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On Tap with track and field thrower Kelton Chastulik ’21

<h5>Kelton Chastulik ’21 during a track meet.</h5>
<h6>Beverly Schaefer / goprincetontigers.com</h6>
Kelton Chastulik ’21 during a track meet.
Beverly Schaefer / goprincetontigers.com

The Daily Princetonian caught up with Kelton Chastulik ’21, a senior thrower on the men’s track and field team who won first place in the shot put at the 2019 Ivy League Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Daily Princetonian: To start off, how did you and your team initially react in the spring when you found out about the University's decision to send everyone home?

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Kelton Chastulik ’21: Yeah, I think the team was generally distraught. When people think of track and field, they think of it as an individual sport, but it’s just not the case at Princeton. That’s ultimately one of the reasons why I chose Princeton; I could tell there was a lot of camaraderie in the team.

And so, as the news continued to come in about how serious the situation was, we all started to realize, “Oh, it’s not just about our spring break trip — it’s really about our whole season, or even school in general.” Then we had a meeting that basically went, “Yeah, the season is over.”

I remember reading the Ivy League announcement and just feeling, like, a sense of dread. For the final few days we were on campus, while trying our best to follow safety guidelines, we gathered as a team and tried to celebrate what we had. Nothing really came to mind in terms of actually competing — it was just being around teammates that I really appreciated.

DP: And so, how did you go about supporting these seniors during this time?

KC: I know a lot of seniors had high ambitions. Like Joey Daniels ’20 is looking to compete in the Olympics for Canada, and that was a really important thing for him. So, just really being there for guys like that, who want to continue their athletic careers beyond college. I’m also really glad that those seniors who wanted to continue to compete have been able to find a way to go on.

DP: And after the craziness died down, what became your biggest concerns and priorities?

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KC: For me personally, the biggest concern at that point was not about track and field. If I can be frank, I am a first-generation low-income college student, and with that comes a set of concerns. I came home and was afraid that my family was going to struggle. My father, who’s a construction worker, had just been laid off for a few weeks. My concerns were initially just about my family and staying safe.

Later in the semester, I started thinking about what possibilities I might have to train and compete. Many throwers have resources they can use in their own garage — I have a teammate who actually has a throwing circle at his house — and it’s just not something that I have. Over the summer, I found it increasingly difficult to lift weights and get in a gym where I feel safe and can keep other people around me safe.

[Head] Coach [Fred] Samara has been very much like, “We’ll figure out how to take this a day at a time.” And I think that’s the mindset I’ve been trying to work towards, now that I’ve been living at home for a while. So it’s very much just trying to do what I can, stay healthy, do well in classes, and think about the next steps I want to take.

DP: And now that you are a senior, what do you remember most when you reflect back on the past three years as part of the track and field team?

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KC: I remember so much. Definitely one memory that stands out: the wonderful opportunity to go to Italy last summer with the track and field team to train and compete, especially as someone who has never flown on an airplane before coming to Princeton. Actually, the first time I’ve ever flown was my freshman year, because the team traveled out of state for spring break.

Another memory: a few years ago, we had the Ivy League Championships for cross country at Princeton. It was raining, sub-45 degrees, it was so bad. But cheering on my teammates, who I know work hard day in and day out, take a win, and then right after the race go train really hard ... memories like that, I think, are really integral to my athletic experience but also my Princeton experience.

Those moments remind me how much I care for my teammates, and how much they care about me as a person. These are guys that I want to keep in touch with for a long, long time.

DP: I think it’s really amazing that the team celebrates all your individual and group successes as a unit, and you personally also have a couple of laurel wreaths under your belt, such as first place in shot put at the Ivy League Championships back in May 2019. How have you felt about your successes on the team so far, and how has the team contributed to that?

KC: That win was so special because, the year before, I actually injured myself two weeks before the Ivy League Championships during a random Ultimate Frisbee game with some of my teammates. We were all behind the Forbes golf course and I fell on the one sprinkler head in the area, and I sliced my knee. And I spent a year thinking, “How do I get back to a place where I can be competitive?”

In my first year, I had finished third [at the Indoor Ivy League Championships] by not even 10 centimeters. And so, taking outdoors away from me was tough because winning an Ivy League title was something I really wanted to do at Princeton. It was really the people around me, my teammates saying, “Hey, how are you doing?” that got me through that year. Eventually I went into max lifts, and I remember the sprinters once stopped what they were doing, went over, and cheered me on as I tried to do a max lift with a 625-pound squat bar.

And so, winning that title my sophomore year was special, but having the opportunity to win as a team was even more important for me. Yes, an Ivy League title is something I really greatly appreciate but, when I come back for Reunions and have the opportunity to share memories with my teammates, I think it’ll be very much, “Yeah, do you remember running around in the rain after the win and taking a victory lap?” That’s way more important than anything.

DP: And now I want to ask you about your event specifically. How did you get started and how have your feelings toward your event changed?

KC: I started throwing in high school as a football player-turned-thrower, basically. The equipment manager for the football team, Coach Roger Coleman, was also the throws coach, so he talked to me about it. At that time [first year of high school], football had meant a lot to me and I always felt like I needed to work hard at football.

I remember telling my mother, “I’m gonna go to Shippensburg University, I’m gonna play football, it’s done.” And for me and my family, that was important because neither of my parents had gone to college, and they had instilled the importance of it in me and my twin brother. But with the shot put, I was able to just pick it up really quickly. I actually won our conference title my first year, and from there on, I was kind of like, “Okay, what can I do with this?”

My sophomore year, I changed from the glide technique to the rotational technique, which I throw in today. There was one guy, Adam Nelson, who is an Olympian, and I really looked up to him because he was so just different than everyone else. Throwers are generally big guys, but Adam Nelson was only 5’10”, 5’11”. He’d get in the circle and his intensity would be so intriguing. And so I tried to emulate him throughout high school.

I think in college, my appreciation for the throws has just grown. Working with a coach like Fred Samara, who has 40-plus years experience as a Hall of Fame coach, has given me a historical perspective like none other. Fred has crazy stories as his original event was the decathlon, which he went to the Olympic Trials for, and was actually [Caitlyn] Jenner’s training partner.

What is amazing for me is that Fred offers not only this wonderful knowledge about throwing but also takes the time to really take care of your technique and the way you want to train. Overall, throwing the shot put and being on the track team has played a huge role in my experience at Princeton. Not only for the team camaraderie and the travel, but it has given me grounding.

DP: That sounds really, honestly, inspiring. And throwing events aren’t very popular outside of the track and field community. So, what would you want people to know about it?

KC: I would tell the general Princeton student: the thing about track and field is that there’s 100 things going on at once. If you like high-energy things and if you appreciate sports, come to a home track and field meet when you can. You’re gonna see guys always cheering each other on, and I think people would really appreciate that [team camaraderie]. Also, not many people come to the meets because it's not a popular sport, but I always appreciate it when people come and see me throw.

DP: And just a last question: If you didn’t do throwing events, which event in track and field would you most want to do?

KC: I always make the joke that I could high jump. I mean, I think all the events are interesting in their own way, but I would probably like to high jump. Also, I could never actually do this because of my size, but I think the long distance races are some of the most interesting events because there’s so much strategy and mind games that go into them, which most people don’t realize. I would really appreciate learning more about the mindset of some of these long-distance runners.

DP: All right. Well, thank you so much for this interview. Is there anything else you want to add?

KC: I just want to thank the athletic trainers, my strength coach Jeromey [Johnson], the Director of Operations Ieisha [Jackson], and every single person who’s given me the opportunity to be here at Princeton. I have the greatest respect for them.

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