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.”