Photo by Dave Nishitani/Oregon State Athletics
While at Cottage Grove High School, Destiny Dawson was a good athlete.
The 2014 grad was on varsity soccer, basketball and in her sophomore year, was convinced to go out for track and field.
Dawson dabbled in a little of everything; she sprinted, she jumped, she threw and even, for a brief moment, considered pole vault. She was fine at everything but not yet great at anything in the sport.
“The coolest thing about her story is that in high school, she wasn’t necessarily a star,” said Cottage Grove track and field coach Ricky Knutson.
“She was going to go to the state meet but you don’t necessarily think, this is going to be a kid that is going to be a D1 NCAA qualifier. That’s the awesome thing about her story.”
Dawson is representing Oregon State University at this week’s NCAA Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field and while there are plenty of stories of athletes finding their event and instantly becoming a phenom, that is not quite Dawson’s story with the javelin. It took time to get there.
After her first year of throwing javelin in high school, Dawson, who had a personal best of 98 feet, had to convince her coaches to let her continue to compete.
“My coaches told me I wasn’t allowed to be a javelin thrower when I started junior year because they said I’m not a jav thrower until I throw at least 100 feet,” recalls Dawson. “So, I think I might have thrown 100 feet the first or second meet of the season and they’re like, okay, you can be a jav thrower now. So, that’s when I fully changed over to javelin.”
Her junior year she took second at districts and seventh in state while her senior year she was again second in Sky-Em and then finished fifth in state.
“It was cool,” she said of competing at Hayward Field for the state meet. “Truthfully, I don’t remember much except I wish I had done better both times.”
Dawson’s personal best at the time of of 128-09 was good for a distant third place on the all-time Cottage Grove javelin list and for her to walk-on at University of Hawaii at Mānoa. University of Hawaii checked the boxes of being not in Oregon, having both an engineering and architecture program and a track and field program that she could join. After communicating with a coach who then left the program, the new coach didn’t know who Dawson was but she joined the team all the same.
But as nice as Hawaii was, it was also full of hard work.
“Everyone assumes you’re going to just live in paradise. I think I went to the beach once a month, maybe. When I did go it was amazing and it was what everyone says it is but it’s not as leisurely as everyone thinks,” she said.
Struggling throughout her first season, Dawson finished the year with a fifth-place finish at the Big West Championships that saw her set a personal record of less than a foot better than her high school best throw. Going into the next season, she was filled with doubt.
“I thought maybe I was done. I had that situation where it was like, do I have more to go? Should I still be doing this? Am I wasting my time? I could be working and making money or something,” she said. “And so I prayed about that and what not and then I PR’d. And then so I was like, okay thank you. I’m supposed to be here, apparently.”
In the first meet of her sophomore season Dawson threw farther than 130 feet for the first time and was back on track. And then at Big West Outdoor Championships she exploded for a throw of 146 feet.
“At conference the right things happened, I don’t know. Training was good up until then but I wouldn’t say it was anything extraordinary,” she said. “So yeah, I don’t know. I just, I did well.”
After the season Dawson took summer classes and with her family in Oregon, expenses in Hawaii and not feeling appreciated on the team, it was time to head back to the mainland. After deciding, she and her boyfriend, Darren Voigt, had the task of packing up all their things, crossing the ocean and finding a new place to live all within a few weeks. They made it work and Dawson became a Beaver.
Knowing she was going to take three more years to finish school and having two years of NCAA eligibility left, Dawson decided to redshirt.
“I know that has been a beneficial thing for some of my athletes in the past. Gives you a whole year to get stronger, learn technique,” said Oregon State throwing coach David Dumble. “Because things are different, we lift differently than she ever has and some of the technical knowledge is different so she’s really had to grow a lot that way. The last couple years, it’s crazy. Just little by little she’s a lot better athlete.”
Training in the program but competing unattached, Dawson continued to improve on her marks and set what would have been a school-record of 162-9 had she been competing as a Beaver. While she was pleased to have thrown it and disappointed it didn’t count, with the help of hindsight, Dawson sees that it was a good thing.
“If you think about it realistically, I would have went to regionals and competed but that was an immense PR that I had never gotten close to any other time. And even on my last competition after that I didn’t close to it again so realistically it’s a good thing that it didn’t count because this year counts and the next year counts,” she said.
Next year counts.
But before the new season came, things changed in her personal life. After financial issues in her family, she became the guardian for her then, eight and 13-year-old, step brothers. Dawson, and her live-in boyfriend Voigt, suddenly had parental responsibilities.
“It’s not necessarily easy especially when you’re not used to taking care of people. But at the same time, it’s like, I’m so involved in their lives now and that’s amazing to watch them grow,” she said. “And I was really worried in the past that I wasn’t able to be there as their big sister. And now I definitely get to do that.”
Dawson credits Voigt, who works a full-time job, on helping things run smoothly.
“During the school year, a lot of the reason I can manage everything is because he’s you know in the background getting it done. So we both make sure the boys are getting done what they need to get done,” she said. “Sometimes I wake the boys up in the morning, sometimes he does. And I get to sleep in. It’s really just a balance of him and I you know making it work.”
With responsibilities of being a guardian, a full-time student and an athlete, Dawson continued to excel in javelin. In her first season competing for OSU, Dawson has shined all year and now has improved to throw 168-9. But for her and Dumble, it’s not about her longest throw but about being consistent.
“I don’t really like to talk about ‘oh, I’m going to hit this mark.’ That really wasn’t good for me especially back in the day when I was trying to throw 130 feet. The one time I finally threw much further than 130 feet was when I changed that mindset,” she said.
Now the idea is to make the record-setting throws not just an outlier but something to consistently hit. Dumble and Dawson are focused on improving her average throw.
“I said that I wanted my average to be around what my PR last year was which is actually more than that now which is not something that I necessarily expected but I’m very happy about it,” said Dawson.
Placing third at the Pac-12 Championships where, she secured at spot at the NCAA West Region Championships. With the top 12 throwers moving on to the NCAA Championships, Dawson had the 16th best throw going into the day and was just trying to fight for a coveted spot.
“When I was on the runway I was pretty focused, but when I was not on the runway I was just thinking, ‘Okay, what place am I in? What girls do I know can throw further than me? What girls can I see are having a bad day and probably won’t throw farther than me and where are they now?’”
With one thrower left in the competition, Dawson watched someone who had previously thrown farther then her approach the runway. “So it was very stressful. And she threw and I actually thought that she might have thrown further than me so I started packing my stuff up and I was like, you know, nice try. I was like bittersweet,” she said. “But then the mark came up on the board and I was like oh my gosh, no way! So close. And you know, it happened. It was pretty crazy.”
Now Dawson is headed back to Eugene and Hayward Field to compete at NCAAs. While Dumble has aspirations for her to become an All-American and her friends have high hopes for her, Dawson is just focused on throwing.
“I’m just wanting to do the best I can on the day. You know. I want to have fun and I want to do what I can do. You know, leave it all on the track and I don’t want to walk away thinking, ah, [shoot], you know like, I could have done better,” she said. “I just want to do the best I can. Whatever that may be, whatever mark that is, whatever place I get.”