Former Discoverer Seth Sabata added to an already impressive list of college achievements earlier this spring when the redshirt junior earned his fourth and fifth track and field All-American awards.
Sabata, competing for Midland University, had a best toss of 55 feet, 9 inches in the shot put, good enough for sixth place overall at the National Intercollegiate Athletic Association (NAIA) national meet in Gulf Shores, Alabama. In the hammer throw, he was seventh with a top mark of 194 feet, 1 inch.
Earning All-American awards in shot and hammer duplicate the same effort he had in 2017 when he also finished on the medal podium in both events. Sabata was also an indoor All-American that same year, just months earlier.
Now in the middle of taking a month away from competition to rest and recover before building back up for his final season with the Warriors, Sabata took the time recently to share his story about going from nothing to one of the top NAIA throwers in the country.
A few short years ago, he had put his athletic career away and instead chose to begin training as a diesel technician. Before he had even touched a shot put, he assumed his future was in baseball. Then those hopes came crashing down.
It's been a long and winding road for Sabata to arrive at this point. Getting there has meant a love for the daily grind and loyal support staff back home that's been behind him all the way.
It hasn't always been easy, or fun, or even hopeful at points, but it's his story, one that Sabata said he believes is just one example of athletes at his level who have to earn everything they're given.
"Personally, I love (the process) because, no disrespect to D-I kids, but they get a lot of stuff handed to them, and they already have a lot of natural talent," he said. "When it comes to an NAIA school or it comes to me, I’m considered an underdog because I don’t have the physical attributes and everything like other guys do.
"To me, it’s the grind and the hard work I put into everything. Seeing the results come is just a personal satisfaction that, I don’t know where else I could get it from."
That passion wasn't there initially. Sabata grew up in the game of baseball and believed playing between the lines was his pathway forward.
His sister, Heather, was a standout on the Discoverer softball team. That seemed to confirm his belief that the diamond was in the Sabata blood.
Then Seth was cut from the Columbus High baseball team.
"As a freshman, he hadn’t thrown before, and he was just really, really average," remembered then-CHS head coach Dan Steiner who has since returned to the track staff as a throws coach. "Then he got strong in the weight room and went from, probably, 36 (feet) to 46 as a sophomore. So I knew the potential was there for him to get good."
Sabata qualified for state as a junior and senior but had what he called a "rough" meet in his final varsity competition, finishing 11th with a best throw of 50, 8 and 1/4 as a senior.
From that point, he moved on and enrolled at Southeast Community College as a diesel technician. But when he didn't enjoy that potential career path, he came back to Columbus.
Sabata took a chance and changed everything to study accounting at Midland University in Fremont.
His prior relationship with coach Steiner put him in touch with Aaron and Jeni Bozarth at BEAST Gym. Jeni, coach Steiner's daughter, and Aaron met while on the track team at Nebraska.
The couple coached at North Carolina-Wilmington for six years before deciding to return to Jeni's hometown in 2014. Jeni was a 2002 graduate of CHS who competed at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Aaron was once ranked nationally in the hammer throw. The Bozarths helped Sabata get in shape, introduced him to the hammer and put him in touch with former Midland coach Mark Kostek.
But after a big start to his career that included All-GPAC honors to go with his All-American award in 2017, his health took a turn. Last year he found out he was allergic to amoxicillin, an antibiotic often used in treating such ailments as an ear infection or a strep throat, a week after he had been on an amoxicillin regimen.
He broke out in rashes. Not long after, he tore his groin in three places.
It was, in a sense, the third time he would be starting over.
From just beginning to throw as a freshman, giving it up for a year then suffering through injuries and allergic reactions, there were certainly enough roadblocks to clear and opportunities to give up.
"You lose a lot of confidence in yourself. Confidence is key in throwing. If you lose confidence it shows in your throws," he said. "Granted, I was still working hard because I was trying to push through it, but I was so mentally exhausted from injuries and trying to get through it one meet at a time. It just wasn’t working. You could just see in my throws the confidence and the attitude just wasn’t there."
Sabata went back to the drawing board, in a sense, focused on just the basics and considered his upcoming season a 'rebuilding year.'
Then came the first outdoor meet at Oklahoma Baptist where his best toss was 53 feet. His last throw was his best, and, according to Sabata, the furthest of the entire year. But assistant coach Matt Maltby, who he credits for building him up from scratch, wouldn't tell him how far it was.
"You could just really see that my confidence was back. I was feeling extremely powerful, and I was just moving really well like in my sophomore year," he said.
The relationship he and Maltby have is sort of a mentor living vicariously through his mentee. Maltby, Sabata said, is always there for every workout, every training session.
On the days when Maltby was at the training facility on his own, Sabata showed up and received more attention and more coaching.
"I get to have the great feeling I get when I have a great throw and the overwhelming feeling of excitement. But I also get to see it in him, how excited he is and how he’s basically built me from scratch," Sabata said. "I guess you could say I’m trying to be the younger version of what he was trying to be. It’s just a double great feeling. It’s hard to really describe."
If you time it just right, you might be able to see Sabata out at Pawnee Park this summer getting in some shot put and hammer tosses. He also goes back to Fremont to work out as well, but, for at least a few more weeks, he's repairing from the punishment a thrower's body endures from the natural motion of elevating heavy objects.
Thanks to a redshirt last season, he's got another chance coming up to reach his full potential. That includes aiming for an NAIA national championship in shot put.
How exactly did he get here? How did he overcome the ups and downs? What would he tell others?
Simple: Enjoy the sacrifices necessary to be successful.
"I tell them, ‘Don’t always think about getting a scholarship. Don’t just think about D-I.’ If you put in the work, you can go anywhere. And if you have a goal in mind, whether it’s football or track or whatever, if you put in the work, you will get there," he said. "That’s what I love about NAIA schools. You can just see, people’s results are all about hard work. It has nothing to do with just pure genetics or talent. NAIA schools are the meaning of hard work. It just makes it more fun."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.