Three-time Olympian Kara Winger (formerly Patterson) has spent half of her lifetime throwing the javelin, from her days at Skyview High School to her recent Olympic showing in Rio de Janeiro, where she narrowly missed qualifying for the final round. After winning three state championships in high school and setting a 4A girls’ state meet record that still stands, Winger graduated from Skyview in 2004. She went on to become a two-time NCAA All-American while competing at Purdue University, from which she graduated in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, fitness and health. Winger is a six-time U.S. champion and in 2010 set an American record for women, hurling her javelin 218 feet 9 inches.
She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with her husband, Russ Winger, an elite discus thrower. Recently she took time to answer a few questions about her time at Skyview, career and other interests. Responses have been edited for brevity.
Inside VPS: Kara, you didn’t get interested in the javelin until high school. Who influenced you when you were there?
Kara Winger: I did track and field in eighth grade at Alki Middle School, but I just didn’t love anything I tried. When I got to high school, I didn’t know if I should do track again.
I had Ron Heidenrich for geometry, freshman year at Skyview. He said, “Kara, you should throw the javelin.” It was such an immediate fit that I just rolled with it, and I’ve been rolling with it for 15 years.
If you could go back to Skyview and tell your teen self something about the person and athlete you’ve become, what would it be?
It would be worth it. I had a couple of instances where I was bummed to miss out on some social things, like hanging out with friends when I had to practice. That’s an experience that a lot of athletes have. Sometimes I think young kids feel the pressure because they want to hang out with their friends, and I’m glad I didn’t do that. Sports have shaped a lot of who I am in an overwhelmingly positive way. There’s nothing I would have changed. I’d say, “Trust yourself.”
You’ve been throwing the javelin for 15 years and have battled your way back from more than one injury. In 2010, you wrote on your blog that “javelin will always be a work in progress.” Do you still feel that way? What keeps you interested?
There’s this search for the perfect throw in the throwing world. It’s something that everyone would like to believe will happen, but there’s always going to be something that you could have done better, even when you throw really far.
But I like that. I like constant improvement and striving for goals. It might seem kind of defeating to do the same thing over and over knowing that it’s never going to be absolutely perfect, but you learn so much about yourself and the world in the process.
You’re active on social media and blog regularly, which helps bring visibility to the sport. Was that always the goal?
That’s part of it, to spread the word about javelin in a way that’s relatable and accessible. One of my big goals for my whole career has been to put American javelin throwing on the map, especially on the women’s side.
Part of striving for that success is sharing about the experience, in my opinion. I enjoy interacting with the people who follow me and trying to show stuff that they might never get to see about javelin and international javelin competitions.
I also think social media is fun and I love photography, so I try to bring that to Instagram.
What do you see as the future of women’s javelin?
Though no women threw over 200 feet at this year’s Olympic Trials, there were six women in the field who could’ve. That talent is fun for me to see, having been in the field so long. I know it’s just going to continue to get better. The consistency and depth aren’t specific to the United States. It’s happening all over the world.
From the beginning of my career until now, the talent is on such a rise that it makes me really happy to have been a part of it for long enough to have noticed that trend and to still be competitive.
You recently completed a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in accounting through DeVry University, and you’re an avid photographer, lover of dogs and outdoor explorer. What lies ahead for you?
I think people laugh when they hear me say this, but it would be so fun to be a dog photographer. I have a lot of practice! That could be a small entrepreneurial opportunity, even in the next couple of years while I continue to throw the javelin, and just see how it goes, where it goes, how big it gets—if it gets big at all.
I don’t have concrete ideas, but I feel that I have enough education and skills to make something out of whatever I decide I’m passionate about.
Pictured above from left: Winger in 2003 as a student-athlete at Skyview High School and as a member of Team USA in the Rio Olympics in summer 2016.
This and other stories originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Inside Vancouver Public Schools.
#TeamVPS: Ron Heidenrich
Retired math teacher and coach
Skyview High School
Years with VPS: 34
One thing I’ve learned:
To always be prepared. When I was teaching or coaching, I always felt more comfortable when I had a good lesson or practice plan in place.
Three words that describe me:
Determined, disciplined, patient.
Now that I’m retired, I:
Catch up on yardwork and spend time with my grandkids!