As a freshman this past season, javelin thrower Laruschka “Lala” Joubert was the only Nova Southeastern University female to qualify for the NCAA Division II Track and Field Championships.
But Joubert, a native of Krugersdorp, South Africa, didn’t put up her best results at nationals. Her season best was at the prestigious Penn Relays, where she came in second by throwing 46.61 meters, which is a shade under 153 feet.
At nationals, she threw 39.83 and finished 16th.
“Had I thrown my best [at nationals], I would have made All-American,” Joubert said. “But I think I was nervous.
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“I usually think about my technique and not the distance. But that day, I was thinking about distance. It just wasn’t my day.”
Brighter days appear to be ahead for Joubert, who turns 20 next month and aspires to become an architect.
She grew up with her mother, stepfather, younger brother and younger sister and has not seen them in 14 months.
Although she misses them terribly, she wants to remain in South Florida and can’t return home until her visa issues are resolved.
In the meantime, she continues training, which requires throwing a spear that ranges in length between 7 feet 7 inches and 7-3 and weighs one pound and five ounces.
The javelin is an odd event in that it has been banned in high schools in 36 states — including Florida — because of safety concerns. There have been various cases of athletes or others who were on the track and impaled by javelins.
In addition to the danger of the event, there is also a lack of expert coaching nationwide. Few track programs can afford a coach who just specializes in the javelin.
NSU head coach Brian Hagopian verifies that, saying he not only oversees the entire program, but he also personally works with the distance runners — his specialty — as well as the pole vaulters, steeplechasers and throwers.
“If I could hire another assistant, it would be a throws coach,” he said. “But [even so], I think [Joubert] can be a national champion. She has the ability and the drive. I’ve seen her throw 48 meters in practice.
“And keep in mind: She only arrived on campus in December. She hasn’t even been here a full year.”
Joubert takes it upon herself to ice her arm and her knees after throwing days. And she cut back her throwing schedule from six times a week to three or four because of the potential problems that overuse can do to her arm.
At 5-7 and 150 pounds, Joubert said she needs to get much stronger to continue to excel. And one look at the world record for women in the event shows what a long way Joubert has if she wants to compete at the highest level: Barbara Spotakova of the Czech Republic has thrown the javelin 72.28 meters and has won gold medals in each of the past two Olympics.
Ultimately, though, the javelin is paying for Joubert’s education, and she is taking full advantage. In her last year of high school, studying in her native language of Afrikaans, she had a 3.2 grade-point average. This school year, studying in English for the first time, she was “really proud” when she compiled a 3.5 GPA.
Joubert has endured her hardships — her biological father, who lives in South Florida and hadn’t met her until recently, turned out to not be the person she had hoped. But she has also met an abundance of good people, she said.
And the javelin has played a big role in her success.
“I see the javelin as opening doors for me to be someone better in life,” she said. “That’s why I take the sport so seriously and train so hard.”