Iowa's women pentathletes more than teammates


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A family is usually a group of people from a common stock; the average family might be considered a mother and a father with a child or two.

But a different kind of family exists in a small group of athletes on the Iowa women's track and field team: the pentathletes.

"I like it; it's been fun to have people encourage you," said Zinnia Miller, a sophomore who participates in five events during each meet. "Together, we don't feel any pressure for one certain event."

Fellow pentathlete Mary Kate Schmitt agreed.

"If you're doing some really hard workout by yourself, it's a lot harder than if someone else was there, pulling you and pushing you to keep going," she said. "The presence of other people makes [practices] a lot easier."

The practices for a combined-event athlete are longer and more demanding than those for single-event athletes. With five events to master, workouts for the four Hawkeyes in the group become competitions that can last more than two hours.

Pentathlete Sarah Ryan admitted the group sometimes grows weary of the long sessions.

"It's so much easier to get through the workout with the others motivating you and pushing each other," the freshman said. "It's not as draining, and it feels like practice goes by a lot quicker."

Surviving practice may be just one aspect in which having a smaller, close-knit group can be advantageous; the Hawkeyes also said it helps when learning a new concept.

The pentathlon consists of five different events: the 60-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump, and the 800-meter run. But not every athlete who declares to be a multi-event athlete is an expert in all five. As Emelia Thompson put it, having a teammate who is better at one or two of the events can be humbling.

"We each come from different backgrounds, so we each have our strengths and weaknesses," she said. "With those weaknesses, we can help each other become better as we learn together. With all of us, it's OK to be horrible at an event."

The different backgrounds include two pentathletes who decided to perform the events just this season. Miller was the Iowa women's only high jumper last season. Ryan is a freshman who placed second in the long jump at the 2011 Iowa high-school state championship last year.

Schmitt and Thompson became pentathletes midway through last season; they switched over from sprints and hurdles, respectively.

Even though they only spent part of a year being multi-event athletes last season, both Schmitt and Thompson became more knowledgeable of what it takes to succeed and score points They also learned it takes a lot of motivation and dedication.

Schmitt said most athletes arrive in the pentathlete family knowing only some of the events, which allows the athletes to learn and grow together.

This was particularly evident in the shot put; all four admitted they didn't know the proper throwing techniques when they became pentathletes. This was an opportunity for the entire group to not only grow closer as friends but to learn a new skill that would help them compete and score for Iowa at meets.

"Throws are something we all had to learn together," Schmitt said. "But we all work together really well, and that helped a lot."

It's that family-like chemistry that keeps each pentathlete training hard. They don't do it for their individual gain, they said, they work for each member of the family.

"It should translate well into the season, because we all practice and compete together," Thompson said. "If you have a teammate there next to you during a meet, it's very encouraging and will keep us going."

Follow DI women's track and field reporter Cody Goodwin on Twitter.

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