Throwing practice begins for Suzette Rodriguez when she walks through the doors of the turf room at 8:35 a.m.
By the time the junior has gathered her equipment — three weights, a plywood board to stand on, black throwing shoes and a pair of purple throwing gloves, the rest of the team — namely Jacob Gerber — has already started practicing.
With a roster of two, Goshen’s throwing team is small, but that only makes the pair’s contribution to the track and field program more outstanding. Between the duo, Rodriguez and Gerber have already made two national appearances, hit three standards, and set a school record (53 feet 5 1/2 inches in the weight throw by Rodriguez).
Rodriguez begins her first throw of the morning in a squat position facing the wall. Today is a heavy throwing day, which means Rodriguez will be practicing with a 25-pound weight, five pounds heavier than the one she uses for competitions.
There are four events in collegiate throwing: the weight throw, hammer, discuss and shot put. This year, Rodriguez and Gerber, also a junior, are focussing on just the hammer and weight throw events, two variations of the same technique. Weight throw, which uses a heavier weight and shorter handle, is specially designed for the indoor season.
Rodriguez swings the bowling-ball-looking weight around her head by gripping onto the 3-foot-long rope. She follows the weight through a full-body 540 degree turn and lets it fly.
Rodriguez finishes in a golfer-like pose, one foot twisted behind the other, and watches the weight land, bouncing off the artificial grass. She side-steps on her way to retrieve the weight to avoid Gerber’s, which thunders to the ground less than 10 feet away.
“That’s the best you’ve looked all of indoor,” she praises her teammate. With no official coach and no other teammates, the pair depends on each other for encouragement and advice.
Rodriguez credits much of the pairs’ success to their coach from last year, Nick Banke. Banke competed himself at the NCAA Division One level at the University of Akron before becoming a track event coach at Goshen College.
Banke resigned from Goshen this year, but Rodriguez and Gerber continue to build on what they learned from him.
Banke was the one who first told Rodriguez she was capable of qualifying for nationals. “Our coach always had us do team meetings throughout the season,” she said. “So we were always aware of where we were standing, what it’s gonna take to go to nationals, what it’s gonna take to win conference.”
Rodriguez, who grew up in Goshen, didn’t always know she would be a track and field star. Eighth grade was the first year that she participated in track. During this time she also played basketball and football and was the first female ever to play on the Goshen Middle School football team.
Rodriguez was cut from the basketball team during her sophomore year at Goshen High School and recalls the devastation it caused. “I actually cried on the way home,” she said. “But I believe that was a really crucial point for me as an athlete because when that door closed, another one opened.”
That door was fully open on Feb. 9, 2019, it was the day she credits as the best of her life.
“A lot of things happened that day,” she said. “I had a good rhythm and I was feeling it. I was having fun too. I didn’t just win conference, I broke the school record, I hit A standard and I broke the conference record.”
“I was really proud,” she said, smiling.
Even before winning conference, Rodriguez’s motivation has been to inspire others.
“Just because your time isn’t fast or you can’t jump that high or far or whatever doesn’t mean you can’t get there,” she said. “Everybody has the same 24 hours. What are you gonna do with it?”