For most people, competing as a Division I collegiate athlete is nothing more than a dream. For Brad Szypka, his dream has become reality.
The 2011 Genoa graduate, who was the Division II state champion in the shot put during his senior season, has been progressing as a member of the Kentucky Wildcats track and field squad for the past two seasons. Szypka finished in fourth place finish (61 feet, 9½ inches) in the shot put at the Southeastern Conference Indoor Championships in February. He is arguably the team's best shot put thrower and holds the mark (61-7) for the top throw on the team this outdoor season.
Szypka is competing for his third coach since joining the program and is only a sophomore. He is now under the direction of head coach Edrick Floreal and throwing coach Andrew Ninow.
|Brad Szypka, a 2011 graduate of Genoa High School, is
finding Division I competition as a member of the
Kentuckey Wildcats track & field squad challenging and
Kentucky has four invitationals in April before they travel to Columbia, Missouri for the SEC Championships on May 9-12. The first round of the NCAA Championships comes on May 23-25 in Greensboro, North Carolina and, if Szypka advances, he'll compete in Eugene, Oregon for an NCAA title on June 5-8.
It doesn't hurt that Szypka comes from an athletic family. His father, Andy, was Genoa football's all-time leading rusher when he graduated in 1980 and is a member of the Genoa Hall of Fame.
His older sister, Shana, graduated from GHS in 2007 as class valedictorian and was a junior on the softball team that advanced to the D-III state semifinals in 2006. Her stellar softball career with the Comets culminated with earning all-state honors as a senior when she went 20-2 with an 0.33 ERA and she struck out 280 batters in 148 innings on the mound while hitting .377 at the plate. Shana also played softball at the University of Toledo before graduating with a degree in Speech Pathology.
Brad, who played basketball for two years and football for three while at Genoa, was coached in the shot put and discus by University of Findlay throwing coach Justin Carvalho.
“I started training with him (my) sophomore year and it was twice a month on weekends,” Szypka said. “It was something for me to do. Then, in my junior year, I said, 'Let's meet more often,' and then the colleges started getting in touch with me. I gave him all my time (my) senior year.”
Szypka also credits his Genoa track coach, Todd Witt, for helping to instill confidence.
“Witt helped me out — he pushed me a lot. He and my family are really close. He always told me that I'd be good at something since I was a kid; he was my backbone,” Brad said.
Szypka is majoring in history and minoring in economics with the hope of one day becoming a teacher. He expects to continue on to earn his master's degree, which means he is still in the early stages of his education. Balancing academics with his demanding practice regimen has proven to by trying for Szypka.
“The whole student-athlete life is definitely difficult,” he said. “I have friends that are athletes at different schools and to be totally honest, Division I compared to II is a completely different level. I have friends at Division II and it's different. I wake up at 7:45, I get done with class at 11 a.m., eat, and then head to practice. They say you're a student-athlete, but sometimes I feel like I'm an athletic student,” he says.
After lunch, Szypka practices for about six hours, practicing the throwing events, lifting weights, and looking over film of his practice sessions to identify any flaws in his technique. Around 7 p.m., he eats dinner before heading over to the Center for Academic Tutoring where he will meet and study with tutors for several hours before calling it a day.
“It's a full-blown job,” Szypka says, “but you get used to it. We're the only sport that goes year-round. A lot of other athletes don't understand the dedication we put into it. We start practicing in late August and January to March is the indoor season while March to mid-June is the outdoor season. In July, we have the elite pro meets. It's a lot of work, (but) it's worth it. You don't come into the sport for Division I if you don't have a passion for it.”
Being part of the Kentucky family is also something Szypka cherishes.
“They have so much pride at Kentucky. People are always (wearing) blue. If you walk through the streets and have red on, you get booed. You feel welcome. It's a family here. We're a school of 18,000, which is pretty small for an SEC school. I know so many people here, I feel like I can walk anywhere and see someone I know.”
One of his most enjoyable moments came last April when the Wildcat basketball team won the national title with a 67-59 victory over Kansas.
“It was definitely insane,” Syzpka said. “Everyone is out in the streets. We had a projector (on the side of the house) watching the game. Everyone is watching the game down the street. Everyone just blew up (when Kentucky won). You hear everyone chanting. There would be groups of 200 people chanting.
“There were probably 8,000 to 10,000 people on the street. I can't ever put into words the feeling. It was like we had just won a war or something. It was the craziest thing. I went to my dorm and I could hear the chanting until 7 in the morning. I thought, 'This is what it feels like to be part of a tradition. It never dies.'”