Spokane Journal of Business

Throwing without your arm

BAS Throwing Systems LLC

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In the mid-1980s movie The Karate Kid, a wise, old martial-arts instructors first several lessons for his young prodigy involved having the youth perform tedious household tasks, rather than the kicking and punching exercises commonly associated with the fighting method.

Cheneys Chris Vogel isnt about to make javelin throwers wax cars or paint fences, but with an equally unorthodox mindset, the 37-year-old former decathlete has invented a device to teachwithout using the armthe proper technique for throwing the javelin.

This starts from the bottom up instead of the top down, says Vogel, who calls the device a BAS (pronounced base) because its used to train an athletes legs and torso. It reverses the training process, he says.

Vogel has formed a company named BAS Throwing Systems LLC to develop the inventionand perhaps othersand has a patent pending on the BAS. He says the apparatus quickly has won over experienced javelin throwers, as well as executives at Gill Athletics Inc., a large Urbana, Ill.-based track-and-field equipment manufacturer and retailer. Gill has agreed to buy the exclusive rights to the training apparatus, Vogel says.

Dan West, who manages a Gill Athletics plant in Eugene, Ore., says the company is finalizing an agreement with BAS Throwing Systems to obtain rights to the device and expects to have the BAS in its fall 2001 catalog. Most likely, he says, Gill will make and sell the device, and BAS Throwing Systems will receive a royalty from those sales.

There is some real promise for (the BAS) product, not only in the U.S., but around the world, says West, adding that the sport is much more prominent in other countries. There are some large implications if our foreign vendors pick this up.

West, who coaches youth track and field, says its difficult for young athletes to stay focused on fundamentals. Such a device will help throwers remain grounded in the basics, he says.

Gill Athletics sells products to schools and individuals at several levels of competitionyouth, high school, college, and Olympicand West expects that the BAS would be attractive to athletes and coaches at any level.

Vogel says the device likely will be listed at a retail price in the range of $80 to $100.

The BAS straps diagonally across the upper torso and over the throwing shoulder. A small plastic plate rests on the top of the shoulder and holds snugly in place a two-pound ball thats about the same size as a racquetball. A loop of cloth that hangs down near the sternum holds the throwing arm by the wrist so it lays across the chest loosely. While using the device, the athlete makes no intentional motion with the throwing arm.

The devices are adjustable, and one size generally fits all. The company has developed two models with different-sized plates, with the smaller plate designed to fit more comfortably on the shoulders of children and small women.

A model that includes an electronic PSI (pounds per square inch) reading is in the works; the reading would indicate the amount of force the throwers shoulder generates, Vogel says.

How it works

Vogel says that when an athlete is using the BAS, the legs, torso, and shoulder go through the usual approach, launch, and follow-through, except, of course, for the hurling motion of the arm. If the athlete uses proper technique, the ball flies straight out of the plate.

The more efficient you become, the farther it will go, Vogel says.

If the throwers mechanics are off somewhat, the ball wont travel very far, or will slice or hook to the side. If the thrower lacks the basic fundamentals, the ball wont dislodge at all, he says.

Vogel, who threw the javelin when competing in the decathlon for the Community Colleges of Spokane, says he could throw a javelin about 185 feet then and still throws it about 160 feet. (An Olympic-sized javelin is 8.5 feet long and weighs about two pounds.) When he uses the BAS with good technique, he says, the ball travels 40-plus feet.

While a reporter watched, Ryan Weidman, head throws coach at Spokane Falls Community College, recently tried the BAS device for the first time. Weidman placed first in the javelin competition at the NCAA Division II track-and-field championship last year while competing for Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

On Weidmans first launch with the BAS, the ball sailed straight for roughly 50 feet, and Weidman said to himself, Oh yeah.

After about 10 tries with the device, he said, Getting my hands on this with my kids would be great. You can go full speed and, boom, no pain in your arm. Because throwing the javelin stresses the shoulder, elbow, and arm, athletes must balance the need to practice with the need to rest and care for their arm.

Vogel, who teaches special education in Mead, currently doesnt coach track, though he does instruct at clinics. He has coached in the past, however, and says he would advise beginners to practice with the BAS for two or three weeks before throwing a javelin.

Experienced athletes, like Weidman, can practice their technique with the device to supplement practice throws. Weidman says a device such as the BAS could extend his career, because he could train with it most days and throw the javelin only once or twice a week, thereby saving his arm.

While the BAS is designed for the javelin, it can be used by baseball players, especially pitchers and outfielders, to improve throwing techniques, Vogel says. Even though throwing a baseball is different from throwing a javelin, ballplayers need the same acceleration through the shoulders that javelin throwers need to make a successful throw, Vogel says.

Beginning inventor

Vogel also is working on three other inventions. All of them are sports-related training devicestwo for track events and one for golfbut he declines for now to disclose further details.

Vogel first came up with the idea for the BAS seven years ago while he was coaching track and field at North Central High School. As in many sports, basic footwork and body control are essential to throw the javelin well, Vogel says. Coaches always have known that, but havent had a device they could use to reinforce those basics and strengthen the body, he says. Consequently, most had beginning athletes throw a javelin, then worked on footwork and other fundamentals after the athletes had gotten the throwing down pat.

When the idea for the BAS struck him, Vogel dug a bunch of old seatbelts out of cars in a junkyard near Cheney and made a harness-like contraption that fit around his body. He attached a cup holding a little ball to the shoulder.

The ball and its holder are the most crucial parts of the contraption, and also were the most challenging to develop. In some experiments, the ball wouldnt come out of the cup even if the technique was flawless. In other instances, the ball came out too easily and flew aimlessly.

After shelving the project for a couple of years, Vogel took his invention to Chinook Technologies Inc., a Spokane engineering and product-design company, which helped Vogel come up with the plastic holding plate and metallic, rubber-coated ball.

Vogel says he and Chinooks engineers decided upon the two-pound ball, though theyve tested lighter versions. On the day Weidman tried the BAS, he threw with the lighter balls as well as the two-pound ball, but on full-speed approaches, a lighter ball sometimes would fall out of the holder.

While Vogel hasnt thrown the javelin competitively in several years, he has remained competitive. After his years as a decathlete at the community colleges, Vogel played wide receiver on Eastern Washington Universitys football team for one year and also earned his teaching degree at the school.

Since then, he has taken up bicycle racing. In various cycling events, Vogel has competed in three U.S. Olympic trials and eight national championships. In last years national championship race in Colorado Springs, Colo., he and a partner from Seattle took the bronze medal in the tandem sprint, which is a short race by teams on two-person cycles.

I will say vehemently that cycling is a distant third as far as my favorite sport, though, Vogel says.

Football is second, but track and field breaks the tape first.

Linn  Parish
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Editor Linn Parish has worked for newspapers and magazines since 1996, with the bulk of that time being at the Journal. A Montana boy who has called Spokane home for some time now, Linn likes Northwest trails, Deep South foods, and lead changes in the ninth inning.

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