Student-athlete covers a lot of ground, in the air

Valere Guertin

UIC track and field team member Valere Guertin threw the javelin almost 29 meters during an April meet — her personal best. “It’s definitely a tricky event. You have to get the technique down,” says Guertin, a junior in kinesiology. Photo: Joshua Clark/UIC Photo Services

Valere Guertin ran the Chicago Marathon — her first — last month, taking a respectable 198th place out of 17,394 female entrants.

But where she really shines is throwing the javelin.

Guertin (pronounced GER-tin) heaved the javelin 28.9 meters (almost 95 feet) at an April 6 meet, best among UIC’s three female javelin throwers and her own personal best.

“I’m originally a sprinter and long jumper, but I had injuries and couldn’t do that any more,” she said.

“I’ve always had a good arm, so I thought, ‘Let’s give this a try.’”

The javelin is made of aluminum, one end covered with a pointed layer to make it stick in the ground when thrown.

“It’s taller than I am,” said Guertin, who is 5 foot 5. “It’s pretty light, though.”

Technique is as important as muscle.

“It’s definitely a tricky event,” Guertin said. “You have to get the technique down. People think it’s like throwing a ball, but throwing a ball is more sidearm.

“Throwing the javelin is overhand, with a stretched-out, straight arm as long as you can.”

Her run-up to the release point — when she lets fly — is 15 to 20 meters.

Guertin used the marathon to raise money for a good cause.

She heard a runner for Team World Vision give a talk at her church. The organization builds wells in African villages; every $50 donated provides the equivalent of clean water for one person for life.

“After that, I started to feel a stirring inside me that maybe this was something I’d want to do,” Guertin wrote on her personal website.

“Then, after one of my runs, when I was guzzling down water, it hit me that there are people in Africa that can’t quench their own extreme thirst for fear of contracting all kinds of diseases, some of which could be deadly.

“I just could not fathom the idea of having to deny myself something as life-sustaining as the water right in front of me because I couldn’t trust it.

“Every post-workout water break is a reminder to me of why I’m running all these countless miles. It’s so much bigger than me and the momentary pain of my little struggle. This has become such a passion for me and I’m on a mission!”

Her marathon raised $2,600. “That helps 52 people,” she said.

To train for the event, she ran four days a week — getting up to 57 miles a week — and did strengthening work on two other days.

“A 20-mile run was my longest,” she said.

Guertin plans to run more marathons. She qualified for the Boston run next April, but it was already filled. “I’ll have to wait a year.”

Growing up in Palatine, “I’ve always been an athlete,” she said. “I started tae kwon do when I was 5 and did that for 10 years. I started at track when I was in junior high — I was about 13.”

Guertin is a fan of the Bears, Blackhawks and Bulls. She also enjoys getting out to explore the city where “I like to people-watch.”

She lives in Little Italy near Fontano’s Subs. On weekends, she joins friends for potluck dinner parties at someone’s house.

A junior majoring in kinesiology, she plans to go to graduate school in physical therapy when she graduates in 2015.

“Throwing the javelin gives me a better understanding of upper-body mechanics — shoulder rehabilitation and strengthening,” Guertin said.

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