Samuel Arter's time at Liberty has taken some unexpected turns and is not finished yet.
The men's javelin competition was scheduled for today, May 28, at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet in Lexington, Ky. It was a date Liberty redshirt senior javelin thrower Samuel Arter had circled on his calendar. Today, Arter hoped a long, arduous comeback from elbow surgery would culminate with successful qualification from his third Preliminary Round appearance to his first visit to the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
However, Arter's already unique college career took yet another unexpected turn in March, just prior to his planned season opener at the CSU Spring Break Invitational. He and his teammates shockingly found out that the entire outdoor track & field season would be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We were all ready to go, geared up for spring break," Arter recalled. "The day before spring break started, the trip was cancelled. A day later, NCAA was cancelled."
"When you have anticipations for a season, it's hard to let that go," continued the Hamilton, Va., native. "Ultimately, though, God has a plan moving forward. If I don't trust God moving forward in my life, based off the past events of my life, I'm pretty stupid."
Baseball was Arter's primary sport growing up. He was a senior right-handed pitcher for the Loudoun Valley High School baseball team which captured the 2014 VHSL 3A state championship, the Vikings' first state title since 1972.
The state championship game was played at Liberty Baseball Stadium, and Arter hoped his next game at the facility would be as a member of the Liberty Flames. Although high school teammates Jack DeGroat and Trey McDyre went on to enjoy successful collegiate careers for the Flames, it was not in the cards for Arter, who failed to make the team.
"When I didn't make the baseball team, I didn't think I was going to be a Division I athlete at all," remembered Arter. "I was ready to be a regular student."
Arter became friends with a number of track & field athletes and decided to give the sport a shot in the fall of 2016. Since he had experience pitching a baseball and a long 6-4 frame, the javelin seemed like Arter's most natural event.
"When I started on the team, I had never thrown the javelin before," Arter stated. "I had no idea how to set my goals. I didn't know if I was going to be good at all, and I felt like I was probably going to get cut. I just wanted to be the best teammate I could and help my teammates moving forward."
Arter quickly took to the javelin and made an immediate impact in the event. He heaved the spear 201-5 at his very first collegiate competition, the 2017 CSU Spring Break Invitational, placing second in the event and No. 10 in Liberty program history.
Arter later returned to the same venue to finish as the 2017 Big South men's javelin runner-up with a personal-best 220-1 heave. Two weeks later, he came in 19th at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet in Lexington, Ky., finishing less than seven feet away from qualifying to the national meet and third overall among freshmen.
Arter was enjoying a successful redshirt sophomore campaign before injuring his elbow in practice during May 2018. He finished out the season, gritting out a 23rd-place finish at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet in Tampa, Fla.
But the injury ultimately required surgery on July 17, 2018 and a 15-month rehab process which followed, wiping out Arter's entire 2019 season. Thanks to his faith in God, an incredible support team and his own dedication, Arter made the most of his lengthy recovery process.
"When you get faced with an injury, especially a major one, you really have two choices," Arter explained. You can either sit back and wallow in your pain, or you can look at it and find things to control. You have to have a faith that you will make it back, because it's a long road. My recovery took a year and three months, which is crazy to me. A lot of people helped me out through that."
Arter is quick to rattle off names of people who helped him through the recovery process, including team athletic trainer Kevin Kelenic, throws coach Clendon Henderson, athletics counselor Neil Binette and many teammates. Liberty javelin school record holder Steve Feister, who underwent major elbow surgery of his own, reached out to Arter with tips and encouragement as well.
"Looking back, I wouldn't change anything about the recovery process," observed Arter. "It was not fun all the time. It was a long journey, but I feel like I'm better because of it."
One thing Arter was able to focus on during his rehab process was education. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in exercise science in May 2019, maintaining a 3.77 GPA through his undergraduate studies.
Arter, who has batted around the idea of coaching in the future, also gained an opportunity to grow in his leadership skills. He was named a team captain for both the 2019 and 2020 track & field seasons, despite never getting to wear a Liberty uniform in competition either year.
"It's a role God placed me in for a reason," Arter noted. "I hope that I have impacted the lives of my teammates. It's not a glamorous role. It's more of a servant role, setting an example of working hard. It's really an honor.
"I feel like my role is to go out and do my best and be the best athlete I can and show people what that looks like," continued Arter. "I want to help show what worshipping God with athletics looks like, living a life that aligns with the team code of conduct and biblical principles. I really hope that I have given my younger teammates a good example to follow."
Arter's teammates have noticed and respected his efforts in returning from the training room to the javelin runway. Recently, they voted Arter as the men's track & field Perseverance Award winner during the 2020 FLAMESPYs.
Arter now hopes that the third time is the charm when it comes to his senior track & field season. After losing the 2019 season to injury and the 2020 campaign to the COVID-19 pandemic, Arter plans to take advantage of the NCAA ruling providing him an additional season of eligibility in 2021.
"I am really excited about having the opportunity to compete another year," Arter responded. "There are a couple of us coming back on the guys' side. I'm excited to go out and compete again and still be a part of the team. I really love training and think I haven't really scratched the surface with the javelin yet."
One of the final tasks Liberty Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Brant Tolsma completed before retiring at the end of his 34th year with the Flames was assisting Arter and the other seniors who desired to return in 2021 with the accompanying logistics.
"Coach Tolsma was really awesome about it," Arter observed. "He put in work to get me the opportunity to come back. I'm really thankful for Coach Tolsma."
As Lance Bingham takes over for Tolsma, Arter plans to volunteer in the track & field office, between training and finishing up his master's degree (human performance with a focus on strength and conditioning).
"It's a good opportunity for me to gain experience in the field of athletics," Arter explained. "I'm going to get administrative experience, which I've never had before. I just want to keep pushing the program in the right direction. However I can help with that, I'm excited to do so."
"I have been lucky enough to have God use me in the ways He wanted to use me," concluded Arter. "Any time you get used by God, something happens that is almost unexplainable."
After first arriving at Liberty as a baseball hopeful, the thought of Arter eventually sticking around for six years to throw the javelin certainly qualifies as "almost unexplainable." Only God knows what chapters are next in store for Samuel Arter and Liberty track & field.
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