VANCOUVER — The best pitch that Roan Allen ever made?
There were plenty over a pretty serious youth baseball career spent in his hometown of Ottawa.
Yet none has had the same impact as the one he made last spring to Laurier Primeau, e-mailing the head coach of the UBC Thunderbirds’ track and field program to let him known that despite his status as a neophyte thrower, he was ready to step off the mound and make the javelin his collegiate sport of choice.
“I asked him about the program, and how a throw of 53 (metres) might match with me being on the team,” remembers Allen who despite minimal experience, had recently made that distance to finish sixth at the Ontario high school championships. “He said it would be sufficient and that I had a spot there.”
Fast forward to the UBC Invitational on April 1, less than 12 months after he had picked up a javelin for the first time, and there was the 18-year-old Allen enjoying a breakthrough by throwing for a personal-best 57.33 metres and qualifying for next month’s NAIA Championships.
Yet as stunning as it was for a freshman to make the standard for national championships on the first weekend of his debut outdoor season, Primeau was not totally surprised.
The longtime coach as made a habit of finding athletes whose sporting backgrounds might be somewhat less than traditional, but who possess the necessary traits which allow them to find success as they begin specialization for the first time in their careers.
“Roan’s history of having very little as far as a throwing background intrigued me because I always look for under-trained multi-sport athletes,” says Primeau who also might be the most qualified coach on the continent when it comes time to turning pitchers into javelin throwers.
“This is the second time I’ve had a ball player convert to the javelin, and of course the first one was Liz Gleadle,” says Primeau, who worked with the former softball pitcher and 2016 Rio Olympian, coaching her to the first three of her four straight NAIA national titles.
“I actually think the hip action of the underhand pitch in softball is more transferable to javelin than the overhand pitch,” begins Primeau.”But that said, anyone who has the ability to reach 90 miles-per-hour with a fastball, it almost doesn’t matter if you use your hips or not.”
As Primeau stresses, the trajectory involved in throwing a javelin is very different than pitching a baseball off the height of a mound.
“But at the end of the day, the arm comes over the head whether you’re throwing a baseball or a javelin.”
And while the javelin has been the focus of his athletic efforts for less than a year, Allen will admit that his progress has been expedited by having some incredible mentors in his corner.
Back in Ottawa, just weeks after beginning in the sport, he met Bill Heikkila, a Toronto native and former University of Oregon standout who competed for Canada in the 1967 Pan American Games.
And since he’s arrived at UBC, both Primeau and Coquitlam native Kyle Nielsen, a two-time Canadian champ and Washington Huskies grad, have been there to refine his technique.
Throw in a genuine curiosity about his newly adopted discipline and Allen, who next competes April 28th at the Cal Irvine-hosted Steve Scott Invitational, is showing signs of becoming a true student of the sport.
“I was watching one of (Gleadle’s) videos and she was talking about how the more transferable skill from baseball is actually hitting,” says Allen, who then proceeded to make a technical comparison by breaking down their similarities, beginning with a straight front leg.
It seems that a prior life on the diamond has served Allen well in his full-time transition to javelin.
In February, during reading break at the school, UBC track and field athletes gathered in Phoenix for a winter training session, and it was there that Primeau was able to look beyond the inconsistencies of a rookie and see the potential which told him that his latest transformation project had a chance to work.
“We did a mock competition,” said Primeau. “He would make five or six throws of say, 49 metres, and then he’d throw one 59 metres. When he nailed it, it went far, when he missed, it didn’t. There was nothing in-between. So we knew what was possible, but we didn’t know if he was going to be consistent enough for competition.
“It was kind of like that guy from the baseball movie that they called Wild Thing,” joked Primeau of the character played by Charlie Sheen in Major League.
These days, however, Roan Allen’s javelin is hitting a lot more than it is missing, and for the former baseball player from Ottawa, so much satisfaction has come from making his best pitch.
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