Interview with one of the top throwers in the nation, Valley Christian SJ junior, Elena Bruckner

When did you first get involved in sports and what sports did you play before high school aside from track and field (photo above courtesy of Sam Han)?
Growing up in Washington and participated in a range of sports. I started gymnastics when I was five. It really engrained in me the competitive spirit that I have today. I joined my local indoor rock climbing team and also played goalie on a club soccer team. We then moved to Wisconsin the summer before 5th grade. In middle school, I participated in cross country, volleyball, cheerleading, basketball, softball, and track. Outside of school, I was on a club volleyball team and a club basketball team.

I started shot put in 5th grade but throughout middle school, high jump was my main event. I moved to California the summer before my freshman year. Once in high school, I decided to focus on track and volleyball. I did high jump and throws my freshman year at Valley Christian, but realizing my potential in the throws I decided not to continue in the high jump. I am now a starting right side hitter for the varsity volleyball team and I am solely dedicated to throws in track.

What events did you do in track and what led you to doing the throws?
I picked up the shot put and thought, "I'm strong, I'm competitive," and no other girls really wanted to do it, so I decided to try. We didn't have a throws coach, so one of the older boys

(Zach Petraske) helped teach me. He threw in high school too so even after he graduated he would come to help me once a week. I threw discus once after practicing with a Frisbee, but it was only available at one meet. I also did the high jump and the 400m and ran the 400m leg of the sprint medley relay. Once I was in high school, I decided to keep throwing and started throwing discus as well. My coach (Arpedge Rolle) encouraged me to stick with throwing and really dedicate myself to it. He saw so much more in me than I ever thought was possible. His goals were so high I thought he was crazy, until I achieved them.

Looking back at your first two years in track, what were some of your highlights and proudest accomplishments?
My last meet my freshman year I threw the shot put less than an inch short of the automatic qualifier for CCS (our sectional meet). I was heart broken that my season was over, but that feeling sat inside of me for the next few moths leading up to the next season. It made me so determined going into my sophomore season. I never wanted to have that feeling of being so close to something ever again. That next year I made it to CCS, won CCS, made it to state, and ended up taking 4th place in the shot behind three seniors.

My proudest moment from last year in discus was when I won CCS. The top three finishers would go to state. I was hoping to take third, but I knew it would be a challenge. I went into the final throw in 5th place and thought to myself, "This could be my last throw of the season, I can't have any regrets." I went into the ring not thinking about form or distance. I threw with heart and determination and ended up throwing a PR 129' 1" and passing up the competition to take first and go to state.

You threw 49'0" and 152'8" at the Willow Glen Invitational very early in the season which were at the time both personal records. How exciting were both marks that early in the season?
After throwing the shot put that far, I just had a feeling of relief and peace. I knew I was able throw that far. Even last year I was throwing close to that during warms ups for meets. So to actually throw that far in a meet was just a feeling of relief. The discus was a different story. My goal for the season in disc was to throw 150'. I knew that I would be able to achieve that goal, but I had no idea I would achieve it at my first meet.

You qualified for the state meet last year in both throws and had personal best marks of 46'1.5" and 129'1". What would you say has made the biggest difference for you this season as far as your continued improvement?
To prepare for this season, I started throwing in the fall. I threw maybe only once a week since I was in season for volleyball. Once volleyball was over, I got right into throwing 5 days a week. I made plans to compete at the University of Washington High School Invitational meet in

February. That gave me something to work for to keep me motivated in the preseason. All of the practice I did early on in the year allowed me to start my season with my feet running. I didn't have to work my way into it, because I was already ready. In season, I have been very focused on rest. I am also doing club volleyball right now along with a heavy class schedule, so I was struggling a lot at the beginning of the season with making sure I got the recovery I needed. I now have more purposeful practices with specific numbers of focused reps rather than doing tons of reps but just going through the motions. This limits the stress I have to put on my body each practice so I can be ready for the next day and next meet.

You threw the shot put 50'5.25" at the CCS Top 8 meet this year which got you past the 50 foot barrier. What other shot marks are within reach for the rest of the season (photo above courtesy of Josh Small)?
My goal is to be at the top of the national list in shot put and discus at the end of this season. I am pretty close to the other girls in shot, but I know that if I want to get back to the top of that list

I will have to throw at least 51 feet. I have four meets left this high school season and I have every intention to throw over 50' again, and hopefully 51'.

Last week at the WCAL finals, you threw the discus 182'8" which is the #10 best throw in US history by a high school athlete. Tell us a little about your throws that day and when did you know you hit that big mark? What was your reaction when you heard the mark?
It was the finals so we had a round of three throws. After those three throws, they would reseed and we would take another three throws as long as you got at least one legal throw in the first round. My first few warm up throws made me feel really confident so I decided to stop and save my throws for the competition. The warm ups went for at least another 10 min, so by the time I threw my fist throw I was no longer warm. I released the disc too early and threw into the net.

My next throw I thankfully got in the sector, but it was only around 140'. My last throw of the first round also went into the net. I rarely ever scratch, I was freaking out a little bit. They reseeded and we went into the final round. My fourth throw was a PR 167'. I was really excited because it was a new CCS all time top throw. My next throw I was determined to throw even further. I threw 171'. I knew that the number one mark in the nation at that time was 172' and I did not want to settle for second. I thought my last throw looked around 170'. The other girls throwing crowded around the ring as they measured my throw, they gasped when the saw the number. When they announced the distance, I almost fell over. I knew it was far but I had no idea it was that far. I walked out on the field to get my disc and kept saying to myself, "I just can't." I can't handle it, I can't believe it, and I can't wait to see what else God has in store for me.

Tell us a little about your coaches and how they have helped you get to where you are today?
Coach Rolle has been amazing. As I said before, he has always seen more in me than I ever thought possible. I thought he was crazy when he told me that I could throw 40', and crazier when he said I could throw 50'. Looking back after hitting both of those marks, I now see in myself what he saw in me when I first came to practice my freshman year. Our head coach Josh Small has been so supportive of me and the other throwers. Even though he's a distance runner, he has always been there to cheer us on and be there for the throwers.

You play volleyball as well. How difficult has it been juggling both sports during the same season?
I have a very hard time not being busy. I've grown up doing 2-3 sports at the same time on top of school and other extra-curriculars like musical theatre. A typical day for me this time of year starts at 7:40 with school, then track practice from 3:00-5:30, volleyball from 7:00-9:00, and then homework until midnight. Yes, it is a lot of work, I get very little sleep, and it takes a huge toll on my body. But I couldn't imagine my life any other way. I will not be doing club volleyball next year to focus solely on throwing, so that will clear up some time and energy.

Your sister Bekah is on the Valley Christian SJ team as well. How has she and your teammates helped you throughout the season?
I love my sister so much! She is going to be a heptathlete at Westmont College next fall. She is such an inspiration to me and is the hardest worker I know. My teammate Ronna has been one of the biggest components to my success. My freshman year she pushed me so hard. My goal was to beat her record from her freshman year and I ended up tied with it. We always compete against each other in practice and meets and because of that I think it makes us better. Even in our dual meets we take the opportunity to push each other to be better. A perfect example of this is at Arcadia this year in the discus. Ronna threw 153' 8" and I knew she meant business. After that I threw 153' 10", only 2" further to win the meet. Without her continually making me better, I would not be where I am today. She is going to be competing for the University of Oregon in the fall and I can't wait to compete with her again at the college level.

Anything else you would like to add?
I would not be where I am today without the gifts and abilities God has given to me. I want to also thank all my friends, family, and people who follow my progress for always being there to cheer me on.