn said that as a seasoned athlete of 24 years old, she has learned to prepare and train more effectively.
“As I get older, I’ve learned so much about better ways to train,” she said. “I’ve learned how to peak later in the season, because in college you’re just starting out and getting stronger.”
Blackburn said when it comes time to make her Olympic qualifying attempt in 2016, she will be 26, an ideal age to be hitting her peak.
“I think I read that the average age for throwers (in the Olympics) is 28, so with smart training, I should be close to (making it),” she said. “I definitely feel super optimistic about it.”