The Constitution says a person must be at least thirty-five years old to run.
Check. Gia is thirty-eight.
As we know, an ideal candidate should be someone who empathizes with rural America.
Gia lives on a farm.
They should understand the importance of having access to quality health care.
More on that later.
They should be able to stand up to Putin.
Gia has taken on another terror from the East, Sandra Perkovic, many times and during the 2013 and 2014 seasons handed the Croatian Sensation her only losses.
They should be tough as nails.
A year ago, Gia was so hobbled by a back injury that she could barely bend over to pick up her discus. This past weekend, she won the USA Championships.
I know how injured Gia was last summer because I saw her throw at North Central College in a last ditch attempt to see if she’d be able to compete at the Olympic trials. She literally hobbled over to the cage during warm-ups and limped out of the ring after each attempt.
It was really tough to watch. I don’t know anyone in this sport who does not love and respect Gia, and to those of us who were at North Central that day it was pretty clear that Gia’s career was over. At her age (Sorry, Gia. I know we often talk about you as if your expiration date as an athlete has expired) it was hard to imagine her coming back from that severe of an injury.
But come back she did.
According to Gia’s coach, University of Illinois head track coach Mike Turk, her back problems first emerged in August of 2015, as she was preparing for the World Championships in Beijing.
“The day before she left for the USA team training camp in Tokyo, her back got really tight. Then, she got a bad seat on the plane and had to endure the thirteen-hour flight overseas in pain the whole way. She spent most of the time in Tokyo trying to get better. USATF did everything they could for her. They even took her to one of Japan’s team doctors for acupuncture.”
Unfortunately, nothing helped and according to Coach Turk, Gia “almost pulled out of the meet before qualifying.” She gutted her way though the prelims, but finished 11th with a throw of 60.55m, almost nine meters below her PR.
Her back problems (it turned out to be herniated discs in L4 and L5) plagued her throughout the 2016 campaign. Coach Turk recalls the low point coming at a meet in April when Gia told him though tears that she “could not do this anymore.” Her back hurt so much that she had to have someone hold her place in line during warm-ups so she could rest between throws.
Two months later, she was forced to withdraw from the Trials.
No one would have blamed Gia if she had decided to call it a career, but having fought for nearly fifteen years to make it to the world class level (she threw her PR of 69.17m at the age of 35) she was determined not to give up.
Coach Turk says that Gia’s agent, Karen Locke, was instrumental in turning things around. Locke referred Gia to a medical team in Los Angeles, and one of the first things they did was to treat a leg length discrepancy that apparently caused a lot of undue stress on her lower back.
After being fitted with an orthotic, “she made an incredible commitment to weeks and weeks of therapy in LA followed by months of therapy in Minnesota (at the Hopkins Health and Wellness Center). It was a big financial burden to her family. A lot of people would have given up, but she wanted to show people that it could be done.”
Late in the fall of 2016, Gia was able to start training like a discus thrower again.
“When we started training, it was a real slow process. We started training in conjunction with the work in Minnesota. She would go up there for a week periodically through the fall and winter. Some time in January we actually started doing some full throws.”
But progress was slow, as she had missed an entire year of serious strength training.
“When we opened the season, she was throwing 55 meters because the strength wasn’t there. She was a little down about it, and I had to remind her that she’d been off for over a year. I really believed her power would come back, I just couldn’t tell her when.”
Finally, in May, her power made an appearance.
She hit 62.95m to get the A standard, then followed that up on June 2nd by drilling 65.81m at the Tuscon Elite meet.
Coach Turk was pleased, but not shocked by those distances.
“I knew about that time that she was ready to throw well. I could see things flying in practice a bit more the week leading up to Tuscon. I could see especially the heavy implements going farther.”
Though her winning toss in Sacramento (62.65m) was, by Gia’s standards, not a bomb, she and Coach Turk were happy with it for several reasons: the 100-degree temperature, the 10:00 pm in Illinois starting time, the fact that she had been for all practical purposes crippled twelve months earlier.
“The goal was to make the team,” he explained. “For sure you want to win, but she really wanted to prove that she wasn’t too old, that she could come back at the age of 38 and make another team. And when people wonder how much longer she can throw, that’s the answer: as long as she keeps making teams.
Next up is a short trip to Europe, the first time this year that she will be road testing her back overseas. Turk is not worried about her ability to withstand the rigors of such a trip.
“We’ll make sure she gets herself set before she leaves. We’ll make sure she recovers when she gets back. If she can make trips to the west coast, she can make trips to Europe.”
In terms of strength, Gia’s lifting numbers (she focuses on dead lifts, power cleans and bench press) are close to 90% of what she was lifting when she threw that 69.17m.
Around the first of August, she will pack up that strength, a couple of discs and an over-sized load of determination for a trip to Birmingham where she will make her final preparations for the Worlds in London.
Coach Turk says that he and Gia have a theme for this season: The Story is Not Over.
With luck, the story will continue all the way to Tokyo and the 2020 Olympics.
After that, Gia might need to find a new passion.
I have just the thing.
Gia. The country needs ‘ya!