By Geoffrey Decker
As if snapping his foot in two wasn’t bad enough, Ryan Crouser had to spend his nine-month rehabilitation getting his face rubbed in the sport he wanted to escape.
Most injured athletes can sulk in private, but for Crouser that was impossible. He lived among a family of champion throwers and his father was not only his coach but the owner of a track & field equipment and apparel company.
“It never stops,” Crouser says of his home life. “It’s kind of like 24 hours of track, and I was just done with it, I wanted to just forget about it and I had to see it everyday.”
Crouser, a senior at Sam Barlow High School, missed most of last year when the fifth metatarsal in his left foot gave in to the massive force of his 6’7”, 220 pound frame on a routine practice throw. “I felt like I dropped a 45-pound weight on my foot,” Crouser says of the break.
And it’s only been in the last month that he is rediscovering the joy of competitive throwing again. He’s also reaping its rewards.
In his comeback meet at New Balance West three weeks ago, Crouser picked up where he left off, launching a 12-pound shot put 73’1”, the #2 high school distance ever. The next day, he took out the 16-pound version and blew away a field of collegiate throwers with a toss of 63’11”, a high school record that eclipsed the 27-year mark by more than three feet.
Last week, Crouser came out even stronger at the University of Washington Invitational, with a personal best 74’5”.
But in the early weeks of his recovery last spring, Crouser says he struggled with the realization that his junior season, the most crucial for college-bound athletes, had vanished.
“It was really tough the first couple weeks,” Crouser says. “I just kind of sat around and I couldn’t really get motivated.”
Mitch Crouser worried his son’s career might be in jeopardy. “It was a scary time.To all of a sudden go from the highest of highs to the lowest lows.”
Doctors inserted a two-inch screw in the place where his fifth metatarsal once was and Crouser’s long road back began. Crouser refocused his efforts on areas of his throwing that could be improved, number one among those increasing his weight. At 220 pounds, Crouser carried such an unassuming frame that he drew skeptical glances from his broad-shouldered competition.
“Nobody believed that I was a thrower,” Crouser says. “They thought I was a jumper.”
With nothing to do but lift weights and eat food, Crouser put on 20 pounds and filled out his frame. He also learned a valuable lesson about elite level athletics.
“It all can go away really fast,” he says.
Growing up in Gresham, Ore., a large suburb on the eastern fringe of Portland, a life without throwing was a foreign concept. Generations of throwers surrounded Ryan. His uncles, Dean and Brian, are in the Hall of Fame at the University of Oregon where they still hold throwing records. Dean’s son, Sam - Ryan’s older cousin by a year - is a freshman at Oregon and currently holds the high school javelin record. Dean’s daughter Haley, a sophomore at nearby Gresham High School, is the reigning state champion in the javelin. Brian’s son Codey, an eighth grader, is the next in line.
As soon as he was strong enough to hold a weight, his instinct was to throw it. In sixth grade, young Ryan got a glimpse of his own abilities and soon realized the irresistible pull that raw improvement can have on a track & field athlete.
“As I worked harder I started getting better and I started seeing that correlation and I got more motivated,” Crouser says.
By high school, physical attributes caught up with Crouser’s dedicated work ethic. He was already on the radar of most colleges when in his sophomore year he set the javelin record, a mark Sam broke a year later.
Mitch says that Ryan’s record-breaking comeback is a culmination of two things.
“He grew up and learned a lot about himself,” he says. But, he adds, it was also just a matter of time. “It’s a natural progression.”
In early January, Crouser committed to the University of Texas over Oregon, a decision that broke the heart of his home state fans. But Crouser, who has a 3.9 GPA, said it he chose Austin because of academics.
Texas offered engineering, which Crouser wanted to study and no one knows better than him throwing can’t be everything in life.