BOULDER – Imagine picking up a 35-pound dumbbell. For the average athletic American, that doesn’t sound too difficult, right? Now imagine holding those 35 pounds, spinning around repeatedly and while still keeping control of your arms and the dumbbell, releasing it at the perfect time with just the right amount of strength to let it fly.
This is called the weight throw.
On December 7, 2013, when University of Colorado junior Alex Kizirian stepped into the throwing circle in Laramie, Wyo., to perform this ritual that he had performed thousands of times before, he didn’t know he’d be making history. But on his second throw of the event, Kizirian threw that weight 67 feet, 2 inches, breaking the previous CU record of 63-9.5 and solidifying his name in the CU history books.
Next time you’re at the gym, try that with a 35-pound weight.
After achieving the record, Kizirian called it a “very satisfying and a very proud moment.” But if anyone knows Kizirian, they understand his intense determination and why, although he may have gotten a record, that is simply not enough. A month later, he erased his own record again at the Air Force Academy with a throw of 68-4.5.
Kizirian has not lived a typical life, in any sense of the word. Born in Bulgaria, he moved to the United States with his mother, Emilia, when he was 6 years old. CU throws coach Casey Malone thinks this international perspective gifted Kizirian with a “wisdom beyond his years,” which likely is true. When he first moved to America, Kizirian didn’t know any English, but kids are adaptable and he fell right in with an American lifestyle that included snowboarding and pick-up, rec center basketball games with his friends.
ATHLETICS ARE IN KIZIRIAN’S BLOOD. He says his father, Vasil, who still lives in Bulgaria and is a gym teacher there, was a swimmer for the USSR national team. Not your average, everyday dad, so for Kizirian, becoming involved in athletics was a no-brainer. He lettered in track and field in high school, throwing the shot put and discus, and played football his senior year as a light nose guard. But he soon realized football wasn’t for him, which influenced his decision to walk on the track team upon arriving at CU in 2010. He had found his element. Kizirian says he was “naturally good at it [throwing]” and that “when you’re good at something and you start to like it, you want to work hard to get better at it.” If there’s anything that should be understood about Kizirian, it’s that his strong work ethic encouraged him to “get better at it.”
Malone attributes much of Kizirian’s personality and work ethic to his upbringing. “It’s normal for him to work very hard so he brings this enormous work ethic with sort of an ease, a normalcy, and I think that’s the number one thing he does,” Malone said. Teammate Brady Rutt, a sophomore, agrees. He said of Kizirian, “No matter what he does, he’s always dedicated and tries his hardest at it. I think that’s the biggest thing.”
The general consensus is that Kizirian is one of the hardest working athletes in Boulder. But where does that come from? How does a kid walk onto his track team freshman year with no prior weight throwing experience and end up with the school record before even completing his junior year? Ask Kizirian. “I think it was just how I was raised by my mom and the adversity that she had to overcome when she came over here,” he said. “She really stressed on how when you set goals to have a game plan and to follow through and to take the initiative with everything you do. Go 100 percent on everything you do. You can apply that to anything.”
It seems that for Kizirian, mother really did know best.
Not only does Kizirian strive for greatness in his track and field career, he applies that hard-working spirit to school as well. As a chemical engineering major, Kizirian lists scheduling as one of the hardest elements in his college career. Not only does he take on his major’s demanding workload, he also has track practice over 20 hours a week.
And that’s after a commute to school every day from Thornton, where he lives with his maternal grandmother. Again, it’s not your typical college life, but it’s one the 21-year-old Kizirian probably wouldn’t trade for any other in the world.
And about his dear grandmother . . . . According to Kizirian, she needs to be given “a lot of the credit” for his throwing career because she has contributed that one thing that is every kid’s favorite part of going to grandma’s house – her cooking. He admits, “She cooks for me, she prepares my meals, and that's an enormous part for me because if I didn't have her help, I wouldn't be at the weight I'm at,” which for the 6-3, 265-pound Kizirian is a critical aspect to his throwing.
Given this relationship between Kizirian and his grandmother, it is safe to say that his background of family and determination is what has pushed Kizirian to become a phenomenal athlete. A picture of strength, he competes like no other in his track and field specialty, but at the same time he comes off as a genuinely humble guy. Malone agrees and adds, “I like to say he’s at home taking care of his grandma but I think she takes care of him as much as he takes care of her. That relationship is very unique and his family situation is very unique. It gives him this very wise, genuine, honest approach to his teammates and how he reacts to everybody around him.”
This isn’t the mental picture most people have when they imagine weight throwers with world class potential. Kizirian, who just became Malone’s first athlete ever to go to USA Indoor Championships, is described by his coach and teammates as jovial, dedicated, and most frequently, humble. He has a gentle nature about him despite his powerful frame. To Malone, this humility makes Kizirian’s success even sweeter. He calls Kizirian “a dream come true to coach, to be honest with you. He’s enormously talented but he doesn’t have an arrogance to go along with that talent.”
IN THIS DAY AND AGE, it is almost expected that athletes of Kizirian’s caliber will be arrogant or a little too proud of their accomplishments. Not Kizirian. Of course he is proud and was overjoyed at the achievement of his record, but he only uses it for more motivation. His records push him ever farther, just like his mother taught him. That is why he’s successful and why, despite the obstacles he’s overcome, Kizirian continues to succeed. Whether it was in learning English at 6 or trying to schedule his hectic college life successfully, Kizirian has never given up and only used those challenges to grow and push himself even harder.
In May 2015, Kizirian will say goodbye to CU after five years (he redshirted the 2013 season). Whether he goes on to focus on engineering or continues to train with Malone while juggling a new lifestyle, it is a given that Kizirian will leave a solid legacy at CU, within the school itself and the track team. “To say, ‘I’m the best weight thrower who has ever come through this track team and through this program’ gives you a sense of your legacy here,” Malone said. “You’re part of the tradition of this track team; you’re part of the history of this school.”
The good news: the Kizirian legacy has time to grow. He still has a year and a half left at CU, and given his intense spirit, growth is likely. With the indoor season completed, he still has the spring season, which starts on March 21 with the Potts Invitational in Boulder. There is plenty of time for this powerhouse to break more records as he switches gears to his outdoor implement of choice, the hammer.
The hammer throw, said Kizirian, demands more strict technique. It is an added challenge, but one that both Kizirian and Malone believe he is ready to accept. “The hammer throw is another one of his big goals,” Malone said. “Hopefully he’ll be able to do that as well before he graduates.” Thankfully, Kizirian still has plenty of time left at CU to accomplish that goal.
His lone piece of advice to future athletes: “Make sure to get your priorities straight and figure out how to motivate yourself so that every practice, you are giving 100 percent.” He says “consistency is what separates the mediocre athlete from the champion.”
A consummate blend of consistency, relentless motivation and humility sum up Alex Kizirian and adequately explain why he is, indeed, a champion.