Just choose a game, let her learn the

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Just choose a game, let her learn the ropes, then watch her work.

A novice one day, a master the next.

"I guess it seems that way," said Kreiner, with a halfhearted smile and a shrug. "It's hard to think of many things that I haven't been able to pick up and adapt to, although I'm sure there are some out there. I just haven't found them yet, and that's kind of good. I try not to look too hard."

Neither volleyball, nor basketball, nor track foes posed much of a challenge to Kreiner during her dominating days at Mogadore High School. In fact she had yet to stumble upon a sport she couldn't conquer when a freakish series of events put a javelin in her hand for the first time as a walk-on freshman member of the Kent State track team five years ago.

Those who know Kreiner well had to believe that eventually she'd be good at her newfound event.

But not this good.

Not three-time All-American good.

Ramona Pagel still remembers the day a downtrodden young lady strolled into her office and asked to tryout for the Kent State track team.

"When she came through the door I could tell she was disappointed," said Pagel, an assistant track coach for the Golden Flashes at the time. "She came here to play basketball. I don't think she had track in mind at all."

Kreiner starred in volleyball, basketball and track at Mogadore, but her profound love of Kent State hoops lured her to campus in the fall of 1995.

"I used to come and watch the Golden Flashes women's games back in high school," said Kreiner. "I liked how they pushed everyone around. I figured I might have an outside chance to make the team, so I decided to walk on.

"I made it through preseason workouts but then we started practicing, which at Kent State means running up and down the court for hours non-stop. That's when my asthma started to kick in. It just wasn't going to work out."

While tasting failure for the first time as an athlete was a frustrating experience for Kreiner, it certainly didn't douse her intense desire to partake in college athletics.

It simply led her to Pagel's office.

"I walked in, introduced myself and said I'd like to try out for the track team," said Kreiner. "Things just kept rolling from there."

Kreiner's sleek, yet sturdy 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame, complete with thick, muscular legs and broad shoulders, exudes athleticism. She simply looks like a major college athlete of some kind, maybe a volleyball, soccer or basketball star.

Anything but a thrower.

"Kim was a heck of a high school athlete," said Flashes head track coach Steve Rainbolt. "She threw the shot put well in high school for a person her size, but nothing to suggest she'd become an All-American in college. She's not a real big girl, like female throwers typically are in college.

"After seeing her for the first time we talked about the heptathlon. But we soon realized we had a talented throws prospect."

Although Kreiner has a heptathlete's body, her asthmatic condition made competing in the grueling series of events next to impossible. So, on to Plan B.

"Every year we have all the new athletes throw the hammer and the javelin because you never know what kids can do in those events, especially walk-ons like Kim who have never tried them before," said Pagel. "We quickly discovered that this kid had quite an arm, and she also seemed to have a natural feel for the javelin. She was able to stick it (in the ground) right away, which is very unusual."

Kreiner readily admits that her knowledge of the javelin was somewhat limited at first.

"I'd seen it on TV a couple of times, but I'd never seen one up close," said Kreiner. "I knew that you threw it somewhat like a baseball, and that's about it."

The javelin is a foreign object to nearly all Ohio track athletes, since it's not an event at the high school level. Fortunately for Kreiner she had a four-time Olympic shot putter in Ramona Pagel in her corner on the Kent State track staff along with husband Kent Pagel, widely regarded as one of the country's top throws instructors.

"They taught me the technique, and I picked it up quickly," Kreiner recalled. "Ramona taught me all the basics at first. It's very cool to have a four-time Olympian as your coach. If she's got something to say, I'm all ears."

One thing Kreiner isn't is all muscle, like the vast majority of elite throwers. But she's able to overcome her lack of massive upper-body strength with superior speed and quickness, attributes not typically associated with the throwing events.

"The more speed you generate the further it goes, so having quick arms and quick feet are very important," said Kreiner. "And that's no problem for me. I definitely need to improve my strength to add some distance and avoid injury, which Kent and Ramona remind me of constantly, but otherwise this event fits me well."

Kreiner and the javelin.

A chance meeting, a perfect match.

Success, as usual, came almost instantaneously for Kreiner. She vividly recalls the startling turn of events that took place in her initial collegiate meet.

"My first throw went about 118 feet, then my second throw was about 120," Kreiner recalled. "Ramona had her back to me on my next throw, but she turned around in time to see it come off my hand and thought someone had just beaten me because it went like 140 feet.

"When she realized it was me we both started jumping up and down and hugging. It was really exciting."

Kreiner finished a solid fourth at the MAC Championships as a rookie with a throw of 139-11. But she bettered that distance during her breakout season of '97 in a big way, by unleashing a heave of 177-5 that Kreiner has yet to top in competition to finish a career-best third in her first NCAA Championships appearance.

Since then Kreiner has added two MAC titles and a pair of additional All-American certificates to her breathtaking list of career achievements. She placed fifth at this year's NCAA Championships with a throw of 168-11, and is now believed to be the only three-time All-American ever produced by Portage County.

"Wow," said a wide-eyed Kreiner, fittingly, after learning of that lofty accolade for the first time. "I never even thought of that. I guess you get so caught up in everything that you don't even realize what you've done. There just isn't much time to kick back and relax."

Rainbolt sure gets a kick out of his unrecruited three-time All-American.

"Kim has been a gift from Heaven for the Kent State track program," said Rainbolt. "The walk-ons that find success always make the greatest stories."

Kreiner can't imagine life without her javelin. Woman and implement have formed an inseparable bond that won't be broken any time soon, much to the delight of both parties.

Because even though her jostled journey as a collegian has come to a tidy close Kreiner has no intentions of giving up her track career, which is actually still in the fledgling stages.

"I'll graduate in December with an education degree, and I plan on becoming a high school science teacher. But I'm not giving up the javelin," said Kreiner. "I can do this well into my 30s if I take care of myself and stay healthy. It's something I really enjoy doing, and actually I haven't been doing it that long compared to most people I'm competing against."

Kreiner is currently preparing for the Olympic Trials, which will be held next month in Sacramento. She'll likely need to reach the 190s to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team, which means she's a long shot _ again.

"No matter what happens, this will be a good experience for Kim," said Pagel. "It's an honor just to get invited to this meet, especially for a person like Kim who hasn't been competing for very long. You never know what might happen this year, but we're really looking more toward the 2004 Olympics. By then, she'll have plenty of experience."

Life's been quite an experience already for Kim Kreiner. Who knows what twists and turns lie ahead, but she'll be hard-pressed to top her startling rise in status from an unknown walk-on into the elite class of athletes in Kent State history.

"When you think about it, it's a pretty amazing story," Kreiner smiled. "I come to Kent State to play basketball and leave a three-time All-American in track. I can't even believe it myself. It's weird, but it's definitely been an exciting ride."

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