College track: Rebecca Cooper

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 22, 2011

By Mike London
At a college track meet earlier this month at Western Carolina, two East Rowan graduates bumped into each other a long way from home.
Both were competing in the javelin — Wayne Parker for Western and Rebecca Cooper for East Carolina.
“I knew Wayne was a good pole vaulter, but I didn’t know he was throwing the javelin, and he didn’t know I did,” Cooper said. “He was like, ‘What in the world are you doing here?’ ”
A sporting event is always a good place to look for Cooper. At East, she was a scholar-athlete 12 times, earned 10 varsity letters, captained the Mustangs in three different sports and made five all-county teams.
One of the few things she didn’t do was track, and that was because track happens simultaneously with softball, a sport in which she was Rowan County’s 2007 co-player of the year.
Even if Cooper had performed for East’s track team, she wouldn’t have been throwing any javelins. At last count, North Carolina was one of 36 states that doesn’t sanction the javelin as a high school event. The reasons given are cost, safety concerns and a shortage of qualified coaches.
Cooper was good enough in softball and volleyball to play at a lot of colleges, but Division I East Carolina is where she wanted to go to school, and that meant her athletic pursuits were going to be limited to club teams.
At least, that’s what she thought.
But then Cooper made a video that opened doors.
Cooper plans to be a teacher and coach. Her major is physical eduction, and one of her classroom assignments last spring was to create an instructional video. Cooper, who was mostly a shortstop at East, drew on her own experiences.
“The video I developed was on the proper mechanics for throwing a softball,” Cooper explained.
Cooper’s class instructor was Eva Price, a former college pole vaulter. Price’s husband David is a former vaulter and javelin thrower and is an assistant coach for East Carolina’s track team. Ms. Price showed the video to her husband, and he saw something in Cooper.
“He called me up and wondered if I’d ever thought about throwing the javelin,” Cooper said.
Cooper’s thought about a lot of things in her life. It’s safe to say throwing the javelin wasn’t among them.
Still, she was interested.
“This was last spring, and I went over for a tryout,” Cooper said. “My tryout was throwing a softball, and I can throw a softball pretty far.”
Now Price was very interested.
“Since our high schools don’t have the javelin, East Carolina has to recruit people to try to throw it,” Cooper said. “The coaches scope out people who have good arms, usually baseball and softball players, and decide if they are teachable.”
Cooper was deemed “teachable,” and Price was willing to work with her if she wanted to become a track walk-on. She had a tough decision to make.
Learning the mechanics of brand new sport at the college level meant a time investment. Cooper is a regular on the Dean’s List. Did she want to take that many hours away from her studies?
Yes, she decided.
So she spent just about every day last summer working on her javelin technique.
Imagine sprinting as fast as you can, and then flinging a spear that’s more than 2 feet long. You can’t cross this line, your throw has to land between these two lines, and the javelin has to stick in the ground or it’s a foul.
Like the shot put and the discus, successful throws require explosion and technique as well as strength.
“Having a strong arm is nice, but there are also a lot of mechanics to the javelin,” Cooper said. “But it’s been fun trying something new.”
Cooper has been a full-fledged member of the track team this spring, and she’s proud that she’s had a chance to wear the purple and gold as a Division I athlete.
“There are some perks as far as being an athlete,” she said. “They really take care of you if you’re hurt or sick and you get to register for classes a little bit early.”
One of ECU’s seven javelin throwers (three girls, four guys) is from nearby Mount Pleasant. Sam Barnhardt was a swimmer, football player and discus thrower in high school.
Cooper has contributed to the Pirates. She was eighth out of 43 entries at the Wake Forest Open in March and threw 124 feet, 4 inches for fifth place in UNC Wilmington’s Seahawk Classic.
She placed third in that Beaches vs. Mountains meet at Western Carolina where she ran into Parker.
“I’m definitely a whole lot busier now,” Cooper said. “But I enjoy it.”
Cooper has traveled to Florida with the team and is looking forward to the conference meet in Houston. Not so much for the trip itself, but because the conference meet is team oriented. She misses that.
“Track is very individual,” she said. “You’re trying to get a mark to qualify for conference. Then you try to qualify for the regional, then nationals. But in the conference meet, you’re trying to score points for your team.”
A senior in the classroom, Cooper currently has an internship at Greenville’s D.H. Conley High. She’s not sure about next year yet. The only certainty is she’ll be taking graduate courses.
She still has one year of athletic eligibility, and it’s possible ECU might give her some scholarship money if she returns to the team.
“We’ve talked about it, and we’ll just have to see how I do and if I get a job,” Cooper said. “I’ll either be going to grad school and teaching or going to grad school and still competing. Those are good options to have.”