Katie Peneueta is all-in with track and field after American record holder reaches out
VANCOUVER — She was really good last year, her first year throwing the javelin. Better than she imagined, in fact.
Still, Katie Peneueta was not so sure she would be going out for track and field this season for the Heritage Timberwolves.
Oh, she always wanted to remain a three-sport athlete. She is a volleyball and basketball star for the Timberwolves, too.
This spring, though, she was considering a move to the golf course. Something different.
That plan changed this winter when she got a video message and a letter from America’s best.
Kara Winger, the American record holder for women’s javelin, reached out to Peneueta with a message from the heart.
Winger, who shined at Skyview High School in the 2000s as Kara Patterson, was also a three-sport athlete. She, too, planned to play golf for the Storm. But a teacher at Skyview asked her to try the javelin.
That one suggestion led to a college scholarship, and later, national championships and three berths to the Olympics.
“I thought it was crazy, someone at her skill level would reach out to me,” said Peneueta, a sophomore.
Peneueta saw the video before the letter. It was clear that Winger produced the video specifically for Peneueta. It was not a “form” video asking for just any young girls to try the javelin. Winger used Katie’s name.
“She was directly talking to me. I wasn’t expecting it,” Peneueta said. “She talked about going to the Olympics. I was just in shock.”
Golf would have to wait.
“Later that day, I changed to track,” Peneueta said.
Winger’s letter started by noting there is a shortage of javelin talent in the United States because not enough high school students are exposed to it.
“There are only 20 or so states in the U.S. that sanction our beautiful event at the high school level,” Winger wrote, noting that she is grateful that she said “yes’’ to the opportunity when she was at Skyview.
The javelin paid for her college education at Purdue and now Winger has traveled the world because of the event, because of her talent.
Winger said she had heard that Peneueta has natural talent at the javelin. She pointed out that javelin and golf are similar. It is not about throwing as hard as one can, or swinging as hard as one can. There is a discipline and a mental puzzle that needs to be put together just perfectly for a true performance.
“Maybe you are a great golfer, but if you don’t know, and you do know that you’re good at javelin, why not stick it out?” Winger asked Peneueta.
Just a reminder: Winger is an eight-time national champion, three-time Olympian and has the American record at 66.67 meters (218 feet, 3 ¾ inches).
Yes, that champion reached out to an athlete from Heritage.
She even asked Peneueta to contact her with any questions.
“I hope to see you on the runway,” Winger concluded.
Peneueta was sold.
It is true that Peneueta is good at this event. As a freshman, she made it to regionals. Still, she did not love the sport enough to commit to anything more.
When she told her track and field coaches that she was thinking of something different, her throwing coach, Houston Dillard, reached out to Winger via social media.
Winger went to work, hoping to keep a potential champion in the sport.
The rest is history.
Now, Peneueta is hoping to make history.
“My goal (this season) is to definitely beat the school record,” Peneueta said, which stands at 137 feet. “I want to make it past regionals. I really want to go to state.”
She really is all-in, too. She has not missed a practice and is a team leader.
“I was just saying to my coaches how much more fun I’ve been having this year than last year,” Peneueta said.
Those coaches noticed, too.
Although she is young, she is a school leader. She has already been a captain on the volleyball and basketball teams. So it was no surprise when a track coach asked her to be a captain this season.
“It empowers me more,” Peneueta said. “I want to keep making other kids better. I’m in a leadership role, so I need to act like one.”
Proudly wearing the Heritage uniform is another act of a school leader.
As a 6-foot, 2-inch athlete, she made first-team, all-league in basketball and was second-team, all-league in volleyball.
“Being an athlete at Heritage, you’re pulled in different directions,” Peneueta said. “I’ve had people reach out to me, asking me if I wanted to move to a different school. My loyalty to Heritage matters most to me.
“I’d rather be the first person to do something at Heritage and make an impact,” she said, rather than compete for another school that has already had sustained success. “I’d rather change the culture here.”
Katie Peneueta is inspired by her school and her coaches. This winter, she also was inspired by a former Clark County athlete who is the best in the nation at what she does.
Peneueta has all kinds of options available to her in her future. Track and field, specifically the javelin, is one possibility thanks to a couple of messages from a champion.