By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
DES MOINES, Iowa –
Raymond Dykstra had convinced himself that his athletic career was over.
The now-Kentucky freshman was in ninth grade at Grimsby Secondary School in Ontario when he was cut from his school’s soccer team. But a twist of fate led to a spot on the school’s relay squad, which jump-started his brilliant progression in the sport of track and field.
“I actually wasn’t going to do track and field,” Dykstra said Thursday at Drake Stadium. “I got cut from the varsity soccer team when I was in grade nine and I said I wasn’t going to do athletics. As I was sitting in one of my classes one day, the track coach came up to me and said that she had heard that, in past years, I had been on the relay team and I had done fairly well. She said, ‘Would you like to come out to my relay team?’ I said, ‘Sure.’”
Dykstra enjoyed his time with the relay team, but during practices, another event kept catching his eye. Finally he asked if he could just try the event himself.
“It was late in the season, but in a couple of practices, I saw one fellow throwing the javelin,” Dykstra said. “I asked my coach if I could go try the javelin and she said ‘Sure, you can go try.’”
As it turns out, the javelin was meant to be for Dykstra.
“That fellow was in grade 11 at the time and his best throw was my first throw,” Dykstra said. “He was telling me everything and we just went through it over and over, again. By the time we were at provincials, I ended up breaking a 30-year record. After that, it was just one thing after another. I joined a track club and it just escalated from there.”
As a high school senior, Dykstra won his second career javelin title at the Ontario Federation of School Athletes Association Track and Field Championships and he posted a pair of impressive finishes in international competition during his prep days. Dykstra placed fifth at the Pan Am Junior Championships in 2011 and earned an eighth-place finish at the World Youth Championships in Bressanone, Italy, in 2009.
Dykstra knows the importance of education not just for the scholarly benefit, but what it can create for students in terms of opportunity.
For that reason, Dykstra – a kinesiology/exercise science major – plans to one day return to Canada, attend teacher’s college and pursue a teaching career.
“It was just a bunch of great influences growing up and, without those teachers and without those influences, I wouldn’t be here today,” Dykstra said. “For them to actually come up to me and get me into sports, I want to do the same with a bunch of other kids. I want to be that person to tell them, it could happen to anybody and, even with my story, it’s been an incredible journey.”
Dykstra has always placed a high importance on education. In high school, he was involved with the student council, the athletic council and the student mentor program. In addition, he was heavily involved in the community and a number of service projects.
Because of that well-rounded focus, Dykstra weighed a number of factors in his decision to attend college. For him, Kentucky provided the best mix of the overall experience.
“It was a bunch of things,” Dykstra said. “It was a combination of the coach, how the athletic program works and academics overall. Being able to have the tutor system and everything like that, I just knew that the opportunities were there for me.”
And there’s maybe one other thing Dykstra likes about attending the University of Kentucky.
“I’m a huge basketball fan and everyone knows the Kentucky Wildcats, especially after this year,” Dykstra said with a laugh, alluding to the men’s basketball program, which captured its eight NCAA Championship this past April.
Dykstra capped off an impressive freshman campaign on Thursday at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, placing sixth overall – the top freshman – in the javelin. He recorded a toss of 74.04m/242-11, which was close to the personal best he recorded earlier in the year at Texas Relays.
Dykstra, who stood in fourth place in the competition following his second throw, was pleased with the placing in his first NCAA Championship competition.
“Being the top freshman, that feels really great,” Dykstra said. “Being able to come in as a new thrower and throw against guys who have already been competing at the national level and at SECs, it’s amazing to be able to go out there and just do what you have to do. I knew the competition was going to be strong and, by the time I went out there, I just had to have faith in my technique and be able to pull it out when I could. Luckily, I was able to pull out that 74 meters. Overall, I’m very excited by my overall placing, especially as a freshman.”
Dykstra has seen his performances improve significantly over his freshman year and that added confidence that results from that has helped him continue to reach new heights.
“Basically for the past couple of years, I had a personal best of 70.18m,” Dykstra said. “My goal this year was to crush the 70.18 and be able to overcome that. Earlier this year at Texas Relays, I was able to pull off 73 meters and after 73 meters, pull off a 75.41, so after that happened, I knew there was a ton of opportunity there that I could have. I knew I had it in me the entire time, it just has to come out at the meet. I was kind of battling a few injuries all season, but when it all came down to it, I’m really happy with what I got.”
What may have been more valuable than the impressive First-Team All-America finish is the valuable experience that Dykstra gained by the national championship competition in Des Moines.
“I knew coming into this meet that it’s just one meet and like any other meet,” Dykstra said. “But, I also learned, no matter who is competing, you have to give your best. Even when I pulled the big one, there were two other guys behind me that pulled two other bigger throws than I did. For next year, all I know is that I have to keep gunning and, hopefully, the technique will come through and I’ll get a higher placement. Every day is an obstacle in itself and you just have to go one day at a time.”
While Dykstra’s performance on Thursday is a sign of great things to come in the throwing arena, he knows the most important thing is enjoying his craft.
“The feeling of being able to throw something really far is pretty much the coolest thing,” Dykstra said. “That’s one of the things – you’ve got to enjoy what you do because if you don’t, it’s not worth progressing. You always have to be happy with what you’re doing and you always need that extra push to be able to keep you going through it.”