Local resident Jim Fuqua excels at the javelin at age 54
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
Hartselle resident Jim Fuqua had a unique New Year's resolution.
After 10 years of throwing "nothing but darts," he decided to get back into competitive javelin throwing – a sport he had not competed in since college.
Fuqua, 54, has been involved in several Masters track-and-field meets since starting his training in early February. Masters is a special amateur athletic grouping that features competitions for athletes ages 40 and older.
Despite having only a little more than a month to train, Fuqua took second place in the javelin in the 50-to-55-year-old age group in the Tennessee state championships in Memphis on April 7 and that result convinced him it would be worth it to continue training.
"I saw that I could be competitive right away and it would be worth my while," said Fuqua, who threw 140 feet at the Tennessee state championships and missed first place by only half an inch.
At a dual meet two weeks later, Fuqua took the silver medal in both the Georgia state championships and the Southeast Regional championships at Savannah, Ga. In the Southeast Regional, he competed against an open competition with throwers ranging in age from 19 to 78 and hailing from seven different states. Fuqua's throw of 175 feet was good enough to finish ahead of every competitor other than the first place winner who was also the world record holder in Masters javelin.
Fuqua has not competed in a meet since then, but has been involved in intense training to get ready for an upcoming meet in Birmingham June 2. He said that at a recent practice he threw 193 feet (For comparison's sake, the winning distance of the Class 6A javelin throw in the 2007 Alabama high school state track-and-field championships was 187 feet, 5 inches).
"The gains in distance come pretty quick early on, so if I can gain a few feet every week I will be tickled to death," Fuqua said. "If I can throw over 190 (in Birmingham), that should be enough to rank me in the Top 5 in the world in my Masters age class."
Fuqua explained that javelin is an event that depends much more on technique than brute strength. He said that his training focuses on exercises to help build up the muscles in his triceps and shoulders, such as running stadium stairs and doing lunge squats.
"I've seen guys who had absolute cannons for an arm, but they could not throw a javelin because they couldn't get the technique down," Fuqua said. "When you throw the javelin, you almost have to come directly over the top, because if you try and throw it side arm, it will waffle off to the side and the wind resistance will knock the spear down.
"When I train, I go more for explosion and power than just strength. I have specific weight training that I do – I don't do a lot of bicep and chest work like most athletes. Really, if you build those up too much, they get in the way of a good throw."
Fuqua did not throw the javelin in high school and only became involved in track-and-field in college because of a fortuitous scouting job by Northwest Shoals Community College's track-and-field coach. Fuqua was at Northwest Shoals on a baseball scholarship when the school's coach came to a practice and watched the outfielder work on relay throws back to home plate.
"He just kind of asked me if I'd like to throw the javelin and I said, 'Sure, all right,'" Fuqua said of the meeting. "I was very fortunate, even without a lot of training and without doing it in high school I was pretty successful right away."
Fuqua advanced to the national championship level his sophomore year and was an All-American in the javelin. But after that season, he put the spear away for a while to refocus on baseball.
He was a member of a Masters United States baseball team in 1998 at the world Masters games, but did not compete in any Masters events again until the Tennessee track championships this year.
"I just got the itch to take a stab at competing again," he said. "It's been a great experience. The competition is friendly; a guy makes a big throw and everyone else pats him on the back. The camaraderie is unlike how it was when I played in college, where your opponent was the enemy. Here, it's like everyone is everyone else's big cheerleader."
Fuqua's prowess with the javelin is impressive enough, but is even more noteworthy as he has had athletic success despite nine knee surgeries and seven arm surgeries in his lifetime. He explained that he currently competes with a torn meniscus muscle in his left leg, wearing a brace and just playing through the pain.
"I'm going to have to get surgery on it eventually," Fuqua said. "But my doctor said I could continue to compete as long as I can stand the pain. I'm just hoping it holds up so I can finish competing in these upcoming meets."
Fuqua attends West Hartselle Baptist Church with Marla, his wife of 34 years. He explained he has had several people at church approach him to say Fuqua has been a positive role model.
"I guess you could call them my fan base," Fuqua joked about his fellow church members. "It's just some of the people who have heard about what I'm doing and have maybe been inspired to start lifting and running and getting in better shape because they see me doing what I'm doing at sort of an advanced age.
"I've had some people come and ask about advice about how to work out and different diet needs and things like that. I'm glad it's kind of helped people to take notice of conditioning and taking better care of themselves. If my competing can help people like that, then that's great."