Soldotna’s Paige Blackburn is not giving up on her dreams of becoming an Olympian, and neither is the Air Force Academy.
The 2012 Air Force graduate was recently given the OK to proceed with her training as a javelin and discus thrower at the University of Florida after a yearlong stint in Hawaii. Blackburn will be training through the World Class Athletes Program, a highly coveted and exclusive program that gives athletes the chance to train for national and international competitions. Many also attempt to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
Blackburn, a 2008 Soldotna graduate, said the opportunity to train with the best at a place she is familiar with (Florida) has been a long time coming. Eight full months to be exact.
“It definitely took a lot of patience,” Blackburn said. “It was frustrating not knowing. But I’m definitely glad they said yes.”
After submitting paperwork to join the WCAP last June while stationed in Honolulu, Blackburn said she had to wait on higher-ranked personnel to sign off and give her approval to go ahead with the program.
It ultimately took until the middle of February for a two-star general — the third one to sign it — to finish the deal.
“I guess the third time’s the charm,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn, a First Lieutenant, said she has been eligible for the two-year program for a few years, but because she just got permission in February, she will only be involved with the WCAP for 18 months. After that, Blackburn is hoping for a spot on the U.S. squad at the 2016 summer Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
If the process hadn’t worked out, Blackburn said her game plan would have been to stay in Hawaii for another two years, where her throwing career might have ended.
“I guess I would’ve stayed in shape, but I would’ve stopped with my Olympic plans,” she said. “I had a plan, and the way I was training, I was planning it was gonna come through.”
It started in September, when one-star general Timothy Green gave Blackburn a call one day at her desk. He discussed her plan with her and asked her opinions on what she hoped to accomplish and why she was doing it. Blackburn explained to Green that she wanted to stay involved in engineering, which was a big bargaining factor.
“No one would take time to call me,” Blackburn said. “But one thing I’ve learned is the Air Force is like a family. They want to take care of you, and him calling, he was making sure I was making the right decision.”
Blackburn assured Green that her participation in the WCAP would not compromise her engineering effort at the University of Florida.
“I told him I’m not just a meathead,” Blackburn quipped. “I’ll be working on my engineering development.”
Apparently, that was all Green needed to know. He gave his support and approval of Blackburn’s application. From there, it took until January for a three-star general to sign off, after which it had to be pushed up to a two-star general who approved it the second week of February.
As far as making the move to Florida, Blackburn said the choice was easy, adding that it is important to have a proper training environment to have any chance at completing her Olympic dream.
“Basically they let you go where you’re going to be the most successful,” she said.
Blackburn moved to Florida for graduate school after her four years at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, where she spent three semesters and built up strength leading up to her big 2013 campaign.
“I already have my support established in Florida,” she explained. “I’ve got my favorite chiropractor and physical trainer, so there’s no rebuilding.”
After a strong 2013 season that saw her nab a top-10 result in the javelin at the U.S. National Track and Field meet in Des Moines, Iowa, and set personal bests in both the javelin and discus, Blackburn suffered a joint injury in the fall of that year that slowed her progress and training regimen.
When she moved to Hawaii in January 2014, Blackburn began the recovery process by hitting the weight room. It took her a solid five to six months to fully recover, a process that was made a little more difficult with the drive she was making every morning and night to and from the University of Hawaii while also working eight to 12 hours a day and lifting six days a week.
But Blackburn said the drive to reach the goals she set out for herself kept her mind in the game and ready to jump on any opportunity. Her acceptance into the WCAP was the realization of those goals.
“I don’t wanna be looking back later in life, and think, man why didn’t I at least try?” she said. “You never know.”