DURHAM, N.C. - Steubenville Catholic Central graduate Teddi Jo Maslowski knew when she headed to Duke to run track and be a pre-med major she would learn some new events.
Maslowski was being thrown into the heptathlon and was ready for it.
"I can't even begin to describe how much I love the heptathlon," she said. "I love the training, the mindset, the other athletes whom I compete with, and balancing all the event training. The hardest part about learning the heptathlon isn't learning all the events - we're all physically athletic enough to learn them with hours on hours of daily coaching. The mental aspect of the heptathlon is the hardest skill to learn.
Teddi Jo Maslowski
Photo courtesy Duke Athletic Department
"Everyone handles it differently, but I try to see each event and each attempt within each event as totally separate. I am far from being perfect or even successful at this, but being conscious of it and working toward that in practice is what matters most. Take the second and third event of my most recent heptathlon, for example.
"High jump was going incredibly well. I thought I was going to have a 3-inch personal record even, and I cleared every height on my first attempt by miles and then got out on 5 feet, the worst I've ever jumped. I still don't know how it happened, and I was in total shock when it did. I walked back to the tent in a daze and thought about how pointless the rest of the events would be since I had lost so many points just then.
"I immediately caught myself going down this path and thought about how I still have five more events left and working through this is going to be more helpful than a meet where everything goes perfectly. So, I somehow move on within a matter of 10 minutes - surprising to myself and my coach - and begin preparing for shot put.
"I scratch every single warm up throw and even the first two throws in competition. Naturally, I'm beginning to freak out over this. Two bad events? Again, I caught myself doing this and realized I would gain absolutely nothing from worrying about it and that the last throw I had to get a mark was the same as any throw I've had at practice and instantly fixed something, and meant equally as much as either of the first two throws I had.
"I stepped in the ring, focused on what I needed to fix, shut my mind down and threw a PR. Of course when reality hit me a few seconds after I released the shot put, I felt as though I were going to throw up with how close I had come to scratching every throw. The key in that event was to not let it get to me until after I had finished it. I didn't focus on the pressure or think of how many dozens of awful throws I had before.
"No, instead I thought how every throw is individual and separate from the rest. Every throw has a chance to be a PR, and that I wasn't going to let myself mentally get stuck in a pattern of thinking I could only throw scratches that day. I knew I could do it physically so I shut down my mind and let my training take over."
Maslowski recently finished 11th at the Texas Relays in Austin in the heptathlon, setting a personal record and moving to No. 2 on the all-time Duke list with 5,209 points (leading is teammate Karli Johonnot with 5,342, also done at Texas).
She went 14.02 (100 hurdles, PR), 4-11 (high jump), 33-10 (shot put), 24.42 (200, winner, PR), 18-4 in the long jump, 102-5 (javelin, PR) and 2:15.89 (800, PR).
"Going against better competition doesn't phase me at all," Maslowski admitted. "I picture it quite simply - the Texas relays had some of the best competition in the nation, but I basically compete against these girls every day. They are on their tracks working on form and getting in shape, and I'm on mine doing the same. We do different heptathlons at different places on different tracks, but we're all out there to get better, and we're all compared on a national average, anyway.
"I compete with them all the time even though I don't necessarily see them. So, when they are actually beside me on the line or waiting behind me in the long jump, I'm cool with it. They've been there in my mind all along. Besides, winning and competing is relative. I could win a small meet with a score that wouldn't even place top five at another meet. There is always someone out there that is going to be better than me, even if I never compete with them in the same heptathlon.
"So, I see it as I'm always competing with extraordinary competition to be ranked higher in point totals. When competition steps up around me, I've already been training and competing like it's been there all along. They're just people doing the same events as I am. Sure, they're amazing and incredibly talented, but they're feeling the same pressures as I am and they are normal people, too. Just like me.
"In summary, physically competing with them is such a small fraction of the competition. Track is nearly all mental, and I've been mentally aware and competing with them every day of the entire year. What's the big deal that they're next to me at the starting line, then? I've been running my workouts mentally with them for months."
Maslowski kick started the outdoor track and field season with a school-record 19-4 in the long jump at the Carolina Relays in Chapel Hill, N.C.
"It's hard to say what my goals are because I keep surprising myself," she said. "Originally I thought I would try to pick up where I left off, but I was already past that the first couple weeks back to Duke. Because I haven't even had a whole year of training since the concussion, I think having concrete goals is almost impossible.
"So, I decided to focus on larger, more abstract ones. I may even stick with those type of goals for the rest of my career since they're working pretty well for me. For instance, working on being patient in events instead of rushing through technique, not letting myself overthink the events and instead trusting myself in competition, and especially to never forget why I'm running track in college: because I love it and it's fun for me.
"Regardless of the winning and team pride associated with it, I decided to run in college because of my pure love of the sport, and I try to always keep that in the forefront of my mind."
Like the college classroom, there is a daily learning curve on the track, too.
"Another balance I've tried to find is the thin line between practicing and competing," Maslowski admitted. "Some meets are used for practice and some you have to let go and purely compete. I'm finally to the point in my track career that I can start competing, and by that I mean I can let my training and focus take over instead of working through technique and weaknesses.
"I'm really, really struggling with being able to clear my mind of all the cues I think of in practice and being able to compete without thoughts cluttering my mind. Trusting my training and myself is what I'd call it, I guess.
"Lastly, developing my awareness of my body in that I can sense burnout, a pre-injury state, or just general tiredness, is key. They're all so different in causes and meaning, yet it's hard to differentiate the feeling of each.
"If I can succeed in these goals, then the distances, times and heights will come along with it. I've learned to not have such strict expectations for my seasons through all that has happened, and it's a good thing.
"I'm more relaxed, happier, and positive in doing that. I've surpassed the goals I had previously set in times and distances by thinking in this new, broader way."