From Throwholics Young Guns writing crew member Anthony Wilks
Standing 6’3″ and weighing cut 240 pounds, Cullen Prena looks more like a well-seasoned collegian than a recent high school grad. Throwing at national track & field power East Kentwood High School’s dual ring stadium he proved he’ll be a match for his future NCAA competitors.
On the 1st of June’s Michigan Championships Prena used the momentum he had from winning the shot put by bumping his 12 lb. (5,44 kg) personal best from 17,65m (57′ 11″) to 18,57m (60′ 11″) to also win the discus with flying colors. His 6th round throw of 64,04m (210′ 1″) with his three year old 1,6 kg. (3½ pound) Pacer Gold took the US lead from Grant Hill of Alabama who had thrown 62.06m (203′ 7″) earlier this week. The throw is also a new Michigan state record.
After a multitude of sometimes heated discussions regarding which ring to use the officials relented and sent the modern day gladiators to the northern ring (from the south ring) for the boys to take full advantage of the 25 kph southwest winds. Sadly, similar pleas for the earlier girls’ competition were not heeded and they were forced to fight hindering winds throughout.
When the distance was announced, the new champ forewent the typical posturing and self-celebration we see in today’s top-end athletes and went to his coach and teammates.
Coach Nebojsa Stojkovic and Prena hugged as the tears flowed. “I’m on Cloud 9 … super emotional,” said Prena, “We’ve basically become brothers, it’s emotional that we’re done.” Indeed, Stojkovic couldn’t hold back. “It was pretty emotional … each meet … seven years of throwing, he couldn’t have gone out any better. What Cullen is, he’s a special athlete,” Stojkovic said.
Leading up to the state meet Cullen says “I could feel everything clicking so my coach and I knew I was ready to peak and drop some bombs but I honestly was not expecting 210′. more just hoping…” Cullen’s junior season seemed to feed the fire as he tasted a big victory at the USATF Junior National Championship taking the title at 185′ 4″. His goals include nothing short of gold medals. Naturally he’s an Olympic hopeful as well as a future national champion while at the University of Oregon.
Walled Lake Central mathematics teacher and head coach Nebojsa Stojkovic has developed a healthy throwing culture in his community. “For us it’s a repetition … of knowing that muscle memory,” said Stojkovic, who has produced seven all-state throwers in his eight seasons at Central. “When they get into the circle, all they have to worry about is explosion. Every part of their technique is worked on every single day.”
Being a thrower for Stojkovic is a commitment, which includes working on specific muscle groups with special drills, paying attention to diet and hitting the weight room in a year-long format of training. “Our athletes will rotate 10,000 or more times in a year. You see, I have them for four hours every day. These rotations will implement the discus, for example, and sometimes they’ll rotate with a towel. This is so they can focus on their feet. Balance is critical. Then they’ll focus on acceleration. But they must do this smoothly. You can’t have sudden stops and starts. Even in the winter, we’re drilling in the hallways,” Stojkovic said. “We’re breaking every piece down.” Indeed, Stojkovic has a stop-motion drill which involves the spin, turn and plant, just before the release of the implement. They follow instructions precisely. “They’re just not athletes, they’re students of the sport,” Stojkovic said. “There’s a lot of math and physics involved. From example, with Cullen, his entire body is double-jointed. He can pull the discus back so far that he’s able to create more torque.”
“We just love the sport and love to be out,” said Prena, who was introduced to the throws at an early age. He gave up football and basketball to stay healthy and free-up the time it takes to become one of the world’s best. “My sisters [both champion throwers]… they dragged me along to practices when I was in middle school.” He has been throwing under Stojkovic’s tutlage for seven years. “We’re together 360 days a year,” shared Stojkovic.
As is always the case, it is difficult to match-up Cullen’s 64m throw with his international peers as they throw the 1,5 kg and 1,75 kg implements. We’ll have to wait until Prena gets one of those in his hands before he’ll be added to the IAAF World Junior list.
However, Prena’s season is not yet over, he will be throwing at this weekend’s Chicago Invitational followed by the New Balance USA Outdoor Nationals (regrettably skipping the conflicting Mid-West Meet). Cullen gives credit to his coach, parents Ron and Laurie, sisters Kari and Kelsey, and every one of his teammates, friends, and family who supported him through the journey. Keep an eye out for Cullen as he continues his track and field career at the Univeristy of Oregon throwing hammer, discus and shot put.
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