Elizabeth Forward grad eyes NCAA javelin title
Just weeks after capturing her second Mid-American Conference javelin championship with a school-record throw of 183 feet, 5 inches, Miami (Ohio) senior Tori Paterra's tenacious approach will be on display one last time at the college level.
The WPIAL championship record holder while at Elizabeth Forward was hoping to make it a memorable showing Wednesday at Oregon State, where she will go for an individual title at the NCAA Division I Track and Field Championships.
A back injury — she cracked two vertebrae while heaving the long stick a year ago — is in her rearview mirror, though she had still been showing signs of babying it until just recently.
“We didn't even think she'd be throwing now,” Miami throwing coach Stacey Wannemacher said. “She couldn't touch the javelin until December. Usually, she did the full approach, which is 10 steps. For this entire year, we did five steps until recently, when we added two more.
“She's comfortable with going seven steps.”
Imagine how far that stick might fly with the 10-step normal routine.
It's irrelevant to Paterra, though.
“I was in a back brace that encompassed my torso,” she said. “It was basically there to stabilize my back. At first, it was kind of annoying. Eventually, it helped me a lot to gain strength back and to help me rest it.”
But even as she approached her senior season at Miami, Paterra was in pain. She worked out for a short while, then took another break.
“It was important to my body,” she said. “It helped me heal, and now, my mindset is ‘Let's go!' ”
That tenacious mentality, she said, comes from her dad, former NFL running back Greg Paterra, who also played football and competed in track and field at Elizabeth Forward. He played a combined three seasons for the Atlanta Falcons and Buffalo Bills.
“I learned from the best,” Tori Paterra said. “I remember once when I was playing softball, I sprained both my ankles. He taped me up and said, ‘Get out there. You don't want to baby it.' ”
As she thought about that Monday, two days before the NCAAs, Tori Paterra laughed aloud.
“It just has given me a mental toughness, a different mindset,” she said.
Greg Paterra can't fault his daughter for taking a setback a year ago as a junior. He conceded she takes after his bull-in-a-china-shop approach.
“She went into the MAC Championships last year, and she was supposed to win it,” he said of the javelin event. “She has a tendency sometimes, because of how strong she is, to try to muscle the javelin. She puts a lot of torque into it. She torqued it on her first throw and cracked two vertebrae. She had to fight it out the rest of the way. Six throws, then six throws at the regionals, then six throws at nationals.”
She couldn't stay with the leaders.
Predictably, EF coach John Walsh compared Tori Paterra to her father like they were the same person.
“Tori, like her dad, always could turn on that game switch,” Walsh said. “When it was time to go, it was time to go. That's how she is.”
And, yes, she would like to think she will be ready to go when she enters the NCAAs as the fourth-seeded women's javelin competitor with a qualifying throw of 173-7 at a regional event.
The mark is roughly 10 feet shorter than her record-setting throw at the MAC Championships a week earlier.
The top seed at the nationals is Florida junior Fawn Miller, another Western Pennsylvania native, whose best qualifying throw was a 190-1. Miller is a product of District 10 Lakeview.
The numbers don't mean much to Paterra because there's another opportunity at hand.
“We tend to say I'm an adrenaline junky,” she said. “I feed off the competition. When my adrenaline gets going is when I'm getting ready to throw. That's when I know I'm ready to compete. I sometimes will feel a little butterflies. That's normal. But that doesn't affect me.”
After the national college event is over, so is Paterra's college career. She will take a week to return and train at Miami before heading to Sacramento, Calif., to compete at the USA Outdoor National Track and Field Championships from June 25-29, which will serve as an Olympic qualifying event.
Paterra insisted she isn't looking ahead.
“Just constantly being competitive. That's what's really nice about this time of year,” she said. “One meet takes you to another.”
From the MAC Championships to the NCAAs to the USA championships, Paterra is busy at working hard.
“The thing that has impressed me most about her is this is her fourth year in a row going to the nationals,” Greg Paterra said. “That's just impressive in itself. It's almost like going to the Super Bowl multiple times. Or winning an MVP more than once. It's hard to do. It's hard to repeat — even in a midget league — hard to get to the show.”
Tori Paterra has some immediate goals in mind. Sure, she wants to win a national championship. But she also hopes to add a second first-team All-America honor. She achieved that as a sophomore in 2012.
And, she doesn't want to finish lower than her starting seed.
“The javelin is the hardest event in track and field because there's so many things that can go wrong,” Walsh said. “If your technique breaks down, it can be a disaster. It all starts with the mental part of it, and that's the nice thing about Torrie.
“When the lights were on, she was always ready to go.”