OXFORD, Ohio – Earning her third trip to the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships this year, Miami University junior Tori Paterra is beginning to make the final meet of the year seem routine. But her journey to this year’s NCAA Championships has been anything but, overcoming injury and disappointment over the latter half of the season.
Paterra will be the lone RedHawk represented at the NCAA Championships for the second straight year when she throws the javelin on Wednesday, June 5 in Eugene, Ore. in the National Championship. The javelin begins at 8:15 p.m. ET (5:15 p.m. local) at the University of Oregon’s historic Hayward Field. Although she is a veteran of the National Championships, this will be a new experience for Paterra, as her first two years the NCAA meet was held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
“I’ve never been to Oregon, but I hear it’s amazing. It’s going to be pretty different just because I’m so used to being at Drake,” said Paterra, who has also competed at the Drake Relays several times, including this year. “My plan is to Google the track there (at Oregon), Google the runway and then try to visualize as much as possible since I can’t practice on it as much as I’d like to. Then, hopefully when I get there it’s just like I’ve been there before.”
After spending this past weekend with her family in her hometown of Elizabeth, Pa., Paterra, along with throws coach Stacey Wannemacher, traveled to Eugene on Monday and will get her first look at Hayward Field in person with a short practice on Tuesday.
Paterra, who enters the NCAA meet seeded 22nd in the javelin, nearly didn’t make it to Eugene. At the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds in Greensboro, N.C. on Saturday, May 25, she sat in 23rd place (out of 48) with only one throw left and needing a top-16 finish to make the preliminary final and ultimately a top-12 finish to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
Knowing she had a stress reaction in her back and trying to limit the pain, Paterra’s plan was to hit a big throw on the first of her three attempts to put her in comfortable position for a berth, and then pass on the ensuing throws. She fired a monster throw on her first attempt, hitting what would have been near a personal best with a 165-foot throw. But her ankle gave out and she tripped over the line, causing her to foul. After a not-so-great second throw, the pressure was on for Paterra to have a big third throw to move her up in the standings.
“I said to myself ‘Tori, you are not even making finals right now. What are you doing? Get your head straight.’ On the next throw, I tried to stay as calm as possible and relax and let my body hit into the positions it knows how to hit,” Paterra explained. “I was hoping to get 150s/160s (feet) because I knew if I could hit 47 meters to 50 meters I’d be golden, so that was kind of the goal was just to get to the next round.”
And sure enough, Paterra was up to the task, winging the javelin 47.22m/154-11 to vault into ninth place and make the preliminary final. After three more throws for the top 16 (Paterra passed on her sixth attempt), she sat in 10th and had locked up her spot at the NCAA Championships, joining Andrea Kremer (2001, 2003-04) and Sarah Landau (2005-07) as the only RedHawks in program history to be a three-time NCAA Championships qualifier. The top 12 finishers from both the East and West Preliminary Rounds advanced to Eugene, creating a 24-woman final.
Along with competing in a new place at this year’s NCAA meet, Paterra will be competing against many new faces, as 11 of the 24 NCAA qualifiers in the javelin are freshmen, while she is the only Mid-American Conference javelin thrower to make the Championships. Last year, Paterra was one of four MAC javelin throwers in the NCAA field.
“It’s always nice having the familiar faces cheer you on. At regionals, it was awesome. All the Kent State girls were sitting there cheering me on. It’s nice to have that,” said Paterra, who was one of five MAC javelin throwers at the East Prelims. “But at the same time, it’s pretty cool to be the only one going (to the NCAAs) from the MAC. MACs hasn’t gone that well for me the past two years, so this is just kind of my own thing where I have a chance to be an All-American. MAC champion would be awesome, but at the end of the day you really want that All-American status.”
For the second straight year, Paterra finished third in the javelin at the MAC Outdoor Championships May 9 in Akron, Ohio after winning her lone MAC title as a freshman. After breaking her own school record earlier this year at the All-Ohio Championships April 12 with a throw of 50.51m/165-8, she was the top seed entering the MAC meet, but again came up short. The disappointing finish was only part of her problem though, as that’s when her back issues began to flare up.
Throughout her javelin career, Paterra has dealt with back issues. For most of this season, her problem was on her left side, especially in practice, but during meets, her adrenaline was able to push her through it. As the MAC Championships approached, however, she noticed it was getting worse.
“I must have been hitting a really good block and hitting good positions and after the (MAC) meet I was sitting there and could not move. I was trying to get in the car and I couldn’t even lift my legs up,” she noted.
After the pain persisted and prevented her from sleeping well, Paterra had an MRI, which revealed her stress reaction on her right side. Initially, she thought it was a mistake, knowing that her left side was already an issue. But soon after the pain distinguished itself on her right side, she realized her entire back was going to be a concern heading into the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds.
“I’ve been wearing a brace and a weight belt, and it’s kind of taken away the pain. They’ve given me medicine and I use Biofreeze a lot, but I’ve been trying to not let it get to me,” Paterra said. “I have a very high pain tolerance and I would have to say this is by far the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. I’m just trying to push through it. I’m not going to let it get the best of me. I have one more meet and then I can rest for five weeks.”
Despite her back problems, Paterra will be looking to top her finish from last year’s NCAA Championships when she earned First-Team All-America for finishing seventh in the country with her throw of 49.67m/162-11, which was her best throw all of last season and is the third-best in Miami history (all owned by Paterra). As a freshman, Paterra earned Honorable Mention All-America by placing 20th at the NCAA meet.
Oddly enough, Paterra would have never even competed in track and field in college if not for her high school track coach. Growing up, all Paterra did was play softball. And heading into high school that was her plan – to continue her softball career. But one day while she was throwing the shot put in eighth grade for her middle school team, one of the track and field coaches at Elizabeth Forward High School asked her to give the javelin a try right then and there. Naturally, it wasn’t the greatest throw, but it was enough for Coach John Walsh to ask her to come out for the high school track team the following year.
Paterra, who then was only lukewarm to the idea of throwing the javelin, knew she wanted to play softball in the spring when she arrived at EFHS, which would conflict with track and field season. Walsh told her perhaps she could do both sports. He even tracked her down in the hallways during spring sport sign-ups to make sure she enlisted. After running the idea by her dad, who said “it can’t hurt,” Paterra decided to give it a shot. After almost making the Pennsylvania state meet as a freshman, she was hooked.
“I guess somewhere along the line I fell in love with this thing (the javelin) and was like ‘I guess we’re just going to switch’,” Paterra said. “I changed my whole future goals. There was a lot of ‘Do I want to do this, what do I do, is this really the best route.’ It’s turned out the best for me so far.”
The more she threw the javelin, the better she picked it up. She explained that by trying a new sport, it forced her to think a lot more, but she quickly learned the unique event, which allowed her to also enjoy it more.
“And seeing the fact that I could potentially go to college on a pretty high scholarship, be an All-American or go to the Olympic trials was really exciting for me,” Paterra continued. “After having a father that went to the NFL, you always want to follow in his footsteps, and although I can’t go to the NFL, I might try something else so we’ll see what happens”
Paterra was first recruited to Miami by Mark Rodriguez, who was the throws coach at Miami from 2007-10. But by the time she arrived on campus, Rodriguez had left for Purdue and Ross Richardson took over as throws coach. Richardson guided Paterra to her lone MAC title and to her first NCAA meet, before taking a job at Virginia. Enter Wannemacher, who was a thrower herself at Purdue under Richardson and is now in her second season at Miami. For the first time this season, Paterra had the same throws coach for consecutive seasons, something she feels has helped a lot.
“I’ve noticed the consistency in myself as a thrower and just the fact that I’ve gotten so much stronger,” she said. “Me and Stacey work together so well and communicate very well. If I don’t think something’s going right, or she doesn’t think so, we’ll just change things up or work on one thing at a time. It’s been really nice to have the same coach. I couldn’t ask for a better one.”
And so on Wednesday, Wannemacher will try to help Paterra fight through her back injury and repeat as a First-Team All-American.
“It’s really exciting to go three years in a row. It’s kind of been my goal to make it (to NCAAs) every year and going in (seeded) 17th last year and coming out seventh was more than I could ever ask for,” Paterra admitted. “I know I’m going in pretty high (seeding-wise) this year too, but I’ve had some setbacks. My goal is to make finals, make top eight again and hopefully maybe even place better than I did last year.”
Each of the 24 throwers, divided into two flights (Paterra is in flight one), will get three throws, with the top nine then advancing to the finals for another three throws. From there, the final places will be decided with the top eight garnering First-Team All-America, places 9-16 earning Second-Team All-America and 17-24 getting Honorable Mention All-America. Live results and live streaming for the NCAA Championships will be available on MURedHawks.com and GoDucks.com.