Thursday June 28, 2012 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
Rob Golabek wore the blue and white of the University at Buffalo for the final time as the four-time All-American competed over the weekend at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Oregon. (Photo courtesy of UB)
After an impressive freshman season with the Southern Connecticut University track and field team, Rob Golabek had a big decision in front of him.
Should the Hamburg native settle for remaining as a dominant Division II thrower or risk his scholarship to reach new heights with a program where he envisioned himself competing since his high school years at Frontier?
Golabek was convinced that he had bigger feats to accomplish and the University at Buffalo would be the college to help him reach his aspirations. So he took what was the biggest risk of his life, walking away from his scholarship at Southern Connecticut and transferring as a sophomore walk-on to UB.
Just as he had imagined, working with the Bulls’ track and field coaches and the university’s strength and conditioning coaches provided all that he would need to reach those goals of leaving an imprint on the program and bringing the university national prominence.
As if becoming a four-time All-American and setting the indoor and outdoor shot put records at the school wasn’t satisfying enough, Golabek wore the blue and white for a final time competing against America’s best throwers over the weekend in the Olympic Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.
Golabek’s dramatic rise from a Division I walk-on to being among America’s Olympic hopefuls was well worth any risk he wound up taking.
“I feel like everything worked out the way it was supposed to,” said the 2007 Frontier High School graduate last week just after his arrival in Oregon. “It’s been a long road but well worth it…In my head, I knew I could do what I wanted to if I kept my focus. I wanted to set records that would be hard to break and I even had an idea in my mind that I could eventually make it to the trials, though at times I thought that was a little crazy. But with hard work and dedication, it worked out.”
Though bumpy at times, the extraordinary ride taken by the 5-foot-10, 270-pound Golabek has been one of the more impressive ones UB’s men’s track and field head coach Perry Jenkins has ever seen.
“Once he really listened and understood our system, he just shot right up there,” Jenkins said on Friday. “This weekend is just the icing on the cake for him. He not only gets to represent UB but will also be out there among the best of the best in the event. You can’t ask for anything else. The climb that he’s made has been due to his dedication. We told them that if he listens, good things will happen.”
Needless to say, Golabek became a scholarship track and field athlete at UB and got to work with Jenkins and one of the nation’s top throwing coaches in Jim Garnham Sr. Golabek was convinced of what Garnham could teach him while attending the veteran’s throwing coach’s camp before making the transfer to UB.
“Out of high school as a local kid, I knew about the dominance UB had established in throwing and I knew some guys on the team, so I wanted to go there but the problem was they had no money for me at the time,” Golabek said. “I had a good experience at Southern Connecticut, but I knew if I wanted to make it to the next level I needed to be at UB. It was a no-brainer. I needed to make the transfer.”
UB’s coaches helped Golabek become a student of the sport. Golabek said he appreciated the knowledge bestowed upon him as he turned constant drills and film watching into success in competition.
“The coaching staff helped me excel to the level I was hoping I’d get to,” noted Golabek, who also credited strength and conditioning coaches’ Paul Childress and Nate Harvey. “I’ve worked with a coaching staff and support staff here that you could only dream about.”
Jenkins said Golabek made his biggest breakthrough when truly realizing he needed to trust in what the coaches at UB were teaching him and not just relying on what he learned in the past. Garnham changed much of Golabek’s technique, along with providing him with belief, according to Jenkins.
“He came in here and thought that he could do the things that made him successful in high school,” Jenkins said. “Then he realized he didn’t know everything. We’ve had a Coach of the Year in Jim Garnham Sr. He’s the best of the best. He changed a lot about Rob.”
After reaching the NCAA Division II Indoor and Outdoor Championships and winning the Northeast-10 title in the shot put competing for Southern Connecticut State University, Golabek transferred to UB where his impact was quickly felt.
In addition to finishing twice as a First Team All-American in the indoor season and earning a pair of Second Team All-American honors in the outdoor season as a junior and senior, Golabek was a three-time Mid-American Conference champion during the outdoor season and the 2011 MAC indoor title holder in the throwing event. Golabek has twice been named Northeast Region Field Athlete of the Year for the indoor and outdoor seasons by USTFCCCA and as a junior was UB’s Male Athlete of the Year.
Golabek leaves UB with the outdoor shot put record of 64-feet, 9.5-inches and indoor high mark of 63-3.5. In just his first year with UB, Golabek set both the indoor (59-7.75) and outdoor (59-11.75) records at the university and would only better them over the next two seasons.
His best finish at the NCAA National Championship meet was as a senior taking seventh during the indoor season with a throw of 62-11.25 at the Jackson Indoor Track at the Idaho Center in Nampa. During the indoor season as a junior, he finished eighth with a 61-4.75.
At the NCAA National Outdoor Championships on June 9 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, he finished 12th after throwing 61-0.25 to move up from 20th place. About a month prior, he won the MAC outdoor shot put title at Lyle Bennett Track in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. with a winning throw of 61-4.75.
Over the past few weeks, Golabek had worked out with the UB coaching staff as his teammates left for home with their seasons coming to an end. He said that at this time of the year his workouts were scaled down so that quality super-ceded quantity.
“I’ve been going since the first meet in January (indoor season) to the first part of the summer, so if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Golabek, who noted that he’s thankful he hasn’t suffered any career derailing injuries. “In an event like mine, where so much damage is done to the body, you’re just trying to stay healthy at this point.”
Golabek knew if he was to have a chance at closing in on a U.S. National team berth, he’d have to record a personal best at the trials. He wanted to give it his all and leave Oregon without any regrets no matter what the result.
First competing at the trials on Saturday, he threw a 61-11 on his first of three attempts in less than ideal weather conditions that day, which was good enough to get him into the finals. All three of Golabek’s throws that day were over 60 feet. However, Golabek would never achieve a new personal best, throwing 61-0.75 on his last of three efforts in the finals to finish in 12th place.
Reese Hoffa won the competition by throwing 72-2.25. The other Olympic team qualifiers included Ryan Whiting with a 70-0.75 and Christian Cantwell (69-9.75). Arizona State’s Jordan Clarke, the recent NCAA National outdoor champion, finished eighth with a 64-1.75.
“The competition is going to be insane and I know I have to give it everything I’ve got,” Golabek had said. “We’re the only country that may be leaving a 70-foot thrower at home (he was almost correct as Penn State’s Joseph Kovacs’ throw of 69-2 just fell short of the U.S. team). It’s a testament to our country’s throwers.”
Golabek said that even if this winds up being the final time he throws, he’ll remember the experience of being among the best in the nation and watching as the entire town hosting the event turned into a mini-Olympic village. It was just a glance into what the Summer Olympics in London will look like next month.
“It’s unbelievable,” Golabek said. “I can’t explain being here at the trials and competing against the best of the best for a spot to represent our country. I can feel the energy around town. There are posters, banners and signs up everywhere. It’s a real big deal because it only happens every four years.”
If they were Golabek’s final throws, he won’t forget anytime soon all that it took to get him there.