She finished third in the women's shot put at the U.S. Olympic qualifying track and field meet in Eugene, Ore., on July 5, but Jill Camarena wasn't particularly disappointed. A few weeks earlier, she had undergone surgery for a herniated disc in her back.
And besides, the finish was good enough to fulfill a dream she said she has had since elementary school to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team. Camarena, 26, a member of the University 4th Ward, Tucson Arizona East Stake, will compete in Beijing, China, this month.
What to do about her sore back was a major dilemma as the Olympic qualifying meet approached, she said in a Church News telephone interview from Tucson, where she is training with coach and fellow Church member Craig Carter.
"There was a lot of thought and prayer on that one," she said of the decision. But ultimately, she felt at peace about doing the surgery, and had the support of her parents Marvin and Marilyn Camarena. A pre-surgery priesthood blessing she received from her father really helped, she said.
Her qualifying throw of 59-feet-5 1/2-inches at Eugene was good enough to get her to the Olympics, but is short of her career best of 63 feet, she said, adding that women around the world are up to around 67 feet. She will take advantage of the time she has remaining to work out for the Olympics event, which will be held Aug. 15-16. She and her coach agree her goal is to make the finals, and then see what happens in the medal round.
As a youth, she anticipated athletic success as a softball player, she said. But her coach at Woodland (California) High School, Rob Rathbun, "saw my potential (as a shot putter) before I did. He got me loving the event."
She earned all-America status in high school and soon excelled internationally, winning a gold medal in the shot put at the 2001 Pan Am Junior Championships in Argentina.
Carter, then an assistant track coach at Utah State University, was aware that, as a high schooler, Camarena was good enough to go to any university in America. But he also knew she was LDS and recruited her on the slight chance she might want to go to school in heavily LDS-populated Utah.
She had already made her decision to attend closer-to-home Stanford, but the recruiting relationship she developed with Carter was further bonded as they ran across each at collegiate meets.
After a stellar athletic career at Stanford, Camarena set her sights on graduate school. Carter had gotten out of coaching and was running the sports performance program in the sports medicine department at Utah Valley Medical Center in Provo.
In a Church News telephone interview, Carter said Camarena called him and said, "If I come to Utah, will you coach me?"
He was happy to do so, so she started graduate school at BYU, got a job as a graduate assistant and began training with Carter. She hardly got settled when Carter told her he was getting back into coaching as the throwing coach for the University of Arizona track and field team.
Another dilemma faced the world-class shot putter. She said she put a lot of thought into what to do, and talked to the BYU women's and men's track and field coaches Craig Poole and Mark Robison who told her she was a good athlete who they wanted to see succeed and she should go with her coach. So at the end of winter semester 2006, she headed to Tucson.
Camarena has prospered under Carter, a member of the Valencia Ward, Tucson Arizona East Stake. One of his first moves was changing her from the glide method to the technically more demanding spinning method. The coach said she improved from 28th in the world to 8th.
Still coming back from the surgery, Camarena's training has shifted from quantity to quality, the coach said. She takes Sundays and Wednesdays off to rest and recover. She admitted the morning workouts are very hot in the summer sun, but has found Tucson to be a
beneficial year-round place to train.
Shared values and beliefs are an asset in their relationship, Carter and Camarena agreed.
"We know where each other is coming from," Carter said.
Camarena said, "It is a great reminder to have him around. He keeps me grounded." That is particularly helpful, she said, as she is surrounded by other athletes who often don't share or understand her LDS values.
The future beyond Beijing is quite firm in Camarena's mind. She wants to return to graduate school in exercise physiology and ultimately become a coach. And another shot at the Summer Olympics in London in 2012 is also on her mind.
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