Senior Brek Christensen will end his Sam Houston men's track and field career this month when he competes at the NCAA Preliminary Round in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The senior who already has earned his bachelor's degree will complete his Bearkat career as one of the most decorated throwers in program history.
His achievement in the sport, though, likely would not have happened without the letdown in another.
“I didn’t make the basketball team in seventh grade,” Christensen said. “My dad’s a football coach and he knew I would never be a runner so I picked up a discus and started throwing that around in the front yard.”
Christensen would pick basketball back up in high school but it was not before developing a tremendous passion for the sport of track.
“I just really fell in love with the self-improvement aspect of track and field,” Christensen said. “The fact that it’s an individual sport drew to me. I always felt I could get out of it what I put in it. I could push myself harder and that really motivated me to continue doing it.”
While at Houston’s Cy-Fair High School, Christensen developed a skillset for the discus and shot put. He posted bests of 165 feet and 53 feet respectively. While the marks were not notable in many eyes, his will to learn was.
“It’s been an uphill climb but in a good way,” head coach David Self said. “He was just a project athlete coming in. He didn’t really have any solid marks but you want to talk about someone who is truly a student of the sport, that’s Brek.”
Christensen, who completed his undergraduate degree last May in Kinesiology, recalls taking his first visit to Sam Houston and immediately fitting in on the Huntsville campus.
“At the time, Chris Crowley who was here was probably the most successful athlete in Sam Houston track history,” Christensen said. “The coach at the time, Andy Fryman had just finished a really good career at Kentucky. I knew I wanted to get into coaching and the fact that he went to Kentucky and was good at each of the throwing disciplines he was someone I could really learn from.”
Crowley, who finished second at the Olympic trials, would become a close friend and roommate helping Christensen develop his own Bearkat legacy. Before any of that could happen, though, he was immediately impacted with a big change of the guard.
“My first day on campus was the day I found out he wasn’t here anymore. So the coach that recruited me wasn’t here when I showed up,” Christensen said. “It was kind of an awkward start and I’ve had three different coaches. I started off with Johnny Tipton whose here now.”
As a graduate assistant, Tipton, who serves as the Kats throwing coach currently, helped Christensen with the transition before also leaving – temporarily – for a two-year stint at the University of California, Davis.
“He’s always been a great kid,” Tipton said. “He didn’t have his own ideas at the time (I arrived). Now, he has his own ideas and they’re very mature ideas. We have a similar philosophy in training and we’re able to bounce ideas off each other. We’ve really made a relationship out of our coach-athlete dynamic.”
One primary reason for the evolution of Christensen’s career was the introduction to the hammer throw – a throwing discipline that does not take tremendous size to master.
“In America, most people learn the hammer when they’re 18,” Christensen said. “Right away, that was a level playing field for every freshman. I was drawn to that event for that reason. I didn’t feel like I had to play catch up and I felt if I could learn the technique in that event, I might have an edge up.”
In 2010, Christensen made his hammer debut at the LSU Relays throwing a distance of 161 feet, 4 inches. It would be the only time he surpassed the 160 ft. mark that season but it would not be his last. One year later, the Houston area native surpassed 180 feet and presently holds a personal best of 198 feet, 6 inches.
“I’m such a student of the sport that I’m extremely passionate about it,” Christensen said. “I read everything I can get my hands on and watch videos all the time. I take a high volume of throws as well. You engrain your technique with repetition and that’s sometimes why on an international level the Europeans are so much ahead of us because they learn the hammer when they’re 12.”
While his marks have drawn rave reviews from his coaches and peers, Christensen’s most fond memories at Sam Houston cannot be measured in distance.
“You see your teammates every day of practice and we just throw,” Christensen said. “It’s a very easy concept to understand but it’s the little fun things like going to practice and traveling to meets, jamming music, getting way too excited before meets and yelling at throws; that’s the stuff I’m going to miss the most.”
Fortunately, Christensen will not be far from the sport. His distances in the circle and 3.66 overall GPA in the classroom have helped land the current graduate student a volunteer position coaching throwers at Rice University.
“The same reason he was successful as an athlete is why he’s going to be successful as a coach,” Tipton said. “He’s willing to outwork anybody. He’s a very successful, bright kid. He doesn’t overcomplicate the process and stays process oriented. He knows how to work with people. He’s got a great network and support system behind him.”
Before he leaves, though, Christensen will seek to end his Bearkat career on a solid note at the NCAA Championships with preliminary round action taking place in Fayetteville, Ark. Like his former mentor Crowley, Christensen looks at the opportunity as trials of his own.
“I’m very fortunate that I had one meet left,” Christensen said. “This could very easily be the last time I wear the orange in a meet so I’m going to treat Fayetteville like it’s my Olympics. That’s the day that I’m guaranteed three throws in the meet and I’m going to leave everything I have in the throwing circle.”