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Interval Session #89 - Stephen Saenz

By SteveU - January 16, 2009

The boys shot put was a pretty good event last year on a national level.  You had a 71-footer emerge for the second straight year in Alaskan Jordan Clarke and you had the amazing rise of freshman Nick Vena in New Jersey, who eventually went over 67.  Six others joined those two beyond 66 feet.  The field at Nike Outdoor Nationals, despite missing Clarke, was heralded as one of the best of any event, boys or girls, in the meet.

Now Clarke, NON winner Brandon Pounds IN, and Michael Alleman NJ have moved on to the collegiate ranks, but five others in the 66-plus group were juniors.  Could the event be even better this year?  It certainly could.  And one of the best – a candidate for the best - comes from a little town on the Mexican border.

Rio Grande City TX sr Stephen Saenz is not the biggest or most heralded of this year’s class, and was not well-known outside of Lone Star State at this time last year.  But as he raised his PR from 59 feet to 67-06.75 during the season, and flung the discus 204-00, he gained national attention and respect.  At Nike Outdoor, he proved beyond a doubt that he deserved the recognition by taking the bronze in the shot.

The 2009 indoor season has dawned with Vena and Colorado’s Mason Finley quickly exchanging nation-leading marks, but with his mighty 67-07 at the Throws Summit in Anaheim CA, Saenz is breathing down their necks.  He has as good a chance of anyone to lead an unprecedented charge of putters beyond 70 feet this year.  DyeStat editor SteveU caught up with him between workouts and before this weekend’s Carl Lewis Invitational

Photo by hssmonline.net
1) You had quite an interesting meet at the Throwers Summit a few weeks back, where you were at first only given credit for a 65-09 throw that was really 67-07 (20.06m instead of the 20.60m you deserved).  Let’s hear that whole story in your words.

Well, during the course of the meet, I was having a little trouble hitting the right angle on the release.  Then I finally connected on one, and I passed the 65-foot marker by more than two feet.  Everyone was excited, and they measured the throw and called out 20.60m.  The announcer converted it to feet (67-07) and yelled it out on the intercom, and people were congratulating me.  I fouled my last throw and I stepped off to the side. 

My coach, Larry Howell, went to see what my teammate had thrown, and he came back and told me that they had switched the last two numbers.  I was kind of disappointed because they had taken two feet off my throw.  We talked to the meet organizer, but at that time, they couldn’t do anything about it.  So, we just left it at that.  I’m glad everything got straightened out and my true mark is out.
2)  Now that you know you’ve already extended your PR, even if just by less than an inch, what does that say about your training in recent months?  How are you approaching this long season?

What I’ve really focused on is strength this past year.  My marks in the weight room were decent, but I knew I had room for improvement.  So during last summer, I signed up at my local gym and started lifting heavy, and it seemed to have paid off since my numbers have really increased.  This season, I will continue to focus on gaining strength, while maintaining flexibility and speed.  When I get closer to district and the bigger meets, I will transfer over to more explosive, quick reflex training.  For motivation, I will keep tabs on other throwers around the country and be comparing my marks to theirs.

3) Last year, you had major improvements at different times in the shot and discus.  At your district meet, you threw 204-00 but then it looks like you were 170-180 the rest of the season.  In the shot, you were in the 62-63 range until region, when you exploded to 67-06.75 … then you hit 67 again in the summer.  Do you have a favorite in the two events?  Can you talk about the ebb and flow of trying to improve in both during the course of a season?
The favorite of the two events would be the shot put, mainly because I feel more comfortable in the ring.  I love the discus, but right now, I’m more consistent in the shot put.  The ebb and flow of the throwing events is always, for me, a roller-coaster process.  One week, I’ll be on and hit some big marks; then sometimes, I can’t throw to save my life.  It’s all in the training.  I’ve learned the importance of rest, and when to lay off and when to turn it up during my training, and I feel that I can be a more consistent thrower this year because of it.

4) I’ve read that your dad was a thrower, too.  How big an influence has he been on you in the sport?  Can you talk about your start in track and field?

Back in the day, my dad was one of the better throwers in his district.  His PR was 52’6, and his discus was decent.  He is my biggest supporter, along with my mom.  My dad is awesome, because he was never that overbearing type of father who got after me when I did bad or yelled at me when I was having a bad day.  He was really cool with me and kept up that constructive criticism in a positive way, never negative.

I started the summer of my 3rd grade year in AAU, and my dad was my coach.  I couldn’t run because I was a little over the weight limit, but I enjoyed throwing.  I was a shuffler for a while and didn’t really start showing potential until my 5th grade year.  I grew up in a small community where there was nothing really to do in the summer, and track and field was something to help stay in shape and do something active.

5) A lot of track athletes favor sports they started with, like football or baseball, until they discover their previously “hidden” talents in track and field.  Have you played other sports and do you still?  Did you have a time when you were more interested in other sports but then became a track “convert,” so to speak?

The discus at NON.    Photo Vic Sailer, photorun.net 

I played baseball, basketball, and football my middle school years, but only continued with football my freshman and sophomore years.  I would have probably still been playing football, but I had some serious injuries as a freshman and a sophomore.  I broke my left ankle playing football my freshman year and got surgery which took long time to recover. During my sophomore year, I tore my ACL in my right knee and that took even longer to recover.  So these injuries kept me out of basketball, too.

Once I noticed several letters my sophomore year when I hit 60 feet, that was the deciding factor to stick to track.  I figured my junior year, being healthy, would be great and I couldn’t risk a potential scholarship for a sport that I probably wouldn’t get noticed for.  Track has always been my favorite sport, mainly because there is no one else to blame, only myself.
6) It looks like you had a couple of really big breakthroughs last spring in both the shot and the discus, which helped you go from someone competitive in Texas to a national-class thrower.  What do you think it was in your training that helped you really break through?  What are the biggest areas you’re still trying to improve in?

Well, the fact that I was healthy year-round last year was a big plus.  My leg strength shot up and that is a big factor in the throws.  My coach, Larry Howell, has been great.  Besides being a great coach, he is always looking for new ways to do the spin and has a great eye when it comes to the technical stuff. 

Combined with that, I trained in the weight room very hard.  I found a trainer in a neighboring city about 45 minutes from where I live, and every day I drove to meet up with him.  We worked on Olympic lifts and just gaining overall strength.  The area I am still trying to improve in would be my strength and consistency in the discus.  Even though I have improved in that area, I still feel there is room for growth.

7) You were 3rd in the shot last spring at Nike Outdoor and 12th in the discus.  What were some of the things you learned that you will take into your next national meet?

The competition was great, and that’s one of the first times I had competed with great throwers.  I got a little too excited and was more concerned on what other people did than just relaxing and doing my thing.  I learned that I can’t control what other people do and have learned to relax and be more confident.

8)  It looks like it’s a pretty good hike from your hometown to many of the cities in Texas and elsewhere where you’d have major meets.  Can you tell us about life in Rio Grande City and the travel challenges of throwing around the state and country?

Rio Grande City is right on the border of Mexico.  It is a small community and has come to support me tremendously in what I’m doing.  The weather here is great, and it has allowed me to throw year-round outdoors.  There are few distractions compared to a larger city. 

Travel challenges would include raising money.  Cities like San Antonio and Austin are 5-plus hours away, so we have to fundraise for our club to travel to meet up with different competition.  Especially when I have a meet in another state, I have to rely on donations and sponsorships to help get me to those meets.  My community has been there for me, and I am proud to call Rio Grande City my home.

9)  With your “true” mark in California, there’s already three putters above 67-06 this winter and we aren’t even halfway through January.  What has it been like for you to go from being a 59-footer at the start of last year to one of the top three in the country now?  Do you know or keep in touch with guys like Nick Vena and Mason Finley?  What kind of goals, both distance and national placing, do you have for this year?

It has been a great ride, and I am enjoying it every step of the way.  Throwing has given me a full ride to a great college and a chance to meet some great athletes and coaches along the way.  I haven’t personally communicated with Nick or Mason, but I keep track of their progress during the year through the DyeStat website.  My goals, distance-wise would be between 72 and 73 feet in the shot-put and 215 to 220 feet in the discus.  If I can hit those marks, I’ll just let the rankings fall where they may.

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