Faith, first place and shot put

    Fourth-year student Erica Oawster given WIAC student-athlete award

    More stories from Taylor Hagmann


    Photo by SUBMITTED

    Erica Oawster during the shot put event on May 4 at the WIAC conference finals in Platteville, Wisconsin.

    In sixth grade, Erica Oawster played softball until an injury forced her to slow down and take some time off. It was then that she switched gears, joined the track and field team, and began throwing shot put and discus.

    “I enjoyed it and have been doing it ever since,” Oawster said. “I love throwing now. I originally thought I’d go until I got over my injuries, but I fell in love with it.”

    In addition to getting first place in the indoor track and field nationals in March, Oawster was also this year’s recipient of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Judy Kruckman Outdoor Track & Field Scholar-Athlete Award.

    Oawster, a fourth-year organizational communications student, has been on the UW-Eau Claire track and field team since her first year attending UW-Eau Claire.

    Oawster grew up in Lino Lakes, Minnesota. She said she has “loving parents” and two older siblings. In addition to her family, Oawster said her faith has given her the “drive to be the best I can be.”

    “My faith is very important to me,” Oawster said, adding that God knowing the outcome of an event helps keep her calm. “(It) helps me not to put pressure on myself, or let others pressure me.”

    Of the four throwing events at a track meet, Oawster said she does two: discus and shot put. She does not do the hammer throw or javelin events, she said.

    Discus, she said, is kind of like Frisbee, only heavier. The discus weighs one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, and is thrown after spinning in a circle to gain momentum.

    She said that if the proper throwing technique is used, the discus should go in a straight line, but there are “sector lines” that the shot must stay between.

    Shot put is a four kilogram, or 8.8 pound ball, that is again thrown from a circle after gaining momentum by spinning.

    “(The) technique for throwing is very technical,” Oawster said. “There’s a lot of things I’ve been working on in my technique that I’ve improved a lot. That’s helped me get the success I’ve had. If my foot’s off a little bit, I can be a meter or two off my distance.”

    In addition to working on her technique, Oawster said she spends a lot of time in the gym lifting weights. When the indoor season started in November, Oawster said she and the team were in the gym lifting four times a week. As the year has progressed, the team dropped down to three, and now two times a week.

    “It can be fun,” Oawster said. “We’re in there as a team. We can push each other. I know it’s gonna make me better, so I wanna do it.”

    Although she came to college hoping she wouldn’t have to throw shot put, her coach “made” her, and Oawster said she continues to improve her throwing.

    “She made herself great in the shot put, an event that she did not like coming out of high school and her first year at UWEC,” Oawster’s head coach, Chip Schneider, said via email. “She learned the event and embraced the challenge in an event that was not her primary focus.”

    Just this year, in March, Oawster said she placed first in the nation at the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division III indoor nationals in Boston throwing shot put, with a distance of 14.77 meters, or just over 48 feet.

    Even though that shot placed her in first at nationals, it was not her personal best, Oawster said. Her shot put personal best is 15.22 meters or 49 feet, 11 inches, while her personal best for discus is 49.85 meters or 163 feet.

    “We knew when we were recruiting Erica that she was an elite athlete and exceptional person,” Schneider said in an email. “She has lived up to our initial impressions, which were very high!”

    Oawster said she’s learned a lot from the sports she’s been a part of. One of the major lessons has been time management. Between practices and the gym, Oawster has also kept up on her school work. She said it’s helped her prepare for life after college.

    “(This sport) helped me grow a lot as a person,” Oawster said. “(A) big thing with track for me is glorifying God in all that I do––working to the best of my ability glorifies him.”

    After her graduation this spring, Oawster said she will be working with Athletes in Action, a faith-based organization whose aim is to equip “athletes, coaches, and sport-minded individuals to grow in their relationship with Jesus and multiply their life into others.”

    In addition to working with Athletes in Action, Oawster said she’d also love to be a throws coach for shot put and discus.

    “I love helping others,” Oawster said. “I want to help (them) become the best they can be.”

    After she graduates, Coach Schneider said Oawster “will be missed.”

    “She doesn’t need recognition to still strive to be great, because she has so much internal drive,” Coach Schneider said in the same email, saying she’s been a model for many.

    Oawster said she is currently second in the nation in Division III. She took first place in the indoor nationals in March, and she said her goal for the outdoor nationals is to take first place again.

    Oawster and the rest of the track and field team will compete in the NCAA Division III outdoor nationals in Geneva, Ohio on May 23-25.

    Hagmann cna be reached at [email protected].