Kara Winger was at peace with her javelin career. Then came the podium performances

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Javelin thrower Kara Winger admits to succumbing to bouts of procrastination, but the nine-time U.S. national champion is adamant that it was not her intention for her final competitive season to become a display of “carpe diem” moments.

“I’m a procrastinator – 100 percent,” the 36-year-old Winger told On Her Turf. “I’ve said for a long time: The only place that I’m not a procrastinator is training and javelin, but apparently that’s not true within an actual competition.”

The Vancouver, Washington, native represented Team USA in four Olympic Games and six World Championships. But it wasn’t until her sixth and final throw this past July — in her final Worlds appearance — that Winger launched the throw that put her name in the record books, winning silver and becoming the first American woman to win a world championship medal in javelin.

“The larger ‘I’ve-decided-to-retire-this-season’ thing came just zooming straight to that one final throw,” she recalls of her final throw at iconic Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. “Like, this is the absolute only time in my life remaining that I have the opportunity to medal, so I better do it now.”

The triumph at Worlds kicked off a crescendo of performances. In August, she captured the NACAC Championships (her second career NACAC title) in the Bahamas after throwing a season’s best 64.68m. Winger smashed that mark less than two weeks later with a 68.11m at the Brussels Diamond League stop, breaking her 12-year-old personal best to set a new American record.

“It was just such a perfect night: The conditions were incredible; the crowd was amazing,” she recalled of the Brussels meet. “I was so comfortable because it’s not world championships or the Diamond League Final. It’s just a meet where I know my body is on point and my technique felt really good, my series was good, like, why not take advantage of this moment?”

She capped her career with a victory at the Diamond League final in Zurich, where her winning throw of 64.98m became the sixth best of her career.

While making the podium at Worlds and unleashing the U.S. record at age 36 are among the highlights of her career, Winger says she would have stepped into retirement still satisfied that her career even without this year’s podium performances.

“The message has always been: There’s value in the journey even without medals,” she said. “So, when I got the medal and then all this cool stuff happened, I was like, ‘Oh, but it was already really amazing.’

“I think that’s maybe my favorite part – I’d already come to a place of absolute peace in my career and then all this stuff happened, and I almost still don’t believe it. … I hope that people still hear that I remember all of the moments before, as well. I always want that to be true and part of the focus.”

World Athletics Championships Oregon22 - Day Eight
EUGENE, OREGON – JULY 22, 2022: Kara Winger celebrates after winning silver in the women’s javelin final at the 2022 World Track and Field Championships. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

In fact, it was a lackluster performance at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that resulted in what Winger considers the most special moment of her career when she was selected as Team USA flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony.

“To not make the final, [I was] just absolutely blown away by my teammates voting me flag bearer,” says Winger, her voice choking with emotion. “The coolest messages that I got were from people who had also never medaled at the Olympics that said, like, ‘This selection makes my journey worth it.’

“It’s always been about the community and the relationships for me … so it makes it feel more true to my journey than this ridiculous, unexpected cherry on top.”

Winger also considers her journey as a personal evolution, one that’s been marked by injury and resilience, but enhanced by the self-knowledge and confidence she gained through those struggles. She’s come back from two significant injuries in her career, tearing her left ACL at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials and then re-tearing it in 2020. But Winger saw the silver lining in the repeat injury, saying she “was familiar with the pain” and let that guide her rehabilitation and alleviate the fear factor.

“I had so much joy in every practice, being able to move normally again,” she said of her return to training. “… I forgot how much fun it was to not be injured, and that really informed the way that I trained. I just really enjoyed the running parts and the sprint mechanics and the things that I didn’t get to do in 2021 and was successful anyway, but I tried to really intentionally match those to the way that I threw in 2022.”

Winger noted she also took a more thoughtful approach to training, too, installing husband and fellow track and field athlete Russ Winger as one of her coaches for her final season.

“I was just really intentional about how I spent my time, knowing how fleeting that it was,” Winger says. “I think that’s something that I struggled with – I’m very much a giver with my time, but I was maybe more selfish than I’ve been in the past and that worked really well for me (this season).

“It’s not selfish, but as a woman, you just say ‘yes’ to a lot of different things, and I finally went to therapy and really thought carefully about where I was going to go, what I was going do and why… I wanted to have a great time. That was my expectation.”

By winning the Diamond League Final, Winger earned bye into the 2023 World Championships in Budapest if she wants to use it. But for now, she looks to begin the next chapter of her career as the senior director of integrated influencer marketing for Parity, an organization dedicated to closing the gender pay gap in sports.

Says Winger: “I guess it remains to be seen, but I just can’t think of any results that would make me more satisfied with my career.”

On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.