So much for Gabi Deglau’s 7th grade Collegiate soccer season. Then surgery followed by much rehab and then another surgery. Oh, and her dream of playing college soccer one day? Probably gone, just like that.
Definitely a bummer, don’t you think? It surely seemed that way. Who then, least of all Gabi, could have imagined what would happen next? Her injury, you see, painful and inconvenient as it was, became a gift, and that gift has kept on giving.
As an 8th grader, Gabi joined her older brother Gilbert on the track team. The throwing events, coached by Beth Kondorossy, and the weight room became her focus.
“The first time I did track, I missed playing soccer,” Gabi, now a junior, said one day recently as she reflected on her journey. “It was my favorite sport. I’d played for so long and enjoyed it so much, but thinking about it now, I really wasn’t that good.”
Track, though? Something clicked. Through industriousness and passion, she became good. Very good. Actually, superlatively good.
Her first spring, she recorded personal bests of 24-10 in the shot put and 72-7 in the discus. The next winter, she improved her shot mark to 29-2. Then, the pandemic forced cancellation of the outdoor and the next indoor season though not of her personal training regimen.
Competing again in the spring of 2021, she improved her marks to 34-8 in the shot and 115-4 in the discus. The latter broke Katie O’Connor’s nine-year-old school record (113-10) and placed her first in the League of Independent Schools meet, which the Cougars won for the first time since 2010. A week later, Gabi contributed two victories, good for 20 team points, to the Cougars’ first VISAA title since 1995.
“I wanted to throw well and get a PR,” she said of her championship meet performances. “That’s always the goal. I like the fact that you’re competing with yourself but you’re still part of a team. When we ended up winning states, I liked being part of the reason that we won.”
The best was ahead.
This past winter, she captured both the LIS and state titles in the shot and increased her PR to 37-10.25, an indoor school record which eclipsed Dominique Meeks’ mark (35-10.75) from 2009.
This spring, under the guidance of Coach Kondo and her instructors at the Commonwealth Throws Club where she trains year-round, she’s become one of the elite throwers in the state.
Seeded seventh in the Dogwood Track Classic at UVA two weeks ago, she threw PR’s in the discus on five of her six attempts, the farthest 137-3 to place second and break her own school record for the fourth time.
Then, in the LIS championship meet Saturday on Collegiate’s Jim Hickey Track, she won the discus (118-4) in the rain and placed second in the shot (to Olamide Enjekpo of St. Margaret’s) with a 38-7.5 effort to erase the outdoor school record (38-4) Meeks established in 2009.
On the eve of the VISAA meet Saturday, Milestat.com ranks her fourth in the state and first in Central Virginia in the discus and ninth in the state and second in the area in the shot. Good stuff for a girl who tried several sports, among them softball, gymnastics, swimming, volleyball, and lacrosse in addition to soccer before finding her home in the throwing rings.
“I like to stay active,” said Gabi, “but I didn’t expect any of this.”
Gabi is one of a relatively small number of shot put practitioners who uses the rotation rather than the more traditional glide across the seven-foot circle.
“It was definitely hard to learn,” she said of the technique. “It’s similar to the discus, but it’s not exactly the same because the shot put is heavier and it can throw off your center of balance. I was learning it during the season so sometimes I’d compete with the glide for Collegiate and keep working on the rotation with my club team. It was hard to go back and forth, so I took a break from learning the rotation. When I went back, it worked a lot easier. It’s hard, but it’s worth it in the long run because if I want to throw in college, the rotation is better.”
Many throwers have trouble mastering the footwork involved with the discus. Not Gabi.
“Honestly, I had an easier time learning it (compared to the shot),” she said. “The discus is lighter. It’s all about movement. There’re a lot of little things that go into it. One small movement can make your throw feel better or worse and different. Consistency is a big challenge, but by the time you’re competing, it’s pretty much muscle memory.”
Throwing implements – the high school and college shot weighs four kilos (8.8 pounds), the discus one kilo (2.2 pounds) – requires speed, strength, and technical proficiency. A clear head, short memory, and unflappable nature are musts.
“I go into most meets positive,” Gabi said. “Practice is very mental because you think, If I’m not throwing well today, I’ll throw bad in the meet. You have to think about it as a daily thing. One day might not be your best, but you have to go into the meet with a better mindset.”
Not surprisingly, college coaches have taken note of Gabi’s success, resilience, work ethic and potential. She’s fielded inquiries but so far has made no decision about her next step.
“Gabi is dedicated,” said Coach Kondo. “She puts in time outside of practice. She watches film. She takes things seriously in the circles and the weight room. What makes her really attractive to college coaches is that she can throw the shot and the disc well, and she’s starting to learn the hammer and the indoor weight, which a lot of high school throwers don’t experience. She’s that far ahead of her future competition. I’m very excited to see where her career will take her.”