College is tough enough for just about all first-year students. Living away from home for the first time while adjusting to the rigorous academic load can be a grind.

Now imagine you’re also an athlete. An athlete who is learning new disciplines in your sport, and the things you thought you knew are being completely rebuilt. At the same time, you’re taking an engineering course load, the kind of classes that requires more than late night cram sessions.

Welcome to Rachael Bergeron’s first year at the University of Maine at Orono. A bioengineering major, Bergeron’s first semester grade point average was 3.648.

A Waterville Senior High School graduate, Bergeron recently completed her freshman season on Maine’s track and field team. A thrower, Bergeron placed eighth in the hammer throw at the America East Conference championships last weekend in Albany, N.Y.

Her throw of 144 feet, 2 inches already has Bergeron in the Black Bears’ top 10 all time in the event. That’s not bad, considering this is the first year Bergeron has competed in the event, which is not offered in Maine high school track and field.

“That’s probably been the best part of this year, learning the hammer throw,” Bergeron said.

Bergeron’s enthusiasm for the hammer throw in part rubs off from her throwing coach, Gerhard Skall. When Bergeron visited Maine as a recruit, she watched the Black Bears practice the hammer throw. Skall immediately saw she was intrigued.

“She was looking over practice, and I saw a spark in her eye,” Skall said. “I knew this was an event she’ll excel in.”

During the indoor season, Bergeron learned the weight throw, which is a little heavier than the hammer. Working with Skall in one-on-one practices has helped. Athletes come and go from practice and weight lifting sessions as their class time allows. That means Bergeron and Skall often have more time to go over the finer points of throwing.

“He’s patient and encouraging,” Bergeron said of Skall.

Skall says the same thing about Bergeron. Considering Bergeron’s progress was stunted when she missed three weeks of the indoor season with a concussion, her development in the hammer throw is impressive.

“I’ve never seen success like that before. She’s already in the top 10 in school history,” Skall said. “She has good speed, good strength and good balance. I think in two years she could have the school record.”

When she arrived at Maine, Bergeron’s best event was the shot put. As a senior at Waterville, she won the Class B state title in the event in both the indoor and outdoor seasons. With the Black Bears, Bergeron’s isn’t exactly starting from scratch with the shot put, but Skall rebuilt her technique. She’s working on her start, and is staying lower through the middle of her throwing motion. At the America East championship, Bergeron threw the shot 35-5 1/4, a slightly shorter throw than the 39-4 3/4 that won the state title last spring. She has thrown 40-0, though, and that has both Bergeron and Skall encouraged.

“My distances don’t reflect how my technique is changing,” Bergeron said. “It will definitely help in the long run.”

“Right now, she might not see the progress. She’s had a couple good practices. That bodes well for the future,” Skall said.

This first year of college gave Bergeron a sense of what the next three years will be like. She’ll continue to balance an intense course load with track and field, often studying on the long bus rides the Black Bears take to meets. When she thinks about her impending future, Bergeron is rightly optimistic.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “I’m excited to see where it takes me.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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