Uganda is home to, a young woman named Lakot, the Ugandan young women’s javelin champion. She’s seventeen years old and can throw the javelin 45 meters.
Yesterday I happened upon Lakot on her way to practice and I asked if I could tag along. She welcomed me on one condition; I had to throw, too.
Which is AWESOME in my book. I agreed in a heartbeat and Lakot and I set off for the field with a javelin, a pair of discs, three shot put balls, and two empty water bottles filled with sand.
“What are these for?” I asked, turning the sand in the bottle.
“For practicing the javelin. They’re heavy and good for throwing.”
“Okay.” I merrily trailed behind, excited for my lesson.
Lakot threw first. She took a breath, centering herself and clearing her mind of outside things. Then she cocked her arm back, ran forward and pitched the javelin. Her sinewy arms and strong legs worked in tandem, like they were born for this, born to run and throw, born to launch the javelin in a perfect arc, piercing the blue sky. The javelin landed in the middle of the field spiking itself into the ground, an exclamation point to her statement that she is an athlete to be contended with.
She retrieved the javelin and threw again. This time it landed prostrate on the ground. She ran and picked it up.
“This javelin is no good.” She shook her head.
“No good? Why not?” I laughed, thinking that’s something I’d say after a throw that didn’t land.
“Look at the middle. It’s broken. They pieced it back together.” She held the javelin out to me. Sure enough the javelin was broken in half and had been pushed back together.
“Now you.” She handed the javelin to me and I held it in my hand, measuring the balance and weight of it, while Lakot coached me.
“Hold it in your right hand. Bring your arm back straight and when you’re ready, open up. Open up your hand and release it.”
I practiced moving my arm and hand and then I exhaled like Lakot had done, trying to clear away outside things.
I hiked up my dress and I threw.
My throw landed significantly short of Lakot’s and it flopped on the ground.
“Good job! You did it!” Lakot cheered like I’d just set the world record.
I threw a few more times, each javelin landing limp on the field, each attempt celebrated by Lakot, the ever-patient coach. She also showed me how to throw shotput and discus, and though I was equally terrible at both, Lakot had nothing but encouraging words and suggestions for how to improve my next throw.
The current women’s world record for the javelin is 72.28 meters. Lakot has to throw 49 meters to qualify for the Junior Olympics. She has her eyes set on the Olympics, on wearing the gold around her neck and standing on the podium for Uganda.
It’s a lofty goal for a girl who practices with a broken javelin and water bottles filled with sand, but Lakot is strong in ways that leave me stunned. In a single breath, she closes out her past and in the moment she throws, she is a woman moving through this world with agility, strength of mind and depth of heart.
Legend has it that Hercules was the first to throw the javelin, using his superior strength pierce the hearts of his enemies with the javelin.
Hercules has nothing on Lakot. She is a woman who aims for the sky and hits her target. When the 2016 Olympics come around, I’m confident that Lakot will make her mark on history and indeed pierce the hearts of men and women all over the world.