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Haapanen’s pro career picking up steam

Support from grants, Olympian a boost for EU grad

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Haapanen’s pro career picking up steam

Amy Haapanen trains for her fifth trip to the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships Monday at Modesto Junior College.

JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin


POSTED June 21, 2011 1:38 a.m.

MODESTO — If there is any consistency in the life of 27-year-old Mantecan Amy Haapanen, it’s inconsistency.

She’s held several part-time jobs and called different cities home since living the vagabond life of a professional track and field athlete and Olympic hopeful.

On Saturday, she will make her fifth appearance in the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., but she is enjoying some semblance of consistency going in.

For one, she’s back in Manteca living with her mom, working part-time at the Holiday Inn and training up to three times every weekday at her alma mater, East Union High, Modesto Junior College, Delta College and 24-hour Fitness.

No more trips to Iowa or across the pond to Europe to train with coach John Dagata.

Now, Haapanen is performing at a consistently high level in the hammer throw.

The 2002 East Union grad and NCAA All-American for UC Barbara has broken her personal record three times this season.

With financial backing from the Women’s Sports Foundation and USA Track & Field Pacific Association and the periodic training session with U.S. Olympic great Suzy Powell, a Modesto native, Haapanen’s confidence is at an all-time high in the hammer ring.

“For someone in my position, you’ve got to put in the work, stay focused and stay determined,” Haapanen said. “I feel like all the hard work I’ve put in is finally paying off.”

Haapanen first shattered her original PR of 66.25 meters in the 53rd Annual Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut April 16, placing seventh with a 66.93-meter toss (219 feet, 7 inches). She was fourth among American throwers who competed.

“That’s a huge meet for women’s hammer; all the top throwers are there,” she said. “I was really focused on that and really wanted to do well there.

“I was really happy with how I did in that meet. I felt that I stepped up to the plate and performed well under pressure.”

She outdid herself one weekend later in the UC San Diego Triton Invitational. Haapanen got to train with Dagata, formerly her coach at UC Santa Barbara who now heads the Welsh national team, and immediately reaped the benefits.

Haapaanen again PR’d with a throw spanning 67.10 meters (220 feet, 2 inches) for a third-place finish.

“I was finally in the 220 club,” she said. “I had a PR (the previous) week and backed it up, it wasn’t just a one-and-done type of thing.

“It’s not uncommon to open up big but then simmer down a little as the season goes on. But I wanted to ride this wave of momentum. I proved that I can compete at an elite level consistently.”

She wasn’t done yet. In the Tucson Elite Throwers Classic May 21, she earned a runner-up finish with a mark of 67.66 (221-11).

Haapanen’s 2011 run is a personal victory on two fronts. She applied for and earned a $3,500 grant from the Women’s Sports Foundation and an additional $1,000 from USATF Pacific Association, which helped supply her with new equipment for the prestigious Mt.SAC Relays.

Haapanen had broken her hammer used for competition, and her practice hammers were in no shape for big meets. She was also in need of shoes after tearing holes into her old pair.

On top of providing a much-needed hand financially, the grants gave her a boost mentally and emotionally.

“I don’t think I would have been able to PR at Mt. SAC without those grants because it took such a load off my shoulders mentally, and it provided me with everything that I needed,” she said. “Those grants pretty much saved my season. I can’t be more grateful for them to awarded that to me, but I also can’t be more honored that they were allowing me to represent their name and what they stand for.

“I felt more validated as a track and field athlete. It shows that they believe in my potential as much as I believe in my potential.”

Then there’s her developing relationship with Powell, the American record holder in the discus throw with whom she lifts weights with on occasion.

“Even though we do events that are completely different, it’s just nice having another person there who understands not only what you’re doing but what you’re going through as far as the hardships,” Haapanen said. “There’s that camaraderie, and it brings extra intensity when we practice.

 “She’s a veteran in the sport and is knowledgeable about so many things. She’s been a huge inspiration to me.”

Despite her breakout season, Haapanen enters the U.S. nationals with the ninth-seeded mark. But if recent history is any indication the best has yet to come. Her best finish at the meet is sixth (2009).

The hammer throw will take place Saturday. The meet will be aired on ESPN2 Friday and NBC on Saturday and Sunday.

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