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Javelin Thrower Kara Winger Breaks Down Her Pandemic Training Routine


When the pandemic forced most gyms to close last spring, many people found themselves without a place to work out. That includes athletes training for the Olympics. Three-time Olympian Kara Winger had to find a way to train how to throw her javelin - not the kind of thing you can do in a public park. So she and her husband created something they call the Muscle Deck. That's a training facility on the deck of their home.

Kara Winger, the distinguished javelin thrower, joins us now from Colorado. Thanks so much for being with us.

KARA WINGER: Thanks so much for having me, Scott. I'm happy to talk about my journey.

SIMON: Well, let me first understand what you had to do to hone your javelin performance in ordinary times.

WINGER: In ordinary times, I train at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. And I spend a lot of time at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center here in town as well. So all of that went away in 2020.

SIMON: Well, I mean, what did you do? Because, as I don't have to tell you, Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime event.

WINGER: Well, thankfully for me, they, so far, has been a three-time lifetime event. And that motivation, that understanding of what the end goal, even with Olympic postponement, might be really kept me going through 2020.

SIMON: Yeah, yeah. So what's this Muscle Deck?

WINGER: Well, I bought a - kind of a half rack. So it's a little bit shallower than a normal, like, squat rack would be in a gym. My husband installed it kind of up against the stairs of our deck. We weren't ruining anything that wasn't already falling apart. My husband, handy as he is, also installed a 30-foot cable from our back fence to the back of our house with a pipe on it so that I could get repetitions in without actually throwing a javelin - technique work.

SIMON: How do you practice throwing a javelin?

WINGER: Well, you said that it's not a thing you can do in a park, but if you're careful, you can. So down the street from a house, like, about - like two-minute drive away, there's this elementary school with a big, giant public park. My coach and I met there, and we threw in the grass for months before the Air Force Academy was open again and I could go back to the track in the middle of the summer.

It was actually really fun to have people walk up and say, I've never seen the javelin before. Like, tell me all about it. Can I watch you throw a little bit? So there was this, like, unexpected community-building aspect of it 'cause my coach is not shy about bragging on me. Like, this is the American record-holder. Like, yes, please watch.

SIMON: Wow. Forgive me for not knowing, but how far can you throw a javelin?

WINGER: My personal best ever, the American record, is 218 feet, 9 inches. That's 66.67 meters, which is how we measure internationally. And it used to be top 20 in the world all-time. Now I believe it's, like, 26th or 27th.

SIMON: Wow. I mean, oh, wow.

WINGER: (Laughter).

SIMON: Tokyo games have been postponed until at least July of this year. If they are held, do you feel safe enough to travel?

WINGER: I do, yes.

SIMON: You must talk to other athletes. Is that a widely held opinion?

WINGER: Yeah. I think there are very few people that I know that are athletes that would elect to not compete if they made the team, if they had the opportunity.

SIMON: Yeah. Forgive me. Do the neighbors ever look at you like, what the heck is going on there?

WINGER: Well, as a javelin thrower, just the way that you train, we're kind of like - we run, we jump and we throw, like, all in the same movement. And in public gyms for years, I have been doing really weird stuff. Like, I always expect to get on those Instagram channels like Gym Fails and stuff like that.

So my neighbors all know what I do. So, like, they were surprised by the specific things that I did, and the sound of the cable was weird to them. It's like this very metallic, like, zinging sound as the pipe travels up the cable. So those little disconcerting moments, like, were very immediately rectified by them being like, oh, it's just Kara training for the Olympic Games.

SIMON: Oh, just Kara training for the Olympics. Kara Winger, I hope, will be competing in the javelin throw for Team USA in the 2021 Olympics in Japan this year. Thanks so much for being with us. And good luck.

WINGER: Thank you so much. Fingers crossed - fingers and toes and javelins and all of the above.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.