July 3, 2012
By Elizabeth Griffith
AUBURN - Stephen Saenz will be taking on more than the average 21-year-old in the next few weeks as he prepares for the 2012 London Olympics. Representing Mexico, the track and field athlete shines in shot put, the event he is solely focusing on for the Olympics.
"I wanted to compete for and represent Mexico," Saenz said. "I have Mexican heritage so I'm super proud of what I'm doing. My whole family and friends are behind me."
The student-athlete's decision to compete at a worldwide level became surreal the first time he put on his jersey.
"Instantly I thought, I'm really doing this. I'm going to compete for Mexico," Saenz said. "I felt overwhelmed, I couldn't sleep that night."
With a humble spirit, Saenz faced the role of the "new guy" when first joining the Mexican national team, one he describes as both young and friendly. Despite his record-breaking history, he was prepared to make a name for himself in a new environment.
"They all wanted to see me throw," Saenz said of his new teammates. "I had to earn their respect and show them I'm here to work."
This will not be Saenz's first time to compete for Mexico. At the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, he competed for the country, finishing fourth in shot put with his best throw at 19.54 meters.
"You see all of these people you watch on TV and you're competing against them," Saenz said. "It's intimidating but you have to show up."
Beyond making a name for himself, Saenz looks up to the world-class throwers he often practices with, and hopes for a similar future.
"They're down to earth people," Saenz said. "You see that and admire it. I want to be in their shoes one day. I see that as motivation."
Training for the Games will increase in intensity over the next few weeks leading up to the Olympics, according to Saenz. Assistant Head Coach Jerry Clayton encourages the athlete to do a re-evaluation in order to make adjustments necessary for more extensive training.
Clayton is an assistant head coach with 13 total seasons at Auburn University. The match was perfect from the start for Saenz, who said that training under Clayton ultimately made the decision for him to come to Auburn.
"When I came here, Coach Clayton was the first thing that stood out to me," Saenz said. "He was the main factor in me coming here. To be coached by him is a privilege."
From taking classes to training for the games, the track and field athlete considers it all a balancing act.
"School is primary, but in the back of your mind is the Olympic games," Saenz said. "You know other athletes aren't doing school--they're just training. You have to focus on your studies too, which makes it a sort of balancing act."
As Saenz continues to prepare for the Summer Olympics, he keeps one quality in mind--to stay confident. As a one-man sport, Saenz considers this a quality necessary for success in his event.
"It's not a team sport," Saenz said. "You have to be confident in yourself. I spent eight months of training not to come in and be mediocre."