June 19, 2009

Q and A: Track & Field Athlete Stephen Praast

Ravensdale native finishes off junior campaign with Big Sky high jump championship

Eastern Washington University track and field athlete Stephen Praast has done an outstanding job for the Eagles throughout his career on the squad, both athletically and in the classroom.

This past year, the rising senior claimed the Big Sky title in the high jump with an effort of 6-8 3/4 at the Outdoor Championships. The junior also placed seventh in the triple jump at that event with a leap of 45-1. Both of those marks were personal bests for 2009.

Praast also was third this past year at the Indoor Championships in the high jump (6-6 1/4) and seventh in the triple jump (45-9).

During the regular season, he also placed second in the high jump at the 38th Annual Pelluer Invitational on May 1 and won the Al Manual Invitational in Missoula, Mont., on April 3. He was also fifth in the triple jump at the Pelluer.

The native of Ravensdale, Wash., is an accounting major who holds a 3.36 grade point average.

Q: Talk about winning the Big Sky championship in the high jump, from all the work you put in heading up to that day to the competition itself.
A: "Track and field is a crazy sport because you could have the best season you've ever had but, until the Conference Championship meet, nothing that you did really matters. At conference, it's time to show that you've put in the most prep, worked the hardest and that you are better than anyone else in the Big Sky. If you have a great Conference Championship (performance), it can save an otherwise mediocre season. Or, if you have a bad Championship, it can ruin a great season and leave a bad taste in your mouth. It's hard to train all year and have one moment to show what you've done, but that's just how it is in track. It's like taking a game-winning free throw that you know is coming all year, and you just have be sure you put enough work in to make it happen."

Q: Talk about the challenges of coming back from your pulled hamstring a year ago to have the season you did.
A: "I actually have pulled my left hamstring three times and my right hamstring two times, so I have now come back from five pulled hamstrings. Last year's was probably my worst, since I pulled it on the takeoff of my first attempt (at the Al Manual Invitational in Missoula, Mont., in April 2008). But, I took care of it over the summer and did a lot of injury prevention work and took better care of them, so they stayed intact. It was nice to get a full season in without being injured and to see what I'm really capable of."

Q: Have you set any goals for next year?
A: "I definitely want to get back to the West Regionals and see what I can really do there (after no heighting the event there in 2009). I'd like to develop more into an all-around jumper who does long and triple jumps really well. The triple is coming along nicely since I was able to score in both the Indoor and Outdoor championships (in that event), but I want to be All-Big Sky in all three jumps at one point in my career. That would be a really great accomplishment."

Q: How have you been able to balance academics and athletics as well as you have?
A: "Well it's been an interesting balance to say the least. If I told you that it was just like being a non-athlete I'd be lying, but it's not as challenging as people make it out to be. You just have to stay on top of your studies, and everything will most likely fall into place. I have recently started applying myself a lot more in the classroom, which has really helped out."

Q: Talk about teachers who have had an impact on you.  
A: "I think any teacher that pushes you to really see what you can learn for yourself is great. The teacher can make or break it for a student in a class. Some of the hardest material I've learned has been from some of the best teachers here, and it makes it so much easier. There are a lot of teachers who are great at EWU. Wendy Eager, Jack Gambil, William McGonigle, Stephen Shervais, Elizabeth Murff and Scott Finnie all really push you to become a better student and to challenge yourself."

Q: What do you enjoy most about the sport of track and field? The high jump?
A: "What I love about track is that it's just you out there. If you have a bad performance or a bad jump, you can only blame yourself. At the end of the day, if someone outworked you in practice all year, they are going to beat you and you have only yourself to blame. What I love about high jump are those moments like at the Big Sky Championships where you know you are the best that day and you know you are going to win and, when you go over the bar that no one else there can go over, it's an amazing experience."

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