Kelsey-Lee Roberts is a powerful athlete capable of launching a javelin well over 60 metres, but it is the power of her mind that has allowed her to achieve some of her athletic goals.
The 25-year-old who was born in East London, South Africa, is the reigning Australian champion and ranked ninth in the world after recently throwing a personal best of 64.06m at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Finland.
Brute force obviously plays a significant part in throwing a javelin over such distances but to harness the rhythm, momentum and timing required to achieve a world-class throw Roberts spends a lot of time rehearsing the technique in her head.
“For me mental imagery is about rehearsing my throws and my routine as I would hope for them to play out, practising my throws in the environment I will be competing in,” she explained from Finland.
“Adding as much information as I have available to me to the routine I rehearse so it means that when I do compete at a major championships the surroundings and the routine are familiar, like I've been there before.
“I will also rehearse scenarios where things may not necessarily go to plan so to put it simply, I'm doing all I can to prepare myself to throw the best I can on that day.”
Roberts showed signs in junior athletics that the throwing events would be where she was going to excel, with a keenness for the discus a major factor in keeping her involved.
Following a move to Canberra in 2007 she took athletics more seriously and soon had a throws coach before making her mark in the open division a few years after finishing high school.
“My javelin really took off in 2008 when I won the Pacific School Games in Canberra,” Roberts explained.
“It was after winning this that I knew it was javelin that I wanted to pursue to the highest level, the Olympics.
“Towards the end of 2009 (Year 12) I started training for javelin full time, but it wasn't for a few more years until I really made my breakthrough.”
One of these goals Roberts has ticked off is winning a medal at the Commonwealth Games, something she did in 2014 with a bronze medal performance in Glasgow at her first senior championships.
“Being a newbie to the international scene and coming away with a medal certainly set me up with a lot of confidence going in to 2015, I was ready to take on the world,” Roberts said.
“I think I expected to keep riding the wave upwards, which also meant I set my personal expectations very high and probably had somewhat unrealistic expectations about how the world of my sport and event works.
“It certainly helped me take the next step in my development in terms of being a full-time athlete as well as experiencing the European season for the first time in 2015.”
She now works full-time with AIS PhD scholar Mike Barber as her coach, after her now fiancé helped with biomechanics analysis and filming during the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
It had been three years since Roberts had set a personal best, and last week’s throw in Finland was her first while being coached by Barber, a promising sign before the world championships in London later this year.
Barber consults with fellow javelin coaches such as Grant Ward and Dion Collins, making it a team effort, along with strength coach Ross Smith and his mentor Athletics Australia head coach Craig Hilliard who also has input.
However, they have slightly steered away from being too technical with her training in the AIS Biomechanics Dome over the last twelve months, opting to concentrate more on feeling the throw and receiving simple feedback and analysis.
“When I returned from the Glasgow Games I made the decision to change coaches, and with the help from Athletics Australia I started working with Mike as my coach,” Roberts explained.
“Our relationship works because I have a huge amount of respect for him as my coach.
“We maintain a very high level of professionalism when we are coach and athlete.
“My training is my job, so when I'm at training, it's work and when we leave training we leave the javelin chat at the door.”
It was unfortunate circumstances for Roberts last year in the months before her debut Olympics, which ultimately ended in tears with a modest 55.25 metre-throw in the qualification round in Rio.
A serious back injury earlier in the season put her training plans back a long way as she spent most of that time rehabbing the injury and doing very little technical work on the runway.
“Last year was a really tough year, lots of challenges,” Roberts said.
“The process of letting my body heal and re-training my body to throw was easy in the sense that there was a plan and a process and there were milestones along the way.
“The hardest part was learning to trust my body again, re-learning the difference between training soreness and actual pain, and regaining my confidence with javelin in hand.
“Unfortunately, I didn't get back to the level I wanted to, and my result in Rio was extremely disappointing.
“Yes, I went to the stadium to watch the final, there were moments when it was particularly hard to watch, but I had a teammate, Kathryn Mitchell, to support and at the end of the day I love the event and love watching javelin.”
Roberts has learnt a lot from teammates Mitchell and national record holder Kim Mickle while developing into a world-class athlete that is now a few metres off the current world lead at 67.21 set by Eda Tugsuz from Turkey and Mickle’s record of 66.83 metres.
“I think the biggest shock to people when they hear what I do for training is how little throwing I actually do,” she said of her program.
“The skill of throwing is the most important aspect, but I only throw javelins twice a week, and a max of 10-12 ‘effort’ throws in a session.
“We keep the volume low and the quality high so that I am able to complete subsequent sessions in a week with the planned quality and intensity.
“A thrower needs to be powerful and elastic, so I do a lot of Olympic lifting, plyometrics and medicine ball throws to train these qualities.
“Javelin is brutal on the body so you need to look after it with mobility and general strength exercises to keep the stabilisers strong and the joints mobile.”
Her goals as an athlete remain high and in the coming years she will be doing all she can to achieve them while also coaching junior throwers one night a week and working as a personal trainer in the gym.
“My career goals are to win a medal at all the major championships and break the Aussie record,” Roberts declared.
“I hope I can do this while inspiring a younger generation of throwers, and I want to be a role model to other athletes.”
In her mind, Roberts has already thrown the national record and launched a javelin far enough to win a medal in an Olympic stadium, now she just needs to go out and physically do it.