VOORHEES – Zoe Goldberg wanted to a sprinter.
Growing up playing soccer, Goldberg believed her quickness on the pitch would translate into blazing times on the track.
However, when life in the fast lane didn’t work out, the then-middle schooler took a shot at something completely different.
“I was really interested in sprinting so I went out for the 100-meter (event for the Voorhees Middle School track and field team),” Goldberg said. “A ton of people wanted to run the 100. I wasn’t great at it. All of my friends made the team for the events they were interested except for me. So I went to the coach and told him I would do any event, just please put me on the team. He put me in throws.
“I was maybe 4-feet tall, 60 pounds. The shot put felt like it was a quarter of my weight. I threw the discus and shot put in middle school. When I got into javelin in high school, it just swept me away.
“There are risks you need to take to find things that you’re really passionate about. Some things end up in ways you would never imagine. ”
Goldberg speaks from experience and it’s safe to say things have worked out pretty well for the sophomore on the Eastern Regional High School track and field team.
While some might be fooled by her 5-foot-2 frame, Goldberg stands as one of the top javelin throwers in the state after posting a personal-best 136-feet, 7-inch toss winning the Group 4 title at the West Deptford Relays on April 17.
The throw was the best in the state at the time, having been topped by defending Meet of Champions titlist Nicole Woods, of NV-Demarest, who threw 145-6 last week.
According to track and field guru Reuben Frank, who writes a blog for the South Jersey Track Coaches Association, Goldberg owns one of the longest throws in Camden County history, a list topped by Haddonfield’s Kate Johnson who threw 152-9 in 2012. Eastern’s Caitlin Cielo is second at 148-8, setting the school mark two decades ago in 2002.
The distance also ranks in the top 25 all-time for South Jersey javelin throws and, heading into last weekend, was the fourth longest throw by a sophomore in the country.
It’s not too shabby when you have to readjust your season’s goal and the calendar hasn’t flipped to May yet.
“Coming out of a (personal-best) 117 last year, we thought 130-135 by the end of this season would be a legitimate goal,” Eastern head coach Mike Tangeman said. “Two weeks into the season, we have a new goal.”
Eastern throws coach Alec Sherman may have been surprised at Goldberg’s early success, but not any more.
“She’s always one-upping herself,” he said. “We’ve set goals and after a throw, we need a new goal. She knows the mark she needs to hit to make a name for herself. She’ll keep working until she does achieve them, she’s a hound for that.
“She’s definitely a perfectionist, too. There will be times when practice is over and I’ve got to tell her to stop throwing. That’s just the drive she has. ”
After a previous PR throw of 126-6 at the Lenape Girls Invitational the previous week, Goldberg fired a series average of 132-3, which included her 136-7 on her second throw at the West Deptford Relays.
At last weekend’s Woodbury Relays, Goldberg placed second with a 124-6, bested by Millville’s Leah Howard.
Tangeman said Goldberg’s quick ascent on the state’s leaderboard in the javelin is unusual for someone short on experience.
“You rarely see someone throwing that far at a young age,” Tangeman said. “It’s an explosive-based event where 17- or 18-year-olds usually have an advantage over 14- and 15-year-old underclassmen.”
There’s more to the javelin than just rearing back and chucking the implement as far as you can. Along with perfecting her technique, Goldberg’s work in the gym has played a key role.
“Getting into this sport, I thought it was going to be all arm, but it really is a mix of everything,” she said. “Things like leg work, core power and I’ve been realizing that as I’ve been training for it. Speed and being nimble also play roles too. It’s really a mix. ”
And that includes the mental part of the sport, an aspect that Goldberg says she’s been concentrating on while practicing meditation and yoga.
“It’s that mental-physical connection,” said Goldberg, who also competes in the discus along with the shot put in select dual meets. “I would end up getting so nervous before I would compete, it would really throw me off. As the competition gets bigger, there’s more to be nervous about. But when I can find that inner peace, connect my mind with my body and my javelin, and you get that full connection, that’s when the nerves start to tick down. ”
Goldberg made a quick impression in her first couple of competitions last season, firing off throws in the 90s. By season’s end, she finished second to Howard in the South Jersey Group 4 meet and later qualified for the Meet of Champions where she threw a 117-10.
“I was just watching people in awe (at the Meet of Champions), so it’s as more of a watch and learn experience for me,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg isn’t the underdog at meets any more, but it’s a role that still motivates her, helping her prove the wrong competition.
“You’re going to hear a lot that you’re too thin, you’re too heavy, you’re too tall, you’re too short. Everybody seems to have their perfect idea on what a thrower, or any athlete, should look like, but if you put your heart and soul into something that you’re passionate about, you’re going to enjoy it and find a level of success . When you drown out other people’s negative opinions, that’s when you find the most successful form of yourself. ”
Tom McGurk is a regional sports reporter for the Courier-Post, The Daily Journal and Burlington County Times, covering South Jersey sports for over 30 years. If you have a sports story that needs to be told, contact him at (856) 486-2420 or email email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @McGurkSports. Help support local journalism with a digital subscription.