During her five years as a student-athlete at Western Washington University, Bethany Drake has just about done it all.
She has been crowned a national champion, won a GNAC title, graduated with a degree in art education and maintained a 4.0 GPA as a graduate student, battled back from an injury, won countless academic and athletic awards, has served as a key member of the student-athlete advisory committee and Athletes in Action and she is a published artist.
And this weekend, it all comes down to one final throw. One more chance to put a final stamp on what has been one of the most decorated careers of any student-athlete to wear the WWU colors.
Drake, along with teammates Brittany Grant (3,000m Steeplechase) and Anna Paradee (Pole Vault) are representing the WWU Track & Field program as participants in the 2017 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
Drake, who hails from Sandy, Oregon, is making her fourth trip to the national event, and is the top seed in the javelin competition. She won the competition as a sophomore in 2014, sat out 2015 with a back injury, and then placed second last season. Her career-high mark of 54.18m/177-9 at last year’s national event also led to a place in the 2016 USA Olympic Trials where she placed 14th in the elite field.
But putting all honors and accolades aside, this weekend is all business for Drake. The countless hours of training and hard work will come down to one final set of throws when she hits the runway at IMG Academy Stadium.
This year Drake has been building up to the national meet, recording an NCAA automatic qualifying mark of 49.48m/162-4 at the Bryan Clay Invitational in Azusa, California, and recorded a season-best mark of 52.40m/171-11 while winning her first Great Northwest Athletic Conference title.
Drake is putting it all on the line this Saturday, but knows that there is much more to be thankful for as she goes for the title.
“In a perfect world, I will come away Saturday with my second national championship and the satisfaction of knowing that I had nothing left to give,” said Drake from Florida. “But this one's not just for me, it's for the people who have got me to where I am. I've had my fair share of highs and lows in this journey and I couldn't have made it here without the support and belief that was continually poured out upon me. My parents, my coaches, the athletic department staff, my teammates... This one is for all of you. I'm going to give it my all on Saturday.”
WWU Head Track & Field and Cross Country coach Pee Wee Halsell has coached countless student-athletes and holds Bethany in the highest of ranks for the dedication to her craft, both in competition and in the classroom.
“Beth is what every coach dreams of having as a student-athlete,” said Halsell. “Her drive is the same on the field as it is in the classroom. It has been great to see her love for her team over the years, that being the Track & Field team and WWU athletics.”
While Bethany has represented WWU in countless meets across the country, her feeling of pride towards the program, the athletic department and the university is something she cherishes.
“It makes me incredibly proud to represent WWU. This university, this athletic department, this team-- they are really something special,” added Drake. “Competing at the national meet is a chance to speak to the foundation that I stand upon. I have been invested in greatly, not only as an athlete but as a person, and that has given me the opportunity to grow in so many ways.”
Assistant coach Ben Stensland has played a big role in Drake’s training over her career and couldn’t be more proud of the path she has taken to success.
“She has been exemplary in every way – as an athlete, a student, a teammate,” said Stensland. “She is a tireless worker accepting nothing less than excellence in everything she commits to. She has earned every bit of every honor she has received, and then some. She has simply willed her way to the pinnacle of Division II and then so far beyond. The years I have gotten to work with Bethany have been an incredible blessing. She has played such a significant role in creating the most successful javelin program in the country.”
Just before getting in the zone for her final collegiate competition, Bethany answered some questions for WWUVikings.com that gives even more insight to the model student-athlete that she embodies.
What's your feeling going into your last collegiate event representing WWU?
BD: It's truly surreal. Part of me can't believe that this is going to end, part of me believes that I'm going to be a Viking forever. And I will! But not in this way. Honestly, I've been pretty emotional leading up this. From the Hall of Fame induction, to watching the story of Jessie Owens in the movie, Race -- everything seems to be reminding me right now of what an incredibly special time of life this is. What an incredibly special experience this is. And what an absolutely incredibly group of people this is to be a part of. I'm feeling especially nostalgic and grateful heading into this final meet. I'm just focusing on soaking it all in and enjoying it to the fullest!
You've had an amazing collegiate career... in a perfect world, with all the hard work, how does this all end up for you on Saturday?
BD: In a perfect world, I will come away Saturday with my second national championship and the satisfaction of knowing that I had nothing left to give. But this one's not just for me, it's for the people who have got me to where I am. I've had my fair share of highs and lows in this journey and I couldn't have made it here without the support and belief that was continually poured out upon me. My parents, my coaches, the athletic department staff, my teammates... This one is for all of you. I'm going to give it my all on Saturday!
What is it like to represent your University at a national meet four times during your collegiate career?
BD: It makes me incredibly proud! This university, this athletic department, this team—they are really something special. And I want everyone to know it! Competing at the national meet is a chance to speak to the foundation that I stand upon. I have been invested in greatly, not only as an athlete but as a person, and that has given me the opportunity to grow in so many ways! Competing at nationals is a chance to make people think twice about WWU and say, who are these people? And what are they doing right? What’s different about them?
You’ve worked so hard coming back from injury two years ago to put yourself in this position. Would you say now you are just letting all that hard work shine and leave it all on the field?
BD: It has been a pretty trying journey, physically and mentally. Yeah, I would say at this point, it's a matter of trusting that I'm ready. Respecting that my competition is ready too, that they are a great group of girls who've given a lot to get to this point, and because of that I will give nothing less than my best. I've done everything that I can to physically prepare, and now it's time to zone in on the mental preparation and trust and believe in great things happening.
What's been your best memory competing as a student-athlete at WWU?
BD: This question is SO hard for me! How do you pick a favorite memory from five of the best years of your life? But, the 2014 trip to nationals in Allendale, Michigan was pretty special. All four of us javelin throwers were All-Americans; out of the eight of us who went, seven ended up on the podium; and Katie and I finished one-two. It felt like one celebration after the next! And in the midst of it all we were having hula-hooping contests in the hotel hallway, and singing at the top of our lungs on the way to the track, and laughing until we cried. It was a pretty special trip.
As crazy as it is though, my redshirt season is another favorite. I was shown the heart of WWU Athletics as everyone came alongside me to help me through it. Administration, coaches, teammates-- they all showed me so much love. And I had the chance to hang out with my teammates and just support them and that was truly special. I loved that season as an honorary heavy throws crew member.
In a lot of ways, you are the model student-athlete with your academic, athletic, and community service achievements. What advice would you give to the next generation of student-athletes as they step foot on a college campus for the first time?
BD: I so appreciate the people who have seen and called greatness out of me, even when I didn't see it in myself. And to the next generation of student-athletes, I would say to them, find who you are. What grounds you? What drives you? And then find people who will hold you true to that. Plug in, find the things that you care about and the people that care about you, and then invest. Invest in people and invest in the process and you will find yourself in a good place.
WWU Track & Field Motto: Unity. Process. Excellence.
Q&A with Monika Gruszecki
Former WWU javelin thrower Monika Gruszecki now works an an intern with the NCAA
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