Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Just before jetting off down the runway, Colorado javelin specialist, Brian Owens Jr., taps his heart, the exact spot where he and his dad have matching tattoos that read "Braveheart," then points to the sky, a pre-event ritual dedicated to his younger brother, Mattie Owens, who passed away in 2005.
"He was my best friend and my training partner," Owens said. "Ask anybody, we were never apart from each other except for that day. I use all the hard times that my family has been through in the past six years as pure motivation. When you're thinking about that stuff on the runway, you think you could tear the world apart."
Owens graduated from Woodstown High School in 2008. After just a semester at CU, he returned home to Elmer, N.J., to be with his family resulting in him not competing his freshman year.
"I wasn't sure if I was ever going to make it back to CU," Owens said. "After talking to my family, we decided that there was no other school in the country that could give me what CU was going to give me."
Owens returned to Boulder to compete in the 2010 spring season but a recurring elbow injury forced him to redshirt after undergoing surgery before the season even began. Finally, spring 2011 rolled around, and Owens was eager and ready to get back in action.
To his surprise, he had a breakout performance in just his second meet as a Buffalo with a toss of 221 feet, which he recorded on his fifth attempt of the day at the CU Invitational. His throw was over 26 feet farther than any other thrower recorded at the event.
"It was definitely a big flood of emotion," Owens said after his personal best performance. "I felt powerful. I felt motivated to keep going, and what made me really happy was that my dad and my youngest brother were there to see it. It just added to what it meant for me because of everything we've been through. That's the way my family and I are, we don't get down on ourselves. We won't let this ruin the rest of our lives."
In addition to Owens' loved ones being present, his pregame ritual reminds him that "Mattie is watching. My coach always says that he's waiting up there. He's waiting for [me] to throw him the javelin so he can toss it a little farther."
Mattie's legacy lives on through Owens every day. He dedicated his tattoo to his younger brother because he remembers his brother "always called [their] dad a Braveheart. My mom and dad always taught us to stand up in life. A Braveheart is someone that follows their heart to the truest," Owens said. "No matter what's going on, you have to be brave enough to say, 'my heart is telling me this, so I'm going to go with it.'"
One of the first instances where Owens followed what 'his heart was telling him' was when he first decided to try track in high school for no other reason than to get better for football. He realized he was pretty good and could possibly take his talents to the next level.
"I was actually going to go visit a bunch of other schools to play football," Owens said. "I never thought that it was definitely track for me. I had a football mindset. (CU Throws Coach) Casey Malone made me believe that I had a chance to do this post-collegiately. He told me after college was up that I had a chance to make the Olympic team and, to me, that's better than making it to the NFL. With that mindset, belief that you could do anything is really what rubbed off on me when I came to visit here."
"Brian has the genetic tools to be very successful at throwing the javelin," Malone said. "He has the stature of many of the top javelin throwers in the world and the ability to accelerate like they do. Combine that with his commitment and passion for the sport, and I believe Brian could be an Olympian some day."
Athletics have always been a huge part of Owens' life, but track is a more recent development.
"I grew up eating, sleeping and dreaming baseball," Owens said. "That's what we did. Mattie and I swore we'd play for the New York Yankees one day. We even buried Mattie in a New York Yankees uniform. When my brother died, it kind of lost its luster to me, so I went out for track to get better for football."
After his first throw of the javelin at WHS, Owens qualified for Nike Nationals.
"At that point, I thought maybe I could have a future in this," Owens said. "If I didn't have sports in my life, it wouldn't be quite the same."
No matter the sport he's doing, Owens exudes a sense of commitment to everyone around him. He has always been dedicated to excel in sports, but since the loss of Mattie, Owens has been motivated to push even a little further, possibly something common in the rest of his family.
"The Owens family is probably the most driven and competitive and athletic family I have ever met," Malone said. "Brian Owens Sr. still challenges Brian Jr. to races and pull-up competitions. An intrinsic drive to excel at athletics seems to be a part of Brian's DNA. However I believe that only through the loss of Mattie would Brian have been able to reach his true potential. Many of the greatest athletes of all time had to deal with great adversity which strengthened them and helped to turn them into champions. I believe that Brian is on that path based on his relentless effort and enthusiasm."
Owens strives to be the best. His main goal today is to make the 2012 or 2016 Olympic team. He is currently majoring in environmental studies but hopes to "not have to use his degree right away."
Despite a couple of large setbacks, Owens has a positive attitude and outlook on life that many people can learn from.
"If you don't believe in yourself, and if you don't believe that you can do it, then any little thing that comes along, any bump in the path, will knock you back," Owens said. "Right off the bat, when you're striving for something new, you have to have that mindset. That's what I did coming here. I told myself that I'm going to be the best, and I'm going to fight for it. I'm not going to give up."
Owens' persistent willpower has already brought him great success in just his first year throwing javelin for CU, but the lessons he has unintentionally taught his coaches, teammates and anyone around him are unquestionably immeasurable.