Paige Dodd says most people are surprised to learn she was primarily a discus thrower when she first joined the Eastern Oregon women’s track and field team.
That fact likely comes with even more shock given the redshirt junior is currently the school record holder in the women’s pentathlon and is near the top of the record book in several additional events, including the 100 hurdles, the indoor high jump and, most recently, the heptathlon. She scored 4,503 points in the event at the Boxer Combined Event Monday and Tuesday in Forest Grove to take top honors, move into fourth on the all-time list at EOU and into the current lead at the NAIA level in 2019.
“(It’s) very exciting and definitely uplifting,” Dodd said of the way she’s excelled on the track this season, performing at the highest level of her career.
The marks she is putting up not only in the pentathlon and heptathlon, but also by reaching 5-feet-7 in the high jump during the indoor season and hitting 15.03 seconds in the 100 hurdles last weekend — both second all-time at the school — she largely credits to last year’s redshirt season, which allowed her to place an extra level of focus on developing in the sport’s varied events.
“A lot of technique and a lot of fitness,” Dodd said of what she keyed on during the redshirt year. “I did a lot of hurdles (and worked on) techniques for jumping. (Assistant Coach) Rebecca (Rhodes) had me do a lot of runs to get (more fit) in general.”
Consistency, though, was the area in which both Dodd and EOU Head Coach Ben Welch said she grew the most during the year off.
“She’s not up and down mentally and emotionally,” Welch said. “That’s what you get (when athletes are younger). That’s one area she’s matured in.”
Sitting out for an entire year and purely training can be tough, and Dodd said there were days it was. But, she said, “I was looking more in the long run. I knew taking a year to focus on the things I need to work on would be the best for me. It was a good time for me to mentally focus and get tougher for the (heptathlon).”
Welch said being mentally tough is a requirement for multi-event athletes because they have to maintain an even keel — not getting too low if they struggle in one event, but not riding the wave too high after a strong effort.
“They have to move from event to event without getting too rattled,” he said. “Some people would make great (multi-event athletes) but if they have a bad event they’re ruined (mentally).”
Welch said the athletes who tend to be a good fit physically for a multi-event are those who have what he calls “elastic power.”
“They have a smooth motion that lends themselves well (to events) that takes strength and speed,” he said.
Dodd fits that mold, and Welch said she has developed even more physical strength, especially during the redshirt year.
But her path to track — and ultimately to the heptathlon — got a late start. In fact, she didn’t step on the track at Columbia High School in Burbank, Washington, until her sophomore year. She said she got into track because she needed a change from her previous focus — bowling.
“I could have gone to college for bowling,” said Dodd, who added her best score in bowling is a 247. “I did league bowling (and) I had some coaches from universities come up and say, ‘When you’re old enough you could apply to our school.’”
She quickly found her stride in track and field, becoming a two-time district champion in the discus and placing as high as third in the 2B state championships as a senior.
The high jump didn’t come along until late in her junior year.
“My coach decided one meet to throw people in random events. He put me in high jump and I did really well,” she said. “I went to state that year.”
She peaked at 5-feet-4 her senior year — an eight-inch improvement over her top mark as a junior — and took 10th at state. She has since threatened the high jump record at EOU held by Harley McBride of 5-feet-7-1/4.
She’s also developed into one of the top hurdlers to don an EOU uniform, with her mark of 15.03 just .25 seconds behind the all-time record held by Ashanna Hodge.
Dodd is also in position to add an all-American nod — or even contend for a national championship — in the heptathlon. Her score earlier in the week at Forest Grove is the top score at the NAIA level by 50 points, meaning she’ll likely be in the mix at nationals.
But even with the national accolades that could lie ahead, her top goal in the final months of her junior year and into her senior year is to top the school record in the heptathlon. The standard, which is 4,934 points, has stood for 30 years and is held by the former Talia Hackney — now Talia Welch, wife of the EOU head track coach.
“It’s fun to have the school record holder around and having her push me and support me,” Dodd said. “Having Tali in my life has put that (breaking her record) as a big goal for me.”
Dodd said she got to share a moment with Tali after moving up to No. 2 all-time at the school in the 100 hurdles last weekend at the NNU Invite, as Tali’s old PR was one of the top marks she passed.
“She was super excited,” Dodd said. “She thinks I’m going to be going for that school record soon. It helped spark that fire. I have so much respect and I love Tali. She such a great woman.”
Even with the strides she has made, Dodd still sees many areas she could improve in, meaning the record she’s chasing — and the all-American or national title — could all be reached.
“I still have so much more potential in all these events,” she said.