Javelin coach builds his own 'Field of Dreams' in Chapel Hill

wrupard@newsobserver.comAugust 16, 2013 

There are javelins everywhere on Jeff and Elaine Gorski’s property in Chapel Hill.

There are neon red and orange javelins by the mailbox post. Javelins line the inside of Jeff Gorski’s hand-made weight room, and on this day, there’s a stick figure throwing a javelin pictured on Gorski’s shirt. Based on the smooth throwing motion depicted on the shirt, the stick figure could have been coached by Gorski.

After all, Gorski is one of the most sought-after javelin coaches in the world, at one time serving as the USA Track and Field national javelin chairman.

Gorski loves coaching. He loves seeing the success in the eyes of his athletes. He loves how he gets that same excitement from coaching as he once did as an All-ACC thrower at North Carolina.

“The challenge and responsibility (of coaching) both give you a bit of an adrenaline buzz,” Gorski said. “That’s the closest thing, to me, of what it was like being an athlete. The challenge of somebody telling me that this can’t happen. Well, good, I’m going to prove it can. And there’s nothing like that.”

Gorski does almost all of his coaching and training in his own backyard, in what he and his wife, Elaine, call the “Field of Dreams.”

He does this to stay close to his wife, who 10 years ago was injured in a car accident, rendering her a quadriplegic. Elaine Gorski was a passenger. The accident was later found to be caused by a problem with the car.

“Everything that has happened since the injury has been from her direction and from her refusing for me to not keep doing what I’m doing,” Gorksi said.

Humble beginnings

Gorski has always wanted to be a coach. He attended North Carolina to pursue his javelin passion, and to become a coach.

While becoming an All-ACC performer in Chapel Hill, Gorksi soon met the love of his life, Elaine.

The couple’s first date was to a rainy track meet at East Carolina on Elaine’s birthday.

The two soon wed, and Gorski almost immediately got into coaching. From 1982-1991, he coached the throwing events at his alma mater.

Elaine Gorski took care of the couple’s two daughters while Jeff Gorski spent most weekends coaching at camps and spreading his throwing wisdom. He worked part-time jobs, such as a handyman and biscuit delivery truck driver – anything to help make ends meet.

“Some people don’t really have the passion, but he figured out that this was his passion early on in life,” Elaine Gorski said. “Some people never have that thing that drives them so much internally and makes them so incredibly happy and allows them to share their knowledge with other people.”

Jeff Gorski soon got involved with the USATF as national javelin chairman, which is as close to a national coach in javelin as there is. He traveled across the U.S. running camps and clinics for up and coming javelin throwers.

To help make some extra money for his daughters’ college fund, Jeff Gorski began making instructional videos on how to throw the javelin. This idea soon ballooned into Jeff and Elaine Gorski selling javelins out of the family’s shed beside the house.

“We decided we were going to be the Walmart of throwing implements,” Jeff Gorski said. “We were going to find good quality stuff and undersell all of our competition.”

Mainly by word of mouth, the couple brought in more than $100,000 last year.

‘You’re not going to stop coaching’

In 2003, things changed forever.

After Elaine Gorski was injured in the car accident, doctors told her she would not be able to do simple tasks such as use her fingers, hold eating utensils, use a phone or a computer.

Jeff Gorski said he thought his coaching career might be over. He was the sole caretaker for his wife and it would be hard to travel around the country.

“When she got hurt, it was like, I can chuck this stuff,” Gorski said. “I’ve made my mark, I’ve done what I need to do, I’ve got to take care of my wife.”

But Elaine Gorski wasn’t going to let her husband give up what he loved, just like she wasn’t going to lose hope that she could one day regain the ability to do tasks denied her after the accident.

“She was still in her hospital bed in Memorial Hospital two weeks after her injury she told me, ‘You’re not going to stop coaching. We’re going to figure this out. We’re going to get on the other side of this. You’re going to be able to do what you want to do.’”

Less than a year later, Elaine Gorski regained some movement of her hands and arms. She still can’t move her legs.

“She’s amazing,” Jeff Gorski, 58, said. “What she can do and what she goes through everyday in terms of pain level is incredible. Imagine the worst toothache you’ve had, multiply by ten and put it through two thirds of your body and deal with it all day, everyday for ten years. I don’t mind doing what I’ve got to do considering what she’s got to deal with, and if there’s a day when she says she needs me around, then I’m around.”

In 2009, Elaine was the face of a North Carolina law which extended the amount of time a company could be sued for product liability. Investigators determined her accident and injuries were the result of a fault in the car she rode in. At the time of the accident, the manufacturer was only held liable up to six years. Elaine’s injuries occurred in a car the family had owned 6 years and 3 months, just a few months after the state deadline.

With Elaine Gorski, 58, as the “human face” of the bill, the North Carolina Legislature passed a law extending that time frame from six years to 12 years, one of the longest in the nation.

“You have to go with the hand that you’re dealt,” Elaine Gorski said. “You can’t change what happened. You can go negative or you can go positive, and if you go negative, nobody wants to be around you. If you’re positive, at least you’re helping your spouse or yourself or in gravitating other people toward you.”

Field of Dreams is launched

In 2005, two years after the accident, Jeff and Elaine Gorski were reminiscing about how the two of them used to travel across the country coaching javelin. Elaine Gorski threw out what seemed to be a crazy idea at the time.

Instead of going to the athletes, why not bring the athletes to them?

“She told me, ‘You’ve got the facilities here. You’re a really good coach, there are always people wanting to come see you. Why don’t you just try to do something here and see who shows up?’”

Jeff Gorski had a shed full of weights and a runway on his property.

So, with the help of his wife, Jeff Gorski launched his “Field of Dreams” camp. Twenty athletes showed up at the house in Chapel Hill for the first camp.

“The idea of this is that you can train and you can get good without necessarily having phenomenal facilities,” Jeff Gorski said.

The yearly Field of Dreams camp takes place on hand-built facilities. Jeff Gorski caps the number of campers at around 20, so athletes have one-on-one attention with instructors. This year’s instructors included the last U.S. Olympic medalist in the javelin, Bill Schmidt, and Raymond Hecht, German national record holder and the owner of the fourth farthest throw in history.

Jeff says he has coached around 10 high school national champion throwers and a couple of Olympians, including Leigh Smith, a Raleigh-native who made the 2008 Olympic team.

Through their 35 years of marriage, one thing has remained a constant in the Gorskis’ lives: javelin.

“It’s a normalcy in our lives,” Elaine Gorski said. “To be able to keep on doing the things that make him happy and doing things we used to do is so important to both of us.”

Jeff Gorski says his phone rings off the hook and he gets e-mails daily from people asking for him. After all of these years, Jeff Gorski is still in high demand.

“Throwing the javelin for Jeff, if you ask him not to, would be like saying, ‘OK, don’t breathe,’” Elaine Gorski said.

While Jeff Gorski is coaching, Elaine is but a few steps up a the couple’s wooden ramp leading to the Gorski’s front door. Her presence is important to her husband.

“It would have been impossible for me to reach any of the levels I did without the assistance she gave me.”

Rupard: 919-829-8954

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