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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Jul 10, 2020

Area Shot Putter Continues Training for the Olympic Trials While Trying to Save His Gym

By Tim Morris

Jon Kalnas is wearing a lot of hats these days. The former Monmouth University All-American shot putter and two-time Olympic Trials qualifier is still competing. His goal is one more trip to the trials when they come around next June.

“I want to be the oldest thrower at the trials,” he said. “I want to throw 20 meters (65 feet, 6 inches).”

With the 2020 Olympics postponed to 2021, the ex-Hawk great, who will be 41 at that time of the trials, now has more time to qualify,which he needs because he said his training is about 25 percent of what it should be. His personal best for the event is 20.19 meters (66 feet, 2 inches).

“I’m happy with the way I’m throwing,” he said.

While he has an eye toward Eugene, Oregon (host of the ’21 Olympic Trials), Kalnas has become one of the top track and field trainers in the state in the last few years. He has trained most of the top high school throwers from the Jersey Shore. One of his current students is Nick Vena, the Morristown High School grad who was the greatest high school shot putter in state history before going on to throw at the University of Georgia where he was an All-American. Kalnas is looking to get Vena, now competing unattached, to the Olympic Trials as well.

One of Kalnas’ prime high school students is Colts Neck’s Cole Tucker. This past winter, Kalnas helped the junior improve his personal best from 50 feet, 7 inches to 57 feet, 5 inches and win the Central Jersey Group III championship and medal at the NJSIA Meet of Champions.

“He is an excellent coach,” Tucker said of Kalnas. “He has helped so many athletes achieve their goals and continue track at the next level.”

As if his coaching and personal training weren’t enough, Kalnas is also a business owner. He runs Critical Mass in Shrewsbury. Like gym owners throughout the state, these have been trying times with the coronavirus pandemic shutting businesses down.

“I’m trying to save the business,” Kalnas remarked. “We’re running at 15 to 20 percent. It’s stressful.”

His throwers have been sending him videos. He views them and after watching the throws, he then tells the athletes what adjustments need to be made.

“[Virtual interaction] is great for coaches,” he said.

Kalnas sees virtual meets – during where athletes sign up online for a meet and then do their event on their own and submit the result – as the sport’s immediate future.

When Kalnas decided to stop competing in 2016, before getting the itch to return, choosing to become a trainer was a logical step.

“Track and field is something I’ve always done,” he said. “It was easy [to coach].”

Kalnas is also the perfect candidate to teach track and field athletes. He was someone who overachieved throughout his athletic career. At 6 feet tall and 240 pounds, he was dwarfed by the behemoths in the circle like reigning Olympic champion Ryan Crouser, who is 6-foot-7, 320 pounds. What the ex-Hawk thrower may lack in size, he has made up for by being a student of his event and producing explosive energy in the circle.

Former Monmouth University All-American thrower Jon Kalnas is busy training for another shot at qualifying for the Olympic Trials while being a leading personal trainer and owner of Critical Mass.

“It’s a science,” Kalnas said of competing at shot put.

The former high school star at Paulsboro watched hours of his throws on video, breaking each one down to improve his technique. The more he studied the shot put, he realized he had to change from the glide to the spin, typically used when throwing a discus. That allowed him to take advantage of his speed and produce more energy and torque. He went from an average college thrower to a multiple All-American and Olympic Trials qualifier.

He shares all the things he has learned from his own experience with his throwers and even some runners. One of his 400-meter sprinters medaled at the NJSIAA Indoor Championships this winter.

There’s one other item that Kalnas can brings to the table: knowing how to compete.

“You have to be ready for certain events,” he explained.

At Monmouth he won seven conference championships and four IC4A titles, which you can only do if you’re throwing your best in the big meets. He knows how to peak.

That’s what he trains his athletes for, their biggest competitions.

“I develop a program that helps them make the big throw when you need it, when it counts,” he explained. “You can’t throw big all the time.”

Kalnas holds no punches with his throwers.

“I don’t feed them what they want to hear,” he admitted.

Kalnas encourages his throwers to seek other voices by going to clinics and camps.

“The more you take in, you’ll find out what’s best for you,” he said.

One thing that Kalnas stresses is that talent alone isn’t enough.

“Not all of the best athletes turn out to be the best,” he said. “Some have amazing talent and felt they didn’t have to work any harder. It’s the ones who keep doing it, grinding it out who succeed.”

For now, Kalnas is grinding it trying to save his business, training his athletes and finding time to train for his own goal, the Olympic Trials.