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Then & Now: Two-time Olympic qualifier Ian Waltz loving post-competition life

The metal platter came out of Ian Waltz’ hand and soared.

And soared and soared some more.

It seemingly rode a jet stream that the then Post Falls High senior had never found before with the discus.

After it landed, Idaho state high school track and field officials stretched the measuring tape but it ran out when it reached 200 feet.

Nearby, Post Falls coach Dan Nipp was on his feet, ecstatic that his prize thrower had not only exceeded 200 feet for the first time but blew the state-meet record out of the water.

A second tape had to be used to measure the mammoth throw.

Another 3 feet, six inches had to be borrowed before the record throw was official.

That was just the beginning of a standout career that would include three U.S. national championships and twice qualifying for the Olympics.

Just a few hours earlier, Waltz had won the state shot put title at Boise State University but had done so with a bitter taste in his mouth. He went to state wanting to break the state-meet record.

Somehow he got over his disappointment, gathered himself and set a record in 1995 that continues to stand and may not be touched for years to come.

Life has sort of come full circle for Waltz, now 40 years old. He’s back in Boise, his career over and supporting the coaching career of his much-accomplished wife – two-time Olympic gold medalist pole vaulter Stacy Dragila and two daughters.

“When you do something for 20 years you’re sort of ready to move on with life,” Waltz said.

Waltz didn’t know anything about the shot or discus when his family moved from a tiny Oregon town to Post Falls.

Nipp saw this bear-sized kid walking the high school’s halls and asked him if he had ever done track.

Soon thereafter, Nipp had Waltz out for track. Little did Nipp or Waltz know that their relationship would grow into a friendship that remains today.

“I called him two weeks ago to get caught up on him and his family,” said Nipp, 73, who begins his 11th year of retirement this fall.

The early years

Ian (pronounced EYE un) was about 14 years old when his mother got a transfer with the Forest Service and the family moved to Post Falls.

“Good thing she did or I probably wouldn’t have ever touched a discus,” Waltz told a Spokesman-Review reporter in an earlier story.

Waltz said he spent more time with the shot his freshman year. His personal best that year in the discus was “something like 118 feet.”

Three years later he would nearly double his personal best and earn a scholarship to Washington State University.

He went from a personal best 159-10 in the discus as a junior to 203-6 at the end of his senior year. Quite a transformation.

“I always told the kids everybody practices until 5 o’clock,” Nipp said. “As long as you want to stick around I’ll be there. Ian was there until 6:30 every night. He was a hard worker.”

At WSU, Waltz was an eight-time All-American and broke the school’s oldest field event record. He threw the discus, heavier than the high school element, 211-6 his junior year, topping the previous record (208-10) set in 1998 by John van Reenen.

The Olympic years

Waltz, standing 6-foot-2 and having grown to 280 pounds, first qualified for the Summer Games in 2004 and did so again in 2008.

It’s funny how things work out. Waltz had been accepted into WSU’s pharmacy school in 2004.

“I told myself if I didn’t make the Olympic team I’d start school,” he said. “All the hard work paid off. I was ranked at the top of the world and wanted to ride that wave as long as I could.”

Waltz made another push for the 2008 Olympics. This is where he has one regret.

“I was in awesome shape, probably the best shape of my (competing) life,” Waltz said. “I had already qualified for the Olympics and didn’t need to take my last throw. I had a tight abductor. I took the throw and ended up with a sports hernia. I threw it as hard as I could throw it.”

Waltz thought he could get in the top five at the Olympics, maybe even top three. That probably would have happened had he been healthy and not taken the last throw at the trials.

“That’s not how I roll,” Waltz said. “It’s all or nothing.”

He’s very thankful for one thing, though. It was through competing that he met his eventual wife, Stacy Dragila. She was the first U.S. women’s pole vault champ and broke her world record 15 times.

Waltz met Dragila at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, Germany.

“That’s when we hit it off,” Waltz said. “Us throwers aren’t dummies. We hang out with the pole vault girls.”

He retired in 2012 after the Olympic Trials when he took fourth, missing the Olympics by one spot.

“My body was beat up and I was in super good shape,” Waltz said. “I had a couple injuries I was dealing with.”

The family years

Waltz and Dragila were married in 2010. They were training and living near her parents in the San Diego area.

The parents of a kid Dragila was coaching were captains of a fire department. That’s how Waltz became interested in what would become his post-competition vocation.

Waltz and Dragila landed in Boise. He became a certified EMT. He was among 2,500 people testing for 15 spots at Boise-area fire departments.

“The odds are kind of stacked against you,” Waltz said. “I figured if I got an interview I’d set myself apart from everybody else with my resume.”

Waltz was hired in August of 2012. He was tickled to get out of the San Diego area and plant some roots in Boise where he’d be closer to what he loves – the outdoors.

“Being a country boy, I was ready to get out of there,” Waltz said. “I didn’t want to raise a family there. I wanted to hunt and fish and get into the woods.”

Living in Meridian, a suburb of Boise, also allows Dragila, who puts on four large camps a year across the country, to get where she needs to go.

They just purchased two acres that included a 218-foot-by-40-foot warehouse. They’re turning it into a training center primarily for Stacy. In time, Waltz would like to put in a couple of rings for teaching shot and discus.

“It’s been Stacy’s dream to have her own facility,” Waltz said. “It’ll be a pretty cool indoor facility where we can do some outdoor meets, too.”

Waltz, who now weighs 15 pounds less than his peak competing weight, is doing a lot of the preparation work. Stacy hopes to start using it in September.

UCS, one of Dragila’s major sponsors, donated $30,000 to build a new pole vault pit and provide standards.

“It’s an impressive gift,” Waltz said. “She’s been with them all along and loyal.”

They have two daughters – Allyx, 7, and Gabby, 5.

It’s too early to tell if the girls will be throwers or vaulters or both. With the genes they have, though, they’re bound to be athletes to be sure.

“They like hanging out with their mom a lot,” Waltz said. “It’s hard to tell what they’ll eventually do. We have them in gymnastics and they’re jumping around.”

Waltz says life has been good.

His best feat hasn’t been any of his records or victories.

“I got to see most of the world competing. That’s priceless,” Waltz said. “But through competing I met Stacy. That’s priceless also.”

It all started when an old throws coach always looking for talent discovered Waltz.

“I’ll never forget Mr. Nipp,” Waltz said. “That’s where all the roots were grown and where the dream started.”