Where Are They Now - Liz Gleadle
Liz Gleadle was twice awarded Senior Female Athlete of the year at the Lethbridge Sport Council Achievement Awards (LSCAA). She received the award to celebrate her 2012 and 2014 seasons. Since 2014 Liz has continued her stellar throwing career and today, Liz has just returned from the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. We were able to catch up with Liz as she prepared to compete at her third, and final, Olympic Games.
Liz accepting the 2012 Lethbridge Sport Council Achievement Award
Liz’s approach to the recent Olympic Games represented the culmination of her experiences and lessons learned over a 17-year career representing Canada. In order to understand where she was in the run-up to this Olympics, it is important to look back at the moments leading up to this year that shaped her as an athlete and affected her preparation for the Tokyo Games.
Gleadle left her home province of British Columbia in 2012 when she decided to make a run at qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Taking a year off school at the University of British Columbia, Liz came to train under Lawrence Steinke in Lethbridge. The decision immediately paid off as Gleadle not only earned her spot on the Canadian team heading to London but also qualified for the women’s javelin final becoming the first female Canadian javelin thrower to do so since 1968.
In 2013, hot on the heels of her first Olympics, Liz was dealing with a severe back injury that led to her taking essentially the entire year off of throwing. After seeing multiple specialists and hearing several different possible sources and solutions, Liz ultimately wound up with Dr. LJ Lee, who was able to determine that Liz’s back issues were being caused by problems in her ribs. From that point onwards Liz spent the rest of the year confined to only rehab exercises as she dealt with the injury and worked to return to throwing shape.
In 2014, running off a full year of rehab and a mere two months of throwing practice Gleadle exploded back onto the competitive scene: throwing a 3 meter personal best, attending her first-ever Diamond League meeting where she won the prestigious event and finished third at that year’s Continental Cup.
Liz built off of the success in 2014 by having a career year in 2015. Splitting time between rehab in Vancouver and javelin training in Lethbridge. Gleadle broke her own Canadian record throwing 64.83m. Later in the year, she was able to win gold at the Pan American Games held in Toronto. She won the event in a dramatic fashion, tossing 62.83 meters on the final throw of the competition, jumping from third to first.
Following her golden Pan Ams performance, Gleadle was building towards the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with momentum behind her. However, early on in the season, Liz experienced an accident while re-racking the bar between exercises. Liz lost her grip on the bar and flew off of the lifting platform landing on her back. She didn’t know it immediately but she had just suffered a spinal cord injury that would hamper her training leading into the Games. The next morning Gleadle struggled even getting out of bed. In the months that followed the loss of coordination as a result of the injury was gigantic.
“Every practice felt like a brand new body”, Gleadle recalled, it was near impossible to build on each previous practice’s training. In spite of the difficulties the injury presented, both physical and psychological, Liz qualified for Rio 2016 and surpassed her distance thrown at the 2012 Olympics, but was not able to reach the Olympic final as she had in 2012.
Coming off of a very challenging 2016 season Gleadle decided to leave Lethbridge and Steinke’s coaching to train full-time out of BC. The difficulty of coordinating training programs with the limitations she faced due to her injuries, coupled with the stress of being constantly traveling back and forth from Vancouver and being separated from her support system were making it difficult to train productively. Returning to her high school and university coach Laurier Primeau, Liz threw well during the 2017 season but cites coming into competitions “overamped” as the main reason behind not hitting a new personal best during the season.
At the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Gleadle was reunited with Lawrence Steinke who was on Team Canada’s coaching staff at the Games. During their time on the Golden Coast at the Games Gleadle says the two were able to redefine their working relationship. After working so positively together, Liz looked to find a way to return to Lethbridge to train, while ensuring that none of the issues with injuries coming into conflict with training programs would resurface. “No one knows my body better than I do, no one knows javelin as well as Larry”, Says Gleadle when talking about her desire to find a way to return to working with Steinke.
Following the 2018 Commonwealth competition Liz again restructured her training plans. This time drawing on her experiences over the past decade and beyond to find a training method that would work best for her. The solution she ultimately came to was an approach that featured three members of her supporting staff each playing different roles. Larry Steinke returned to assist coaching Gleadle, with the official title of “technical consultant”, aiding Liz with adjustments to her throw. Dr. LJ Lee, who Liz had continued to work with in the years following her 2013 back injury, continued to play a very important role in her training. When she first began working with Dr. LJ, Liz described the process as akin to untangling a set of headphones. Together they worked their way through finding the cause and effects of a myriad of injuries. But in the past two years, Gleadle feels that Dr. LJ’s role has expanded from just managing injuries.
“We’re optimizing now”, says Gleadle, referring to the change in focus of her work with Dr. LJ; no longer dealing with old injuries that never got attended to but now working to get fitter not just back up to baseline strength. Lastly, Liz’s former high school and university coach Laurier Primeau would continue to help coach Liz when she was training in Vancouver.
“He’s my eyes”, says Gleadle. On top of watching over Gleadle while throwing she has found Laurier to be an exceptional coach when it comes to mental preparation. Liz and Laurier work together to write her exercise programs all while ensuring that they’re coordinated with her physiotherapy and Dr. LJ.
This balanced approach to training, pulling all of the best pieces from the people closest to her javelin journey through her career showed immense promise in the 2019 season building into the Doha World Championships. First, Gleadle reports that ever since fully coordinating her programs with her physiotherapy she has not suffered a “silly injury”. Perhaps more notably was her warmup day leading into the 2019 World Championships javelin qualifying round: 3 of the 4 warmup throws they measured that day were beyond her Canadian record.
Unfortunately, a miscommunication regarding the event schedule led to Gleadle missing her chance at taking warm-up throws the day of the event and going into the competition completely “dry”, without a chance to fully prepare. Gleadle managed to pull herself together well enough to throw over 60 meters but did not finish high enough in the rankings to qualify for the final.
“That was my first time crying at a meet since 2006”, Liz recalls the experience describing the result at Doha as, “Beyond frustrating.”
Liz Gleadle in 2015
From missing a whole season in 2013 with a back injury to missing her warm-up throws at the 2019 World Championships, and everything that has come in between, to say that Gleadle has had to deal with a fair amount of challenges would be a complete understatement. Many athletes have had entire careers ruined or altered by facing even one of the many adversities Liz has faced in her 17 years representing Canada. But not Liz. Every time Gleadle has had to deal with physical, or mental challenges she has always come out the other end with a renewed approach to her training, competition, and lifestyle, determined never to face the same affliction twice.
Based on all of her previous trials it's no surprise that Gleadle was not completely unaffected by COVID-19 but comes out of the pandemic having done even more learning and adapting. Liz realized during the lockdown that she could build a training program that worked for her drawing on her past experiences. From that realization, Liz began writing her own programs keeping one key goal in mind: staying healthy. “I was tired of being injured,” Gleadle says, she never wanted to go through the feeling of pushing and forcing herself through training. Training at an 80% intensity Liz is able to train productively without risking overtraining, exhaustion, and injury.
Heading into the Olympics, Liz had refined all aspects of her preparation and was heading to the Games with a simple goal in mind: to throw a Personal Best and have the best throwing series of her life. Well aware of not trying to control the uncontrollable Gleadle did not set a target for placement at these Games, focused instead on showing up and throwing as far as she could. Above all Gleadle wanted to be able to focus on having fun and being happy while competing. Liz loves high-performance throwing and finds her joy in it, and wanted to ensure that she was able to have fun throughout the leadup to and during the Games.
When asked who is to thank for her steely focus and mental fortitude Gleadle doesn’t mince words, “Straight up me”. She says, crediting her years of practicing meditation, visualization, and more as what enables her to always be able to get back into the right mindset.
However, Liz also is very cognizant of the role that other athletes have played in teaching her lessons and motivating her throughout her career. “You learn something from everybody”, she replies while contemplating her answer to which athletes have taught her the most in her career. She goes on to explain that every older javelin thrower she has met while on tour competing has had an incredibly interesting story and states that she sees not taking the time to ask those athletes about their lives when the opportunity arises as a wasted opportunity.
Perhaps even more interesting than the stories of the senior athletes Gleadle has had the privilege of competing with is another group of athletes that she says she has learned a lot from. This group of athletes are not professionals, retired legends, peers, or world champions. Liz credits the teenagers that she has the opportunity to train with as a group of individuals who have taught her a lot. While being able to throw javelin as a job has come with a whole host of opportunities and experiences Gleadle also explains that it makes things more “confusing”, the added stress of relying on her performance to earn money can take away from her joy for the sport. Enter the 17, 18, and 19-year-olds that Liz was able to train alongside whether throwing out of UBC in Vancouver or the U of L in Lethbridge. Whenever Liz takes the time to ask these young athletes why they throw, she says their answers are always simple and come in some variation of: “I just like to throw”. She credits these young athletes for reminding her that she’s throwing javelin because it’s fun and she finds joy in it. “I’m just throwing a stick… and it’s really fun.” She observes when talking about the renewed perspective she gets from training with young athletes.
When contemplating life after javelin, whether that be in a couple of months or next year, Liz hasn’t decided what path she wants to take next. “I don’t know yet.” She says when asked about her plans after retirement. One thing that Liz notes she wants to take the opportunity to explore is finding out what it is that she is most naturally inclined to do. “I love track because I’m good at it, I love high performance” Liz states while describing her relationship with athletics and javelin. With life after high performance on the horizon, Gleadle wants to take time to explore her options and find what brings her joy.
One thing that there is no doubt about is that Liz plans on making use of the wealth of knowledge and experience she has acquired during her time as a world-class athlete in her future career. She is well aware of the true value she has to offer and hopes to possibly find herself working at a high-performance program at a university in the future. Gleadle would like the opportunity to not just run programs but potentially assist in educating varsity athletes in short single-hour modules on how best to use the resources they have access to in order to prepare and recover in the best way possible.
Gleadle gained some practice sharing her experiences and teaching others in the run-up to Tokyo: Liz partnered with Airbnb to offer a unique experience. Her Olympic Experience with Airbnb titled “Win the Morning”, gives insight into the morning routine that Gleadle has practiced and refined throughout her throwing career and goes over all of the important habits she has formed to help her get each and every day off to a productive and positive start.
With sharing her experiences and teaching others being such a prominent piece of both Liz’s present and her future, it should come as no surprise that she has some great advice for young athletes. With so much focus on health throughout her career, it’s not shocking to hear that the first piece of advice she would give to younger athletes is to take time to understand sleep and what it does to your body. Liz recommends young athletes read “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker and “Breath” by James Nestor. Also on the topic of health Gleadle recommends being wary about any food that comes in a bag or a box, “If you are a high-performance engine you need high-performance fuel.” She says. Beyond the health aspect of sports Liz again touches on the subject of joy and happiness,
“You might as well do what makes you happy, it’ll work out one way or another.” She offers. Gleadle goes on to recall growing up and being terrified of working a nine-to-five desk job. Her javelin career has taught her that you can find a way to make money doing anything. Beyond that, though she is also grateful to have discovered that her income threshold for happiness is quite low, recalling moments in her career where she has been both very broke yet supremely happy at the same time. “To know what makes me truly happy is truly a gift.” She says of her discoveries from her throwing career.
A roller coaster is how an outsider might describe Gleadle’s career thus far. 17 years of some historic high-highs, and some difficult-to-swallow lows. But in interviewing Liz it becomes quite clear just how consistent she has managed to be in spite of any inconsistencies in performance or health that she might be going through. Another thing that becomes blatantly obvious is just how much of a student Gleadle is, not just of her sport but of her body and approach to life as a whole. By Liz’s own estimation she believes she has made every possible mistake that can impact one’s performance. But where other athletes at even the highest levels might say “I just had a rough day”, or “I was injured so I didn’t perform well” Liz is much more clinical in her approach. Every single story of injury or disappointment that she gave in this interview was accompanied by a detailed explanation of both the cause and how Gleadle then went on to adjust her approach the next time around to ensure the same mistake is never repeated. Gleadle’s constant state of learning and self-improvement made her a battle-tested and well-prepared member of Team Canada’s roster for the Tokyo Olympics.
To follow and support Liz please consider doing any of the following.
- Read her biography on the Canadian Olympic Team’s website: Liz Gleadle - Team Canada - Official Olympic Team Website
- Follow Liz on Twitter and Instagram @Javelizz
- And be sure to check out Liz’s “Win The Morning” experience in partnership with Airbnb: Win the Morning with Liz Gleadle - Airbnb
Posted August 8, 2021