Olympian encourages Heritage athlete to soar with javelin

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.

Heritage sophomore Katie Peneueta was not sure she was going to compete in track and field this year, but then she got an inspiring message from the American javelin record holder Kara Winger, a former Skyview standout. Photo by Paul Valencia
Heritage sophomore Katie Peneueta was not sure she was going to compete in track and field this year, but then she got an inspiring message from the American javelin record holder Kara Winger, a former Skyview standout. Photo by Paul Valencia

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.

Heritage’s Katie Peneueta is a three-sport athlete. She excels in basketball and volleyball and also made it to regionals last year in the javelin. She is back this spring in track and field, extra motivated now. Photo by Paul Valencia
Heritage’s Katie Peneueta is a three-sport athlete. She excels in basketball and volleyball and also made it to regionals last year in the javelin. She is back this spring in track and field, extra motivated now. Photo by Paul Valencia

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.

Katie Peneueta has a new drive. Unsure of what sport she was going to compete in this spring for Heritage, a message for a two-time Olympian from Clark County inspired Peneueta to give the javelin one more try. Now, she wants to break the school record and see just how far the javelin can take her. Photo by Paul Valencia.
Katie Peneueta has a new drive. Unsure of what sport she was going to compete in this spring for Heritage, a message for a two-time Olympian from Clark County inspired Peneueta to give the javelin one more try. Now, she wants to break the school record and see just how far the javelin can take her. Photo by Paul Valencia.

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.

Kara Winger, shown here in 2017 looking up at some of her records when she was a swimmer for the Skyview Storm, is a two-time Olympian in track and field. A three-sport athlete at Skyview, she wrote a letter this winter to a three-sport athlete from Heritage, motivating Katie Peneueta to keep trying the javelin. Winger is the American record holder in the event and wants to encourage young athletes to give javelin a chance. Photo by Paul Valencia
Kara Winger, shown here in 2017 looking up at some of her records when she was a swimmer for the Skyview Storm, is a two-time Olympian in track and field. A three-sport athlete at Skyview, she wrote a letter this winter to a three-sport athlete from Heritage, motivating Katie Peneueta to keep trying the javelin. Winger is the American record holder in the event and wants to encourage young athletes to give javelin a chance. Photo by Paul Valencia

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.

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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