Sports

At the top of his game

If there was ever an athlete who’d resided in both the penthouse and the outhouse during their career, it’s Rob Minnitti.

The 1998 South Kitsap High School graduate has had his successes and failures in the world of sports, both at the prep and collegiate levels. But his constant drive to prove people wrong may just land him on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team.

After a college transfer and reconstructive elbow surgery, Minnitti is at the peak of his javelin career at Boise State University.

The fifth-year senior currently holds the top collegiate throw of 248 feet, 6 inches (75.75 meters), which is also the third-best American throw this year.

Minnitti’s goals are lofty this season, and deservedly so.

But to understand Minnitti’s current success, one must go back to the beginning of his journey to fully understand the obstacles he’s overcome.

Minnitti, a star football player at every level through high school, wanted to find an edge in the off-season besides just lifting weights.

“I went to (football) coach (Ed) Fisher (my sophomore year) and asked what he thought was best and his answer was track, so I could sprint and become faster for the football team,” Minnitti said. “I never even gave javelin a thought at that point. Sprinting wore on my body, though, so I started throwing the javelin with encouragement from coach (D.J.) Sigurdson, to off-set running every day.”

Minnitti said he’s driven by the goal of athletic excellence.

“I just wanted a chance to be the best athlete I could be,” he said. “At first, javelin was just fun and for some reason I picked it up pretty quickly. Coach Sigurdson did a great job coaching. He was able to keep it simple, and he allowed me to be very involved in what was going on. We just started from the very bottom kind of blind and worked our way up from there.”

Minnitti didn’t just pick up the sport, he took off with it all the way to the Washington State High School Track and Field championships.

Just prior to the competition, Minnitti came down with mononucleosis.

His dream season looked to be in doubt.

“I was sicker than a dog,” Minnitti said. “I came to the meet, took a few warmups and it wasn’t looking good. Coach Sigurdson said something like ‘Well, you don’t have much too lose. Just grip it and rip it.’ So I did and threw 208 feet and won the meet on my first throw.”

Minnitti said that’s where his love and passion for the sport was born.

Minnitti gleamed with optimism heading into his senior year.

The starting quarterback was ready to guide SK to second state title in four years and the path to a state title reached all the way to the state title game against Central Valley. But the Bears from Spokane whipped the Wolves in a 49-13 blowout victory.

The following spring, Minnitti was poised to win a second straight state title in the javelin.

Instead, he had to settle for second place.

“I still felt like the season was a success,” he said. “I had the third (longest) throw in the nation and my school record, but not that second state title. That year I was runner-up twice (in football and javelin). Second place sucks.”

Minnitti got his first taste of futility soon after the state meet at the

Golden West Invitational — a national high school meet.

“This was the first time in the javelin I really got it handed to me,” he said. “I think I threw a season low 170 feet. Everyone beat me that day but one kid. Talk about a reality check.”

To this day, Minnitti said he would trade all his prep track accolades for a state championship in football.,

“I wanted a state championship so bad in football and we didn’t get it that year when we should have,” Minnitti said. “To this day I would still trade my track championship for the football championship 10 times out of 10.”

Decisions, decisions

Minnitti had a tough decision ahead of him.

Was he going to go to a premier college in the javelin, or would he play football at a smaller school?

“During my senior year, I was sure I would play college football,” Minnitti said. “In reality, I could have at some level. I just felt I wanted to be at the highest level. When those offers never came in, I said, ‘To heck with it. I’ll throw the javelin at a big-time school’.”

That’s not to say Minnitti’s passion wasn’t football.

He still claims the two-point conversion he completed to Chris Work to tie the game against Woodinville in the state quarterfinals is the best feeling he’s felt in athletics.

Trailing 29-14 through two and a half quarters, SK scored 27 unanswered points to win 41-29.

It was Minnitti’s two-point conversation to Work that tied the game 29-29 and essentially turned the tides against the Marques Tuiasosopo-led Woodinville team, which was ranked No.1 in the state and 24th in the nation.

“My first love was always football,” he said. “I loved the game and the guys I played with. There is nothing quite like being a part of a great football program. I really loved the game, the coaches and my team.”

Still, Minnitti made the hard choice of giving up football.

“ I sat down with two people at different times — coach Sigurdson and my dad,” he said. “After talking, we agreed the javelin was the best choice. Plus they said I have a shot at a gold medal (some day).”

With the decision in place, Minnitti accepted a scholarship to the University of Washington.

“No one really had any expectations other than for me to prove that I belonged,” Minnitti said.

All looked promising his freshman year.

He threw 222.10 and made the finals of the Pac-10 Championships.

Minnitti felt great going into his sophomore year.

He had gained 20 pounds of muscle and was throwing well in practice.

But in the first meet of the year he tore up his elbow and had to have reconstructive surgery.

His javelin coach retired soon afterwards, leaving Minnitti with unanswered questions about his career.

“I guess it was a real test for me to see what I would do when things were really about as bad as they could get,” he said.

Minnitti decided to transfer to Boise State because he heard the school had a great javelin coach. After a year of rehab, Minnitti was back on the field throwing, though he wasn’t showing the strength he had before the elbow injury.

“I struggled all season with the new elbow and didn’t really like the javelin much,” he said. “My arm hurt like never before and throwing was not much fun for me. I took a long off-season and tried to just rest and re-evaluate the situation.”

The time off helped immensely for Minnitti, who hated not competing in anything.

“Going into my first senior year I got a new drive and started to believe again,” Minnitti said. “I had a season-best of 241 feet and became an NCAA All-American.”

Minnitti ended the season with a trip to his first USA championships, where he missed the finals by one spot.

That only fired up him up for this season.

“Talk about a fire for my upcoming season,” he said. “After last year I really started to love the sport again and love the competition.”

Olympics or bust

Minnitti is the ultimate goal setter.

This year he’s laid out a set of goals that takes him all the way to the 2004 Olympics.

“Being ranked No. 1 and not losing to any college javelin throwers so far has put me in a good spot going into the championship portion of my season,” Minnitti said. “I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in to throw the javelin, and I really feel I have a shot at the national title.”

Minnitti said it’s not just talent that’s put him in a position to be among the elite throwers of the world.

“I’ll be honest, I have been blessed with some talent and athletic ability,” he said. “But those things are far from the top of the list when you talk about success in sport. I have become a student of the event, and my desire to throw far drives me every day. I know to make it to the Olympics I need to throw farther and become better.”

Minnitti said he will be happy if he throws more than 80 meters — but not complacent.

“It still will not be enough,” he said. “I’ll want more. If I make the (Olympic) team in 2004, that’s when you won’t be able to wipe the smile off my face for at least a week.”

If he makes it to the Olympics, then he will set a new goal for himself.

“To succeed you must feel you have no limits and believe any goal is attainable,” he said. “That is the same in all sports. The javelin is no different. I believe that is what it takes.”

What it also takes is premier coaching.

Calling the coaching at Boise State “OK,” Minnitti said his primary coaches consist of a trainer and former Olympian.

Ben Lindsey writes all of the weights workouts and “really is the backbone of my strength program this season,” Minnitti said.

Then there is the technical side of the sport, where Minnitti gets his coaching from Duncan Atwood a former U.S. Olympic javelin thrower in 1980 and 1984.

“He is the true master behind my plan as far as javelin throwing goes,” Minnitti said. “He and I really understand each other, which makes for a great team.”

Life after throwing?

Minnitti said he isn’t going to stop competing if he doesn’t make the Olympic team next year.

With a support system that includes his parents (Bob and Merna), sister (Melanie), and girlfriend (Jessica), Minnitti said he hopes to throw for years to come.

“It has truly taken a team to bring me to where I am and to push me to where I want to be,” Minnitti said. “My goal is to make the team in 2004 and I believe I can. For me to be happy, I have to set the bar high and push myself past any limits and over every obstacle. So I guess it feels like I have a lot left to do and not much time to rest on what I have already done.”

Minnitti said he understands the difficulty of making money throwing the javelin. But the elite throwers do make a living at it, he said.

“I would love to throw for the next ten to fifteen years at the world class level and never have a real job,” Minnitti said. “I will follow this dream as long as I can. But I will know when it is over. It could be two years or 10. Then it’s back to reality.”

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