Discus thrower Liz Podominick had a fantastic college career at the University of Minnesota. As a basketball player. Liz was a high school All-American in that sport, and played for three years at the University of Minnesota, making the Sweet Sixteen one season and the Final Four another. Though on scholarship for basketball, Liz competed in track each spring and earned three Big Ten titles in the shot put and one in the disc.
During her senior year at Minnesota, Liz decided to focus exclusively on track. After graduating in 2008, she took two years off from throwing before reviving her career in 2011. Liz qualified to represent the USA at the 2013 World Championships, and takes a PB of 63.87m into this week’s US Championship meet in Eugene, Oregon. She currently lives and trains at the Chula Vista Training Center.
I spoke with Liz at the New York Diamond League Meeting.
Dan McQuaid: How far did you throw in high school?
Liz Podominick: I think my best was 160 feet. Basketball was my main sport and I kind of did track on the side, a six week season each spring.
Dan McQuaid: You went to the University of Minnesota on a basketball scholarship, and they still let you do track?
Liz Podominick: Yes. That was my stipulation wherever I looked at schools, they had to let me do both. I knew that basketball would be the main priority. I wasn’t able to do indoor, and then my outdoor season was about six or eight weeks long. I did not play basketball my senior year, so I had a full year of track.
Dan McQuaid: At that point did you feel that things were going better for you in track?
Liz Podominick: I wasn’t happy playing basketball and I knew that the future for me was going to be better in track. I just enjoyed it more, the individual aspect of it. For a long time, I really enjoyed basketball, but my high school coach was right when he said that “basketball will become a job for you and track will be your future.” I didn’t believe him at the time because I was a basketball junkie, but he was right.
Dan McQuaid: What kind of degree did you get?
Liz Podominick: I got my undergrad in Sociology and my masters in Sports Sociology.
Dan McQuaid: Do you plan to use your degrees some day?
Liz Podominick: I hope I do. I did work full time for a while. I was a grownup, and I gave it up to train, and I’ll probably go back to it. I worked actually for a National Governing Body for figure skating doing all the behind the scenes stuff. I really enjoyed it, but it took away from training.
Dan McQuaid: You worked for the figure skating NGB right after you graduated?
Liz Podominick: A couple of years after. I interned there in 2009 through Vancouver and then I got hired shortly afterwards. I think it was the fall of 2011 that I gave it up and started training full time.
Dan McQuaid: During the transition after college, were you unsure of your plans?
Liz Podominick: A little bit. I took some time off. My brother passed away in December 2008. He was twenty-one years old and passed away in his sleep. We don’t really know what happened. I took a little time off and decided after a couple of years that I did want to start throwing again. So this is my fifth year as a full time thrower.
Dan McQuaid: How did you get started again after the break?
Liz Podominick: I lived in Colorado while I worked for the figure skating NGB, and I worked some with Scott Irving, the throws coach at the Air Force Academy. In 2011, I believe, I met Mac Wilkins at the Tuscon Elite meet and in 2012 I would go train with him every six weeks or so. I knew that Scott Irving was going to be retiring soon, so I decided to make a change, and I moved to Portland to train with Mac in the fall of 2012.
Dan McQuaid: How did you end up in Chula Vista?
Liz Podominick: Mac got hired there, so my training partner Jared Schuurmans and I followed him down.
Dan McQuaid: What is day-to-day life like at Chula Vista?
Liz Podominick: It can be very repetitive. There are so many great things about living there, the training, the facilities, but I’m thirty years old and living in a college dorm. There are four of us in a two-bedroom suite. So there are challenges. But the positives outweigh the negatives. It’s waking up, they give you breakfast, you might have a rehab appointment. Then its throw in the morning, lift in the afternoon, then you might have another rehab appointment for recovery.
Dan McQuaid: How long have you been at Chula Vista?
Liz Podominick: I moved there in October of 2013, so about a year and a half.
Dan McQuaid: You recently threw a PB of 63.87m at a meet in Claremont, California. Could you tell from your training that a PB was coming?
Liz Podominick: In the last couple weeks my coach and I figured out a cue that really clicked. I have been really consistent at the 59-60m range. And that can be really frustrating, but I knew that a bigger throw was there.
Dan McQuaid: What was the cue?
Liz Podominick: Having a lower right leg sweep out of the back and getting my left foot out of the back quicker. The positions are there, the timing is still being worked out.
Dan McQuaid: How do you support yourself?
Liz Podominick: I’ve been lucky. I’ve gotten a couple of grants. The USATF Foundation grant has been absolutely huge. A couple of years ago I got a Women’s Sports Foundation grant, and I also got a USOC grant. Without that I don’t know that I could continue training. And this past year and half I’ve been at the training center, so I’m not having to worry about rent and that right there is huge. When I was living in Portland I depleted my savings and didn’t know how I was going to keep training.
Dan McQuaid: How do you manage travel Expenses?
Liz Podominick: That’s another advantage of living at the training center. At least for domestic meets, mostly we are covered. And also, a lot of the meets that we go to are in Southern California. For some of the bigger meets, they pay for your travel.
Dan McQuaid: Your must be excited to be competing in your first Diamond League meet.
Liz Podominick: Definitely. A lot of these women will be competing at Worlds, and just to get comfortable competing at this level is good for me.
Dan McQuaid: Do you feel pressure to show that you belong?
Liz Podominick: Yes and no. I think I felt that more when I made the world team in 2013. That was my first big international meet. Right now, Nationals are my big focus. Making the World team. I’m not trying to focus on the distance, just the cues. I think it is good for me to try to focus on these cues under pressure.
Dan McQuaid: What lifts do you emphasize in your training?
Liz Podominick: We have a great strength and conditioning instructor. His name is Jamie Meyer. We focus a lot on the Olympic lifts and we work on bar speed, so we use the Tendo machine. It lets us know how well we are recovering from each workout by telling us if we are moving the bar fast. It’s great to lift heavy weight, but if you are not moving it very fast that can be very detrimental. That’s been a huge thing. I’ve stayed healthy this year for the first time. Last year I had a shoulder issue, so I couldn’t bench very much, but now my upper body strength is improving.
Dan McQuaid: How much do you bench?
Liz Podominick: We don’t do maxes. It’s all about bar speed. We use the Tendo on benching as well. Right now we do fifteen total reps, no more than three reps per set and I’m trying to keep the bar moving at 90% of the speed of the best rep of that set. The tendo machine will beep at you if you fall below 90%, and then I have to stop.
Dan McQuaid: Do you do the full Olympic lifts?
Liz Podominick: Yes. That’s another big thing. I’m able to take my Olympic lifts from the ground this year, which I haven’t been able to do before because of a back issue.
Dan McQuaid: How did you fix your back?
Liz Podominick: Rehab and we’ve just been really smart with my progression. I’ve been lifting off blocks for some time. I had very bad ankle flexibility, eighty-year-old ankles essentially, from basketball. So I had to be really smart about my approach, starting off with light weights. Working to hit good positions.
Dan McQuaid: How many times per week do you lift?
Liz Podominick: Right now, three times per week. I do the Olympic lifts twice per week and I squat once per week and bench twice a week. All with the Tendo.
Dan McQuaid: Do you have any advice for a coach of high school girls?
Liz Podominick: Get them to come out! There are a lot of misconceptions of what a female thrower looks like. Huge. Kind of homely looking. Like what Hollywood portrays. You think of the character in the movie Matilda. That’s the first thing people think of. And that’s not quite accurate. We are athletic. We are very skilled at what we do. I tell high school girls, I weigh ten pounds more than when I went to college, but I’m two sizes smaller than I was in high school. I’ve worked on my body and my strength, and it really builds confidence.
Also, celebrate any success. Any improvement.
Dan McQuaid: Are you glad you did more than one sport in high school?
Liz Podominick: Yes. I think people specialize way too early. The reason I tried track was because in 8th grade the high school track coach told me it would help me with my basketball skills. I was nervous. I didn’t want to try it. I was really shy. But after the first day I loved it. I had a great mentor.
Dan McQuaid: Can being a thrower help make someone a better basketball player?
Liz Podominick: Definitely. The footwork, the strength, just having that individual confidence. With track you are on your own individually, and succeeding that way can build a lot of confidence.