Gliding to the top.
PA's new power putter is just hitting his stride.
Every year there are athletes who emerge from the pack to take a place among the best at an event in their district or even their state. But once in a while an athlete emerges from that pack to take a place at the top of their event – nationwide.
Dan Kwiatkowski is the first PA track & field athlete to make that jump in 2008. And the jump is huge. Actually, the throw is huge.
Photo: Jan 25 2008 - five throws over 60' with one a US#1 63'
Dan is a shot putter, and now leads the MileSplit Network national rankings in the event with his recent throw of 63-00.00. That is an astounding jump of seven feet from his outdoor best in 2007.
(NOTE: His series at the 1/25 TSTCA Indoor Meet #4 at Slippery Rock University was 60-10, 61-02, 60-03, 61-09, 63-00, Foul)
VIDEO: Dan Kwiatkowski's 63' Shot Put, courtesy of Erie McDowell
The 6-foot-two, 295 lb. Kwiatkowski seems only slightly amazed by his dramatic improvement. He and his throws coach at Erie McDowell agree that the root of his "overnight success" is a lot of hard work, and a re-dedication to the sport.
"He's grown into his body," says Max Alwens, who has guided the McDowell throws program since 1989. "With a lot of kids, their quickness and coordination comes later. I could see at the start of indoor practice that he was a lot quicker."
But Alwens quickly adds that even with added quickness and reaching a comfort zone with his size can only go so far. "He's leaner than he was last year, and he's obviously a lot stronger."
Kwiatkowski smiles when he thinks about what is making the difference this year – his senior year. "Hard work definitely pays off. I'm learning that now, because I didn't work so hard in the years past."
A football player on the side in his freshman and sophomore years, Kwiatkowski left that behind last year to concentrate more on the shot. Recruited to the track team "because I looked like the right body build," Dan says he has been having fun ever since.
Coach Alwens agrees. "He loves throwing. Even as a freshman, he really enjoyed it. He takes it seriously and is a student of the event."
His progression through the distances has been steady, but certainly not as spectacular as this year. As a freshman, he threw 45', followed by a 51' best in his sophomore year, and a 56' during his junior campaign. He finished 5th with a throw of 55-08.25 in the PIAA state championships, just behind teammate Chad Noce (56-01.75). Their combined 11 points helped McDowell to win the team title. And it was that win that Alwens believes may have been one of the catalysts to Dan's dedication to preparing properly for his senior year.
Dedication is the word.
Following an unofficial visit to a western PA college, Kwiatkowski returned with some advice and a plan for getting serious about weight training. Over the summer his three days a week earned him not only a stronger presence in the ring, but a faster, leaner body (He has actually gained 20 pounds – the right kind of pounds) that could now take full advantage of his quickness and overall athletic ability. For those who must know, his bench max is now 375, he squats 550 and cleans 350.
And he's still lifting two to three days a week and training through this part of the season.
As for college, Dan is wide open. After all, until a month ago, he was known as a mid-50's shot putter. But throw over 60, and you start to get noticed.
A glider his first three years of throwing, Kwiatkowski says he'll stick with what is working until college, and then see what advice he gets about switching to the spin.
Photo: 2007 Outdoor States - 6th place for AAA team champs McDowell
Coach Alwens says he has always promoted the glide at McDowell, and is a strong advocate of the method with high schoolers. "A lot can go wrong (with the extra move) in the spin. We use the glide for consistency's sake.
Gary Aldrich, the current vice president of the National Throws Coaches Association and Associate Coach at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, agrees. He says the glide gives a coach the opportunity to teach the athlete to be concerned with the toe board. He also sees the choice as dependent upon the athlete's makeup. "If they can't work through bad throws, stay with the glide."
Both Alwens and Aldrich think that Kwiatkowski could be a candidate for the spin in college. The glide has virtually disappeared at the Olympic level simply because the spin does hold the advantage of greater potential for distance thanks to the longer push. "If the athlete has coordination, body awareness and agility, they're a candidate for the spin, no matter what their height," concludes Aldrich.
Alwens also sees the hammer and weight in Kwiatkowski's collegiate future.
But that's in the future. And Kwiatkowski has a lot of business to tend to the remainder of his senior campaign.
He'd like nothing more than to improve a lot on his 20th place at last year's Nike Indoor Nationals.
And if Kwiatkowski has no idea about his potential for the rest of this year, he can easily be forgiven. After all, his first competitive venture over 60' came on January 11th with a throw of 61-11.50. And his January 25th series with five throws over 60 (plus one foul) was a first as well. So Kwiatkowski is cautiously optimistic. "I'd like to throw in the 65 range, but hope I can throw farther. The sky's the limit, I hope. I just don't want to put a cap on it."
His coach is equally as open-minded about Kwiatkowski's potential this year. "I knew he was going to have a good season, but I am a little surprised that his jump has been so dramatic. I thought he would be 58-59, and then maybe, if we were lucky, over 60 in outdoor season. I have been very pleasantly surprised."
Ever the coach, Alwens says he sees little things in the 63-footer that can be better. But he's not complaining. "Dan is coming really close to what we want. And he's going to get stronger.."