Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ATH: Peter Navarra at Rice

‘War of attrition’
John Turner, The Daily Times , Published July 11, 2009

Two days. Ten events.

This is where the weak of heart, mind or body need-not-apply. This is how dedication meets desperation and exhilaration meets exhaustion. This is hundreds of hours spent training in Houston heat and humidity, all in the name of a score.

This is the mind-dulling, senses-numbing, body-aching decathlon, or as Kerrville native and Rice University track and field member Peter Navarra calls it, “the war of attrition.”

It was never meant to turn out like this. Navarra planned on running a couple sprints here and there, maybe participating in a relay or two, but not this. Nothing he did at Our Lady of the Hills, or his senior year at Tivy, could have prepared him for such physical torment.

“I never thought I would hurdle, or pole vault of throw discus or shot put or javelin or any of these things,” Navarra said. “I just joined to run the 400.”

Just looking at the decathletes was intimidating to Navarra, who never gave any thought to the event before 2009.

“Before I started training for this, I saw the guys who do it and said ‘I don’t know how this works, I don’t know how they do this, I could never do these things,” Navarra said.

A physical rehabilitation session of discus tossing with Rice’s star decathlete, Philip Adam, changed all of that.

Well, at least the part about Navarra not being a decathlete.

“The coach happened to be walking by and said ‘You know, you’re going to be a decathlete,’” Navarra said. “And that was pretty much it. So I got really scared because I did not want to pole vault and I did not want to hump hurdles. Those things freaked me out.”

Over the course of the past year, Navarra learned to push himself in ways he didn’t know he could. He found the grueling, five-hour practices to be pure joy, heaving javelins and leaping over bars. He dedicated himself to befriending the punishment that accompanies the life of a decathlete.

In other words, he found he had what it took.

“You’ve got to have fun hurting yourself — putting yourself through all the pain,” Adam said. “(Peter) definitely works really hard and he’s a natural athlete.”

As Conference USA champion in the decathlon, Adam knows a thing or two about pain. He’s pulled, stretched and twisted ligaments to positions that would test the sturdiest stuffed animals. He’s been through rehab more times than he cares to look back on, yet despite possessing the smarts of an Academic All-American (a 3.94 GPA studying economics), he continues to train for this event — and enjoy it.

“I think they’re fun,” Adam said. “Working with guys like (Navarra) and our coach, we’re just out there having a good time. I don’t even think of it as practice, I think of it as what I want to be doing during the afternoon.”

Through his sophomore year, Navarra tapped into the madness that separates decathletes from other track and field participants. He dedicated himself to learning 10 unique events, some which of which flat out frightened him.

“I was jumping over obstacles trying to get to the end of that track,” Navarra said of his experience with the hurdles. “It was painful. I never fell down in a race, but I really thought I was going to.”

He learned the art of “throwing stuff,” as he calls it, and how fun it can be.

“Throwing long spears is more fun than it looks,” Navarra said. “It’s like being a little kid with all these events.”

By time the CUSA meet rolled around in May, Navarra was ready and willing to accept the torture of his first full decathlon.

“They threw me in the fire, and I got enough support from the rest of the team that I was able to learn all these events in a short amount of time,” Navarra said. “I got to go to the conference meet and placed sixth, so it turned out pretty well.”

There’s no looking back now for the junior, as each practice only fuels his desire to succeed in an event he once considered to be outside his physical capabilities. And while he hopes to one day be a leader in CUSA, for now he’s keeping his objectives fairly straight forward.

“As far as goals, I just want to survive and keep doing it,” Navarra said.

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