Sophomore thrower sets sights on breaking javelin throwing record

Rachel Astleford never touched a javelin before she came to SDSU. She started practicing just one year ago, when she joined the South Dakota State track and field team in February 2016.

Despite her late start in throwing the javelin, Astleford hopes to break the school record for throwing distance by the time she graduates. Right now she’s a mere 10 meters away from her goal.

This is the case for many javelin throwers. The sport is banned in high school sports across 36 states, including South Dakota. 

But her lack of experience didn’t keep Astleford from throwing 38.14 meters April 8 at Dakota Duals in Vermillion.

Tyler Lippert, assistant coach for track and field, thinks she’ll achieve the school record of 45.5 meters within the next month. He said he’s already seen her throw as far as 42 meters in practice.

Astleford, who’s a sophomore nutrition and dietetics major, draws on her ability from experience in shot put, which was the reason she walked onto the team.

She set her personal best for shot put at the SDHSAA Class B State Championships her senior year of high school. However, high school meets are a thing of the past for this athlete. 

“Honestly, to me, it’s exhilarating,” Astleford said about college meets. “I get to be surrounded by incredible athletes who all have a similar mindset and unbeatable work ethic. The fact that I get to be a part of it is something I’m incredibly grateful for. All the athletes, coaches and spectators have a unique appreciation for the sport of track and field and the atmosphere is exciting.” 

Astleford has continued improving in shot put. Her personal best for the 2016 indoor season was 41 feet, .05 inches and is optimistic that she can hit more than 42 feet over the outdoor season. 

But shot put wasn’t the only event Astleford wanted to tackle in her college years. On a whim,  she asked former assistant coach Tyg Long if she could try the javelin throw. Long started training her that day. 

“I never knew that it would be an event that I would fall in love with so much,” Astleford said. 

Lippert, who works primarily with throwers, said it was a great opportunity to come to Brookings and inherit a high-caliber group of athletes. 

All of the five Jackrabbit javelin throwers made finals at the SMSU Open Invitational March 31 in Marshall, Minnesota, the first meet of the 2017 outdoor season. 

And throwing a javelin isn’t easy. Astleford, along with the rest of the team, takes part in tough practices to stay on their game. 

Astleford said that they usually start out with some light stretching and plyometrics and then they move on to stand throws using a 600-gram ball. She then does standing throws with a javelin and works her way up into three-step approach throws, followed by a few five-step approach throws and finally five to ten full approach throws.  

She added that when they are finished with the throws, they do crossover runs and approach runs for conditioning, followed by mobility exercises.  

“I’m usually pretty sweaty and worn out by the time practice is over,” Astleford said. 

Astleford knows the challenge doesn’t come without a payoff. According to Lippert, she is a hard worker. 

“She is very accountable. You can always count on her to do the little things — even when you’re not around — the right way,” Lippert said. He said these qualities make her a good role model for younger college athletes. 

Astleford has one of her chances to break the javelin throw record Thursday at the Northern State Twilight meet in Aberdeen.