June 13, 2014
By Matthew Staudt
From dirt circles on a kickball field to historic Hayward Field for college’s most prestigious meet, sophomore discus thrower Caleb Fricke has come a long way in his 10 years competing in the sport. Friday, Fricke has the opportunity to compete against throwers he grew up watching and admiring from his days in Petersburg, Ill., a town of 2,000 people located two hours west of Champaign.
Fricke’s journey started as a fourth grader after watching his older brothers, Aaron and Adam, compete in junior high. He watched them have success in football and track, among other sports, and wanted to be just like them, in fact even better.
“I just wanted to beat my brothers, so I picked up the 1 kilogram disc and started throwing,” Fricke recalled. “It took me until my freshman year of high school before I could match up with them, but then I just kind of took off.”
The 6’6” sophomore has had success at every level, from breaking middle school records to high school records and then taking down the Purdue all-time best earlier this year with a throw of 59.35 meters (194-09) at the Dave Rankin Invite in early May. He attributes the drive to get him there largely to his brothers Adam and Aaron, who are four and six years older, respectively.
“They were kind of tough on me, especially in sports,” Fricke said laughing. “We would play basketball or football and just anything around the house and they let me know I was the little brother and they were bigger and stronger. That was motivation for me to get better because I wanted to beat them.”
The bigger and stronger didn’t last long. Caleb hit a growth spurt in high school, surging him past his 6’2” and 6’3” siblings to the surprise of his parents and doctors. His strength came, too, as he started making huge gains in the bench press and squats. Suddenly, the youngest Fricke was pushing around his brothers, both of whom went on to play college football.
Fricke wasn’t too bad in other sports either. He was a four-year varsity letterwinner in basketball and football and was molded into a competitor by his father, who coached football at Lincoln High School for more than 20 years. Fricke also dabbled in the shot put, but stopped after just two meets into his sophomore year to focus his track efforts on the discus, which he said he likes because he can watch it go far.
“I didn’t hate the shot put, it was just that it doesn’t go that far,” Fricke said. “I competed in a couple meets my sophomore year, broke my brother Adam’s school record by a couple inches, and then basically retired from it to focus on the discus. I wanted to break his record before I started focusing on discus. I just like seeing the discus go far, that is more fun to me and also my motivation to get better.”
Watching the discus fly far was something that changed after high school, as the weight of the implement increases from 1.6 kg to 2.0 in college. Despite seeing his distances decrease, Fricke stayed positive because he knew he’d have a drop off and prepared for it. Last year as a freshman, he had a personal best of 51.09m (167-07), compared to his high school best near 200 feet.
The drop off only motivated him more.
Fricke spent the off season in the weight room, turning his body into 265 pounds of mainly muscle. Aside from class, he spent the long winter between Mollenkopf, where the weight room is, and the make-shift discus ring in the corner of Lambert Fieldhouse, working on technique and turns, and throwing into a net against the wall.
So far, it’s paid off.
Fricke exceeded his own expectations and the goals set by throws coach Keith McBride at the start of the year. The sophomore thrower hoped to hit somewhere in the 56m (184 feet) range, while McBride wanted to push him, hoping somewhere in the mid 57-meter range, and maybe, if everything went right, somewhere up to 58 meters. Despite opening the year at just 52.50m (172-03), Fricke knew it could be the start of a big year.
“I was happy with my opening meet because I knew that the opening meet there is only so much you can do coming outside for the first time,” added the sophomore. “I thought that put me on pace to hit my target of 56 meters this year. I thought the mark may have been good enough for regionals, but I didn’t even think about NCAAs or anything like that at that point. Coach McBride told me that if I kept working on my technique, I was going to hit 57 (meters) and maybe 58 meters with a perfect wind this year.”
Less than a month later, Fricke jumped up to 55.25m (181-03), a nine-foot PR. His confidence swelled and he began to develop a consistency with his technique. It wasn’t long before he was going to unleash a huge mark. On May 3rd, Purdue hosted the Dave Rankin Invite with a pair of Big Ten teams, including Michigan State. The Spartans have one of the top discus throwers in the conference, and the country, in junior Antonio James, who was the Big Ten champion a year ago. Fricke wasn’t going to back down, though, because of his love for competition that developed as a child. The Purdue sophomore hit his season goal with a mark of 56.87m (186-07) on his fourth attempt of the competition, but wasn’t satisfied. His next throw took down the school’s 29-year old record, a distance he had in his mind from the day he set foot on campus, with a mark of 59.35m (194-09). Despite passing his and McBride’s season goals, Fricke still wasn’t satisfied because he didn’t beat James and he knew there were bigger meets ahead.
The biggest of those meets is today.
At 4 p.m. PT (7 ET), Fricke will go up against the guys he admired and learned from in middle school, including Wisconsin’s Danny Block. Block holds the all-time Illinois high school record with a throw of 210 feet, a mark that Fricke couldn’t quite get during his prep career. Fricke has long admired Block in the discus, and even used him as a mentor, almost brother-like, when he started throwing and hit just 117 feet in high school. But just as if one of his brothers, Fricke wants to be the best and beat Block, among the rest of the field, even if it takes time.
“I just need to relax, focus on my techniques and not try to throw too far,” said Fricke. “At regionals and sometimes in high school, I forgot what my coaches told me and just tried to crush it. Regionals was my first meet around so many great throwers, and I was in awe a little bit. I was around all these guys that were probably 200-foot throwers in high school and here I am just a 195-foot thrower. I wanted to prove myself, and it got away from me on the first two throws. I finally settled down, didn’t think about a mark, and just threw and it got me to NCAAs.
“Now, at nationals, I’m not going to expect too much. I’m just going to try to focus on my technique and see if it gets me in the top eight. I am going to try to make it fun and remember why I fell in love with the discus in the first place. If I can do that, it should be a pretty good competition for me at the end of the day. I know there are going to be some huge marks, but I am going to try for 60 meters and just see what happens.”
Fricke is scheduled to be the final thrower in the second flight of the men’s discus. He will have to sit and watch all the 23 other competitors throw before him, just like when he was a kid and watched and admired his older brothers. This afternoon, Fricke will try to take himself back to those dirt circles on the kickball field and just have fun, even in front of thousands of fans on college’s largest stage.