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Rehabbed Haapanen looks to regain form

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POSTED June 27, 2014 12:25 a.m.

It’s been a trying two years for Amy Haapanen since her benchmark effort in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Track & Field Trials.

The 30-year-old Manteca resident and professional hammer thrower has had to live through an athlete’s worst fear: A career-threatening injury.

After spending a year and a half rehabbing and regaining her form, she will return to Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium this Saturday for the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships. It was there 10 years ago that she earned All-America status in the NCAA Division I Championships as a student-athlete for UC Santa Barbara.

“My goal is to try and get back to the level I left off at during the year of the Olympic Trials,” the 2002 East Union graduate said. “It’s been a long journey having to basically start over physically. I’m a lot healthier. I was hoping for the last two months or so to get some of that momentum back with my training and I’m feeling pretty ready.”

Haapanen thought she may never get to compete again.

In the months leading up to the Trials, Haapanen began to feel a sharp pain in her neck and upper shoulders. She managed to continue her training through it all and even set an all-time personal record of 70.63 meters (231 feet, 8 inches) for an impressive fourth-place finish. In order to make the U.S. roster for the 2012 London Games she needed a top-three finish and to meet the Olympic “A” standard of 234-7.

“I gave it everything I had at that moment,” Haapanen said. In some ways it was a bittersweet track meet for me. I was proud of myself for being able to perform under the condition I was in, but not making the team was a little tough.”

The pain in her neck and upper back didn’t subside. It took rest and more than a year’s worth of rehab and therapy to get back into training shape. She has since worked on regaining her strength while brushing up on her technique.

Haapanen did get to participate in the 2013 Outdoor Championships but placed 10th (64.51 meters) while not at 100 percent. Now with her condition improved, she has competed at several meets in recent months, most notably the annual Tucson Elite Throws Classic in Arizona on May 24. Haapanen placed seventh (65.58 meters) out of the 14 entrants. Her season best stands at 67.46, but she feels like she is on the verge of eclipsing the 70-meter mark again.

“It took a lot of dedication and support,” Haapanen said. “I’m fortunate to have the people, from my doctors to my coach, that I have in my corner. Knowing that I did so well in 2012, I knew I had a lot more left in the tank. That’s what still drives me now, is knowing that the potential to throw even farther is still there.”

Haapenen may get an extra boost this Saturday — the hammer throw begins at 11 a.m. — getting to perform in front of friends and family. Her ultimate goal remains the same as it always has been since her days as a collegiate standout: To make the U.S. Olympic team for the 2016 Rio Games.

“I feel like I’m setting myself up well for the next two years,” Haapanen said. “I’m optimistic.”

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