Javelin Thrower, Four-Time Olympian
Now on her way to her fourth Olympic Games, javelin thrower Kara Winger is reveling in a very exciting time. Between intense workouts and throwing, her dog Maddie keeps her busy with walks and playtime! Kara, a former San Diego Humane Society volunteer, reflects on the companionship and focus that Maddie brings to her life in our Animal People interview.
How did your special four-legged training partner come into your life?
The canine known as Madeline (or Maddielion) was a family friend’s dog first, then became my father-in-law’s. I think despite their best intentions, she spent a LOT of time alone in her first two homes, and was therefore a VERY rowdy and frustrating puppy! She became ours about two months before her second birthday in 2016. My husband, Russ, was also still an athlete at the time, and we were both training for Olympic Trials and the Rio Games.
What changes did that rowdy pup bring to your life amid Olympic training?
I had shoulder surgery the fall before, so I was home a lot and able to be with Maddie all the time! She had some serious separation anxiety and hadn’t been consistently inside for any of her life. Once she found out what kinds of treats we had bought her, she was very eager to learn. It was amazing to spend two whole months with her right at the beginning of her residence in our home. I needed her in my healing process just as much as she needed us.
We had thought we’d take her for a trial period that spring and then fully adopt her in the fall, after the competitive season. But two days in, I knew she was never leaving! Her transformation in that first year and the way she is still coming fully out of her shell makes me so, so proud. Sometimes I wish so badly that we had those two extra years together, but I know it happened how it was supposed to. We hadn’t planned on getting a dog yet, but she’s perfect and absolutely treasured.
What does life with Maddie look like now?
Maddie and I walk and/or go to the dog park at least twice a day. Her antics in either scenario just make me smile constantly! She not only gets me moving — as an athlete, those walks really help me assess how my body is feeling in the morning and help me shake things out and recover in the evening — but she brings me so much joy. We live in Colorado now and have fantastic neighborhood paths. In the summer, lizards sun themselves on the pavement, and Maddie LOVES them. So she walks staring at the ground, hoping to catch one someday. The way her ears make her head wrinkle when she’s so focused on finding lizards will be one of her quirks that I never forget!
What are some of the other quirks that make Maddie so special to you?
The way she tackles her horse ball in the backyard or still gets the zoomies in the snow just absolutely cracks me up. She likes to “fish,” and usually that means stomping around in the shallow water of a lake or river until she stirs up mud, then digging and scooping as much of it as she can onto her yellow fur. It’s nothing a little fetch in cleaner water won’t fix, so I love to let her get as filthy as she wants to. Her smile shines so bright.
Do your routines with Maddie help break up the intensity of training and daily life?
She’s an excellent reminder to take breaks. I started working full time in addition to training for javelin this year, and it’s been a lot more screen-time and downtime than we’re both used to. But when Maddie starts to grumble or brings me a toy, I know she’s right and that we should play for at least a few minutes. She makes me stop and smell the roses, for sure!
I just love the small moments, too. Getting to a point with Maddie where she naps by my desk while I work, because she knows we’ll do something fun later, and then starts dream-barking and growling is the best.
When you think of a perfect world for pets, what would it include?
I think if they could all have a homing beacon to lead them to safety if they get lost, that would be amazing. So many pets get out in my neighborhood and I do my best to help them all if they’ll let me, but my heart aches the rest of the day every time it happens, even if they’re returned safe or I take them somewhere where they’ll be protected until their owners are found. If we could just make sure that all the pets in the world were like the Homeward Bound pets, that’d be great.
Before Maddie, had animals been a big part of your life?
My parents had Nelson, a big black Lab, when my brother and I were born; so he held a little bit of a grudge for all of his 14 years! I tried hard to be best friends with him, and he let me in a little bit, but I think the biggest thing I learned early on was that it’s OK to give animals space. Just like in human relationships, some alone time is healthy, and everyone will be happy to see each other after it!
My parents’ current dogs, Beau and Brandy, are chocolate Labs, and were Russ’s and my ring bearers at our wedding in 2014, when they were 2. Beau has always had joint problems, and one of my favorite things to do when I visit is massage his poor shoulders and hips. I will never be able to give the dogs I love enough pets!
What is one lasting impact that animals have had in your life?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been acutely aware of the passage of time. This — anxiety? — has served me well in terms of doing things today that I know will impact my success tomorrow and helps me prioritize the important stuff, like spending time with family. Animals, whether my parents’ dogs, friends’ dogs or Maddie herself, just enhance that feeling. Their precious lives are so short, so I must take them swimming or throw the ball or demand that they get belly rubs, because all we have is now to be together. I learned through sport a long time ago not to take the journey too seriously, but having daily reminders of that from Maddie is simply the best.
Please join us in wishing Kara the best of luck in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics! We’ll be cheering (and barking) alongside Maddie and her many supporters.
Published: July 26, 2021