‘Just seeing where the road takes me’

Smith used to compete in long jump, hopes to break teammates’ javelin record before ending WSU career


MICHAEL LINDER | The Daily Evergreen

Cole Smith aims his javelin while demonstrating how he throws April 24 at Mooberry Track.

AVERY COOPER, Evergreen reporter

Under the hot California sun and with some speed in his step, redshirt senior Cole Smith launched the javelin a lifetime best 222 feet.

The feat is a microcosm of Smith’s character and his story at WSU.

The Cougars offered Smith a scholarship as a high jumper, but he also had a successful javelin career in high school. When he arrived his freshman year he talked to the coaches and they gave him a chance to do both.

“I just started taking off from there,” Smith said. “I was slowly getting better and better and kept getting bigger and stronger.”

Smith said he was able to balance the two events, but it wasn’t easy because he had to weigh less for one and heavier for the other.

At the end of his freshman season, Smith sustained a partially torn UCL in his elbow. The injury is typically associated with baseball players who need “Tommy John” surgery to repair it, but Smith only partially tore his UCL and did not need an operation.

The injury prevented him from competing in the first half of his sophomore season, but Smith finished strong during the outdoor portion of that year.

Smith took 14th in the high jump and 10th in the javelin at the Pac-12 Championships, with season bests of 2.02 meters and 60.31 meters respectively.

“We had the new coaching staff coming in,” Smith said. “I wanted to make a good impression to show them what I’m capable of.”

In that same season, he sustained a shoulder injury. Smith said he was thankful he was not competing.

“The timing was perfect for it, as awful as that sounds for an injury,” Smith said. “I was able to grow confidence in myself and overcome the adversity of that and really improve my work ethic.”

However, Smith was at a crossroads. He was improving steadily in javelin, but not in high jump. He and his coaches decided to have him focus solely on javelin for his final season.

It came after he finished just outside the mark to make the NCAA final round in javelin.

Assistant head coach and throwing coach Julie Taylor said Smith lent his pole to another competitor while he held a distance that would have qualified him for the event. The same competitor threw the pole far enough to knock Smith out of contention for the NCAA Finals.

“It was a bummer, but it also showed [Smith]’s character,” Taylor said.

She said after that meet, she and jumping coach Brad Walker talked it over and decided it would be best for Smith if he focused on javelin.

Now in his redshirt senior season, Smith has his sights set on two goals: etching his name in the WSU record books for javelin and being an NCAA All-American.

Smith said to cement his legacy, he will need to break fellow redshirt senior javelin thrower Brad Stevens’ mark of 71.07 meters.

“That’d be a solid throw,” Smith said. “I’d just like to leave a name here … I would know I definitely went out there and gave it my all.”

Regardless of the outcome this season, Smith faces the inevitable — graduation.

Smith will end his time at WSU with a degree in sport management and minors in economics and business administration. He said he must complete an internship to earn his major, but he’s excited to find a career.

“I’m playing it by ear,” Smith said. “Just seeing where the road takes me.”

Due to past injuries, Smith said he does not see himself competing after college, but he does want to be a coach at some level in the future.

“I’ve definitely come to the point of where … I throw the javelin and know almost nine times out of 10 exactly what I did wrong,” Smith said.

Taylor said she and the rest of the team will miss the way Smith enjoys practice.

“He encourages his teammates to do well by joking around with them, but also encourages them to meet their goals,” Taylor said. “I will miss his laid-back and funny approach he brings to practice.”

Smith said of all the things he is going to miss after he graduates, the relationships he has built are at the top of the list.

“I’ll miss all of them,” Smith said. “You can’t be an athlete your entire life …  you have to finally realize ‘OK, I got to find something else to do with my life.’ ”