By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Jeff Porcaro (MapleMountainSports.com)
It can be among the loneliest places in any sporting venue. When you’re a thrower in high school track and field, it often means being banished to some corner of the school grounds to compete, removed from the stadium where most of the action takes place.
At least at the big events, like at the state track and field championships, you get to do your thing on the infield in the middle of the track. Even then, you compete alone, and for Salem Hills star Talin Mortensen, that’s okay.
“When you’re on the track, you have eight to nine other people running with you, but when you’re throwing it’s just you,” Mortensen said. “I’ve been throwing since seventh grade and I still get nervous every time. It’s something I do more for me than for people watching, that’s what I love about it. I don’t really care who’s there to watch as long as I hit a PR.”
Now, the solitude of the shot put and discus rings have permanently displaced the Friday night lights for the Salem Hills junior.
Two Knee Injuries
The first time he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee was in summer camp leading into Mortensen’s sophomore football season. Just over a year later, in Week 3 of his junior year, the Skyhawk lineman re-injured the same knee.
While one injury wasn’t enough to get Mortensen off the football field, a repeat of the same ACL tear convinced the junior he needed a change of plan. It didn’t hurt that his new direction had already become Plan A. The 6-foot, 215-pound Mortensen never had the chance to show what he could do on the gridiron at the high school level, but he has found his real love in track and field.
“When I was a kid I played everything – soccer, baseball, football, and football actually became my main sport, football and basketball,” Mortensen said. “Then it was just track and football. I was introduced to track in seventh grade because my brother threw here (at Salem Hills). I watched that and I figured it looked easy, so I started doing that instead of baseball and I fell in love with it. I’ve had to overcome all of that (the injuries) so now my only sport is track because I had to give up football.”
Mortensen accepts responsibility for the circumstances that led to the second injury as he believes he most likely came back too soon. It wasn’t football, but track and field that pushed his hopes for an early return to competition.
“The doctors said the second one was probably because of the first one.,” Mortensen said. “They don’t think the meniscus healed all the way and when the meniscus is damaged it makes the ACL more vulnerable, so that’s I think what happened. I was just too hard on my body, not letting it rest. I don’t think it healed properly the first time.”
Though he felt mentally prepared to go through the recovery process the second time and he had been down that road before, Mortensen still believes the second time through the rehabilitation process was the most difficult for him.
“Physically it was easier, but emotionally it was harder,” he said. “My body has already been used to waking up out of surgery and the pain I felt and everything, but I would mostly say the emotional part. I had already (gone through) a six-month recovery and then I came back strong and did track and football, and then I tore it again, so that was hard. It’s harder the second time, I’d say, for sure, because you’ve already seen yourself go through it and you know what to expect and how hard it will be.”
This summer is the first time Mortensen will have the chance to compete in some prestigious summer track meets as he won’t be working out for football or working his way back from an injury. He’s hoping that will allow him to keep the upward trajectory he has been on during the spring season just completed.
“After last spring, I did better than I thought in track so that sort of became my main sport and my goal obviously was a state championship,” Mortensen said. “Then, when I got hurt in football, that was all I could think about. I love football, but track is my main sport and I was just thinking about how soon can I throw.
“I actually started throwing indoor way too early, but I was doing it carefully to where it didn’t hurt me at all. I thought I have to work twice as hard because I had another three or four-month setback until I could start throwing again. I’m just going to have to work twice as hard to get where I wanted to be.”
While there was initially some anxiety about throwing coming back from a pair of knee injuries, Mortensen that’s gone now. He actually feels like the brace he wears is somewhat of a security blanket.
“At the start of the season, it was definitely a worry,” Mortensen said. “At the start of indoor, I didn’t have a brace yet for the first three or four meets, so I was definitely cautious of it but not extremely because I know that the movement I make in shot put, the chance of hurting it is very slim. Any more, I have my brace, and the brace helps me know it will be alright. The brace is a confidence factor. It definitely adds support and helps it feel stronger, for sure.”
Throwing For Records
His best performances are certainly still to come, but with a year of high school throwing left before he moves on to the next level, Mortensen likes where he is. He just finished winning a state title in discus with a throw of 156 feet, 2 inches and he also captured the top spot on the podium in shot put, his best event, with a throw of 56 feet, 7.5 inches.
“I prefer shot put for sure. That’s my event,” he said. “I would consider myself a little better at shot. I think it’s because I know more about shot put. Discus I’m sort of new still because, last year, because of my knee I could only do stand throws, so I’d just grunt it. This year’s the first year I have gone discus hard. I know shot put more, and to me it’s a little more basic, it’s more about strength and that’s really my specialty, strength over finesse like in the disc.
It (discus) really is more about your speed and your footwork really because you’ve got to get more torque out of it. Strength does help, but I’d say speed and technique is really what helps. The best discus throwers in the world are strong, but they’re taller and the shot putters are more heavier set. They’re also really quick too.”
Mortensen spends a lot of time in the weight room, but mostly builds strength during the offseason when he says 70 percent of his training focuses on strength. In-season, particularly during the heavy meet schedule, he focuses mostly on technique so he has the best combination of both.
There have been a ton of life lessons learned along the way due to the injuries and the recovery process, but Mortensen has also learned a lot in the course of competition. One of those learning opportunities came during the discus event at this year’s state meet.
“I kind of got myself in a bind,” Mortensen said. “My first three rounds I threw super bad and I barely made the final. I was in a bad situation and it was hard for me because I’d never…going into finals for both events I’m usually first or second. I’d never experienced that and I just needed to calm down and realize I’ve been here and I have the furthest mark. Then, in the fourth round I ended up with a really good throw.”
When you get more than one attempt to claim your best throw, sometimes it’s smart to go for it right from the start, but when your confidence level is high, a more patient plan can provide the best results. For that reason, Mortensen’s mental approach to discus is very different to the way he attacks the shot.
“For discus, I try to pop one as soon as I can because I’m not as consistent in disc as I am in shot, so in disc I just try to throw a big one as early as I can and try to get a lead going into the later rounds,” Mortensen said. “With shot, what I usually do, is open up my first throw, just get one in, get a good throw just so I don’t scratch and I have one on the mark to get me to finals. Then, I’ll start going for it.
“I’ll never PR in shot my first throw and then my second and third are build-ups and my PRs always comes in throws five or six. That’s sort of how I approach it. That’s something I learned this offseason. I went to a couple of different summer meets and I was talking with guys about how they approach it and that’s how a lot of them approach it.”
He’s hoping that’s an approach, particularly in the shot put that will put him in position to take the next jump in distance that will allow him to take on the state record next year. The 4A and overall state mark is 66 feet, 6.5 inches, which has stood for a dozen years.
“That’s definitely something I’d like to break as early as possible next year,” Mortensen said. “That’s what I’ve been eyeing ever since my sophomore year. I hit the 60 mark a couple weeks ago, but the state record’s my next goal for sure.”
A junior, Mortensen has received some interest from college programs, and he sees that in his future, but not until after he fulfills his first post-high school goal, a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With regard to where he’d like to serve after one more year at Salem Hills, he said, “Probably someplace like Samoa or Fiji. I’ll go wherever.”
“I’d like to throw in college, that’s sort of my goal and I’d love to make it a career,” Mortensen said. “Last year, I’d thrown a 51, my PR, which was pretty good, so I started to get a couple of letters. This November is sort of when they started sending letters. All you can do up until July 1 of your senior year is email only so if they see you hit a mark…
“That’s the good part about track is you hit a mark and they’ll talk to you. After Simplot, the indoor meet up in Idaho, I got a lot more emails and throughout the season, there’s been a couple of different ones, mainly BYU, Arizona State and places like that.”
Whatever comes next, two times down the recovery road after ACL surgery have taught Mortensen that he can do hard things.
“My knee injury, the first time, I’d never experienced anything like that,” he said. “It’s crazy because my brothers have gone through it, but I never had, that first time, the pain and everything. It helps me in life because I can look back and know I’ve accomplished something. It was hard to go through and it was hard to come back athletically and emotionally also.”
Now that he’s through it, he’s left standing in the place where he finds the most comfort, the throwing circle.