This article is part of a running series The Daily sports staff will be publishing on graduating athletes.
Hailing from the small town of Highland, Illinois, fifth-year senior Lena Giger recently concluded her collegiate career with a runner-up finish in the shot put at the indoor NCAA Track and Field Championships. Her throw of 58 feet, 8 and 1/2 inches earned her the indoor school record in shot put, moving her ahead of Jillian Camarena, a two-time Olympian and current school record holder in the outdoor equivalent. Giger made four consecutive appearances at the NCAA Championships and earned multiple All-America honors in her time on The Farm. The history major — also referred to as the “mom” of the team — still hangs around Stanford and can often be seen giving advice to the next wave of Cardinal throwers. The Daily’s Alejandro Salinas sat down with Giger to talk about her time both in and out of the shot put ring.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): Do you remember your first day of practice?
Lena Giger (LG): Actually, I do. Our first came the same day as our sports physicals. We were told to go to sports physicals at 8:30 a.m. I had no idea what we were doing. And as soon as we were done with that, we were supposed to go to practice. I was there with two other freshmen and we got lost because we were told to meet at the basketball courts and we were at the wrong place for like 20 minutes. Finally we got to practice and it was a basic warmup. We got to meet everybody, which was really sweet.
TSD: What will be some of the highlights you’ll walk away with from your time at Stanford?
LG: The best thing and the thing that I am most proud of being a part of is the [track and field] team. Track is obviously a very big sport. There are 80 or 90 of us on the team. So there is that whole big squad, but then we also have the squads that we are part of for our events, including some cute little throw squad. It’s been amazing. We still see the older teams that have graduated. We had regionals two weeks ago at Sacramento and Rebecca, a senior in my freshman year, came out and we saw her, which was cool. Being part of the whole family is my favorite part for sure. Traveling with everybody has also been great. Going to as many places as we have been — we’re really fortunate to travel as much as we do. To be up in Eugene with the huge track town, especially last year with the last meet ever in the old stadium, that was really cool to be a part of.
TSD: You have a number of records in Stanford’s all-time top 10 list. What does it mean to be up there among some of the greats?
LG: In indoors, I took Jill [Camarena’s] record, and then in outdoors, Jill still holds it. Jill was here in the 2000s. Her throwing career was going on, while I had just started. My dad was a huge track fan, but she’s the one that got me into it. At that time I was looking up to her, and she was leading the U.S. I had no idea [Stanford] was her alma mater. Looking at the record books, it was her records that I started to chase. It was really cool to see that and to now meet her, an incredible person. She still comes out, and she was here for Stanford Invite. Knowing that the names that I’m up there with are huge names, especially on the national stage after college, it’s really cool to be among those and hopefully chase that part, too.
TSD: With your collegiate career over, what’s the next phase of your life look like?
LG: I’m going to be at Stanford for another year. We got a new coach last year, coach Amin [Nikfar] — a wonderful coach. He’s agreed to train me for the next year. I’ll be sticking around the team, helping out wherever I can. I think ideally I would like to train after next year but it’s just a year-by-year basis now.
TSD: From day one to now, does it feel like a blur?
LG: Yes. It feels really long and really short at the same time. I have been through three different coaches while I have been here, which is a significant amount. Usually you only go through one change if you go through one. For me, things break up in eras. You go through eras really long and it’s a full time there. But then thinking back, it’s crazy that five years have already passed. I would not have guessed that.
TSD: How valuable were your coaches throughout your five years?
LG: They were huge. I didn’t really have a coach in high school. I had my dad who was great, but not super and he didn’t know a lot of stuff. So having someone who knew the technical stuff was huge. I think as you keep going through, everything becomes sort of a mental game, and having somebody that can help know that mental game and help you balance that mental game is where the support comes from. There are so many days where we feel like you’re brand new and have no idea what you’re doing, but they keep you grounded and help you develop that confidence that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. I’ve learned a great deal from all three coaches in all kinds of different aspects.
TSD: Could you see yourself as a potential coach?
LG: I don’t really know. I was a history major. I’d like to go into high school teaching. I think at that level I’d love to coach, but much beyond that, I’m not sure. I’m not sure I’m really down for the lifestyle of changing schools every few years.
TSD: Could you share a little bit about your hometown and life before Stanford?
LG: Highland is a pretty small farm town, kind of outside of St. Louis. But it’s its own little world. It’s pretty small, pretty simple town. My graduating class in high school was 200 people. All of them had been there since kindergarten. It’s a very different world from here. I learned a lot growing up there on how to be grounded, what you’re focusing on and stuff like that.
TSD: Did you face any challenges in coming from a small town to Stanford?
LG: A little bit. I think a lot of it was that everything was just so different with the change. Back home, everyone has to drive everywhere because nobody lives that close to each other in school. And at Stanford, everything is all compact, which is really nice. But sometimes you just want to get away. Sometimes I literally drive into the hills and am like “Ah, space!” It was a really good transition and I think the people here really help with that because you wanted to be around other people. It’s just a little bit more busy that I would have expected.
TSD: Outside of track and field, is there anything that you became invested in at Stanford?
LG: In my sophomore year, I found Google education classes that work with pre-K and kindergarteners in the area. And I loved it. I knew I liked history when I came in. I thought I wanted to do something in law or on the legal side, and then I took a couple education classes and realized that’s more of what I wanted to do. My dad’s a teacher so I’ve been around education for a while, but it’s really cool and rewarding to see kindergarteners and pre-K kids learn and interact. I think it helped balance all the stress that happens at Stanford.
TSD: How would you describe your role on the team?
LG: I’m called “mom” pretty often, which I do love. I think we have such an awesome group of people. Being the oldest, I think the “mom” part just comes with that. I like that people ask me a lot of different questions for advice. It’s nice to have a sounding board when you’re figuring things out.
TSD: What would be your advice to incoming athletes?
LG: For me, personally, I think one of the biggest things was finding your world outside of your team. For me, that really came from my friends in my freshman dorm. The family that you make with your team is awesome, but at the same time, you just need something outside of it, whether it’s from frustration or even if you’re doing really well, you just need something else to clear your head. Having either an outside thing or an outside person, I think, is really helpful. It’s being able to find that balance between putting everything you want into track or school, but then also being able to have a relaxing thing to do.
TSD: What was it like competing for the indoor NCAA title in March?
LG: NCAAs is pretty incredible.We lost our last coach in July, and myself and Mackenzie Little chatted every day over the summer because we didn’t know who our new coach was going to be and we didn’t know what the new setup was going to be. While a coach is a huge part of everything we do, we’re also in control of what we do. Trying to make the best out of that, I think getting to indoors and having it go as well as it did really was that nice cherry on top that all the work — both mental and physical — that we put into making this year what it was was worth it. We lucked out so much by getting coach Amin. So it wasn’t this huge thing that we overcame, it was just a little scarier with some unknowns at first.
Going from being excited to making it to regionals as a freshman to being at the top of it by the end is something that I didn’t imagine coming in as a freshman. It’s just a weird mental jump to say that “wow, you could be up there.” But to see how that ended up, it was very fitting. It was a nice reward — having everything fit together.
Contact Alejandro Salinas asalinas ‘at’ stanford.edu