As a junior health fitness major, Janey Helland has already accomplished more in three years at Gustavus than many accomplish in four years. Helland has spent her entire collegiate career managing her time between track and field, volleyball and class work while achieving great success in all three phases. Helland embodies the ideal student-athlete and the Division III experience.
On May 10, Helland was named the MIAC Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Athlete of the Week. That week provided a culmination of the success she has had all season as a multi-event competitor. Helland started the weekend by winning the MIAC Heptathlon with a total of 4,508 points, provisionally qualifying her for the NCAA Championships. Helland capped off the weekend by winning the long jump (5.36 meters) at the Meet of the UnSaintly in Saint Paul.
To add to her Athlete of the Week honors, Helland was also named the MIAC’s Most Outstanding Women’s Field Athlete following her strong performance at the MIAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Helland placed second in the long jump with a leap of 17′ 10.25 on Friday, May 14, and then scored three more top ten finishes on Saturday, May 15, by winning the 400-meter hurdles (63.90), placing fourth in the high jump (5’ 2.5”) and taking eighth in the javelin (111’ 7”).
In light of her success this year in the Heptathlon – an event that she started towards the end of her sophomore season – Helland has set the bar high for how she wants to finish off her junior campaign.
“Nationals is definitely a huge goal,” Helland said. The Mapleton, Minn. native, who will participate in a last chance meet this week, is glad that she has provisionally qualified for the NCAA Championships in the heptathlon but also has hopes of qualifying in two other events.
“I’ll be going [to Nationals] in the heptathlon but I’m not sure about long jump or the 400 meter hurdles, yet,” Helland said. “So that’s obviously a big goal.”
Helland’s success as a multi-event competitor this season has not come on by surprise, but rather it has gradually increased ever since she was recruited to compete for Gustavus in track and field during her senior year of high school.
First-year Head Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Coach Dale Bahr expressed the notion of uncertainty in how an athlete will perform at the collegiate level coming out of high school. He knew that Helland was a special athlete but could have never of guessed the rate of success she has already accomplished.
“There are a lot of student-athletes that are good at the high school level, but when they come to college they are unable to put it all together, they struggle,” Bahr stated. “Janey’s not one of them, she’s taken on that challenge.”
When viewing the success of different stand-out athletes on all levels of a given sport, it is a common theme that a particular athlete’s success is directly related to an early introduction to the sport. Helland does not follow this theme in regard to track and field since she played softball during the spring throughout her childhood, not track. When asked how she got involved in track, Helland credited a family member for the introduction to the sport.
“Actually it was my brother, in eighth grade,” Helland said. “He was a junior in high school and was like, ‘Janey, you should try track, you would love it, you would be so good at it,’ and I was like ‘Okay, whatever, I’ll try it.’ So I did summer softball and track that year and after I did track I just loved it and quit softball. So I thank my brother for it.”
The success that Helland has garnered in track and field during her first three years at Gustavus is certainly a testament to the hard work and effort she has put in, but that hard work and effort has also translated over to the volleyball court during the fall season.
Helland worked hard during her first two years on the volleyball team on and off the court. She was put into a lot of different positions during that time and contributed in any way that was asked of her. Head Volleyball Coach Kari Eckheart felt that her hard work during her first two seasons were invaluable to her contributions this past season.
“That hard work paid off, and this year Janey earned a starting spot as an outside hitter,” Eckheart said. “Janey continually asks for feedback on ways she can improve, and then works hard to make those improvements.”
As an outside hitter, Helland increased her contribution to the team greatly this past season as she played in 26 of the 28 total matches in 2009. In 88 sets played during her ’09 campaign, Helland ranked fourth on the team in total kills with 206, averaging 2.34 kills per set. She also compiled 639 total attacks with an attack percentage of .175.
“Just the sport, I just love it, the team,” Helland mentioned were her favorite aspects of volleyball. “And its nice to have a ball! In track you run and jump, but in volleyball you have the whole team aspect. I’ve just have always loved the sport.”
Just as coach Bahr mentioned Helland’s potential coming out of high school, Eckheart echoed the same sentiments.
“When Janey decided to attend Gustavus, Tork [Tom Thorkelson, the head track coach at the time] and I were excited because we both knew that she was very athletic and had the potential to excel in volleyball and track in college,” Eckheart said.
As Helland continues to improve her skills on the track as well as the court, she has also shown success with her school work as a health fitness major. The love for sports and being active in general directed Helland to the health fitness field.
“I just love the health field,” Helland stated when asked why she chose to be a health fitness major. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I still don’t know exactly which direction I am headed, I just know that I love health and the whole aspect of human wellness.”
In addition to her success in track and field and volleyball, Helland has also been a standout in the classroom. Dr. Bruce VanDuser, who is the chair of the health and exercise science program, praised her early achievements in the health fitness program. He stated, “Janey started presenting her research as a junior, which is a major accomplishment since most health fitness majors don’t present their research until their senior year. Van Duser added, “She presented her work at last year’s Collaboration Creative Inquiry (CCI) on campus and this year she started presenting at the national level as she attended the American College of Sports Medicine meeting in St. Cloud in March and then went to the National Conference of Undergraduate Research in Missoula, Montana. These are organizational, professional meetings where she shared her research and she did a very good job.”
Finding a balance between playing two sports and completing course work for a major as demanding as health fitness is not an easy task. Time management is vital to stay on top of the demands placed on a student-athlete. “It is obviously difficult at times, but it makes me focus on the big picture,” Helland said of her time management. ” I’ve definitely gotten a lot better at managing my time, especially this year because my course work has been significantly more intense this semester.”
Helland will definitely be put to the test this week as she is taking final exams at the same time she is preparing to compete in the heptathlon at the NCAA Championships in Berea, Ohio, which begin on Thursday and run through Saturday. However, using her past success as a barometer, Helland is certainly up to the task. She enters the national meet ranked sixth in the heptathlon with a score of 4,508, which she posted when she finished first at the MIAC Championships. Helland was named the Most Outstanding Field Athlete following the MIAC Championships and just today she was named the Central Region Field Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).
You can follow Helland’s participation at the NCAA Championships this weekend through the championships website. The heptathlon begins on Thursday and concludes on Friday.