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History-making Liz King known for endearing personality, fiery competitiveness

By Jacob Knabel on Jul. 21, 2022 in Track & Field

It remains a running joke between Liz (King) Grau and Ed McLaughlin to this day. On a summer day prior to her senior year of high school, Liz arrived on the Concordia University campus for a recruiting visit. THE Liz King that would go on to become a national championship thrower wasn’t necessarily here to see a Bulldog coach. To tell the truth, Liz was still trying to figure out this whole business of choosing a college.

When it was revealed to her campus guide, Michelle Bonk, that Liz was a promising javelin thrower, the tour rerouted to McLaughlin, the leader of a Concordia throws program that was about to explode. ‘Hey Ed, do you want a 124-foot jav thrower?’ ‘Sure.’

Once entrenched as a Bulldog, Liz King immediately began turning heads.

“He’s stunned that I got you,” McLaughlin told Liz after a discussion with a rival coach. Liz jabbed back, “Did you tell him I just showed up and asked if I could throw?” As they both laughed, Ed told Liz, “Yeah, and he doesn’t believe me.”

Liz may have initially shown up somewhat unannounced, but she instantly clicked with Ed, who ensured that Liz would not go anywhere but Concordia. It was a relationship that would help Liz produce two individual national titles, two national runner up claims, six total All-America awards and six individual GPAC titles, to name just a few of her remarkable achievements. Liz’s accomplishments – and her larger-than-life personality – put her on the fast track into the Concordia Athletic Hall of Fame just six years following her graduation.

It could easily be argued that Liz King is much more compelling as a person than as an athlete. That’s saying a lot, which is something Liz also does. Now a mother of two and a New Jersey resident, she can’t help but speak glowingly about her whole college experience. On a Wednesday in mid-July, Liz spends more than 40 minutes on the phone while her young children sleep. It’s a wonder that her enthusiastic, high-decibel voice hasn’t stirred them awake.

Ask her about becoming Ed’s first national championship pupil or any of the other individual accolades and the conversation winds up shifting to the relationships, not only with Ed, but other All-America teammates like Stephanie Coley, Jamie Crouse, Samantha Liermann, Kali Robb and others.

Says Liz, “I remember Ed saying my freshman year that none of his athletes had won a national title. I wanted to be the first. It worked out and I was just really excited to share it with Ed. He’s always about the athletes. He won’t take any credit himself. He’s such a phenomenal coach. I should take that back, sometimes he takes credit (laughs). He really is a phenomenal coach. You have to be mentally strong as a thrower. Looking back, I saw how he wove that into everything when we would do hard workouts.”

Liz King’s javelin national title of 2014 sparked a wave of championships for a throws program that became nationally known. King herself won another in 2016 while taking the crown in the hammer throw. Her success in the combination of the javelin and hammer was another aspect that made her unique. It’s just not the norm for someone to be able to pull off a national title in two separate throwing events with completely different mechanical requirements. Liz King wasn’t normal.

She was about as fiery as they come in the ring. Liz would tell you she competed best when she was focused, but also relaxed. She absolutely despised scratching any throw ever. She was the type who was never satisfied. Liz could win a javelin competition, but that wasn’t good enough if she didn’t live up to her own expectations.

“Simply put, Liz is the best competitor I have ever seen,” McLaughlin said back in 2016. “She is the friendliest person to be around, but when the time came to compete, she could flip a switch like no one I’ve ever seen. She worked on her craft every day she was here. Her personality is what stood out most. She was always willing to help others, and work with new kids on technical issues. She was always willing to give her free time to help out teammates outside of practice. She is the leader of this team that won a national title. She brought that group together to achieve a goal that was more of a dream to the rest of us.”

Ed dared to tell Liz that something she desired was unrealistic: a team national championship. Liz saw other teams celebrating at national meets and she wanted some of that. Says Liz, “I remember saying something to Ed like, ‘Are we in position to win that some year?’ Ed rolled his eyes at me and was like, ‘King, no.’ I was like, ‘Well why not? I bet we could do it.’ I said, ‘Well, we’ll see.’”

Dreams became reality in back-to-back years for Concordia Track & Field as the men captured the outdoor national title in 2015 and the women then won it in 2016. Ed had been proven wrong – and his throwers had a lot to do with it. King scored 18 points herself via her hammer throw national title and second-place finish in the javelin. As a group, women’s throwers racked up an eye-popping 66 points.

Ed wasn’t too upset about being wrong – not as his throwers tossed him into the steeplechase pit in celebration of the national title. Though humble, Liz was in an I-told-you-so mood. Ed later joked, “Liz was rubbing it in my face the whole way home.”

This was something Liz wanted for Kregg Einspahr in his final meet as head coach and for Ed and her teammates. Says Liz, “It just felt like a dream. I was going to do my very best for those two events. You can’t predict what’s going to happen because you have to show up that one day. You don’t get any do-overs. I really love that about track and field. I was really excited when we won.”

It took plenty of work to get there, even if King wasn’t necessarily a weight room warrior. The beauty of Liz is that she’s not afraid to tell anyone how she’s really feeling. She wasn’t too keen on throwing the hammer and she hated lifting weights. On a typical Monday in the weight room, Liz would tell Ed that she was quitting. Ed knew not to take the threat seriously. They both laughed it off later as Liz simply being overly dramatic.

The ring was really her thing. Competitive? Of course. But Liz explains that she always had good intentions. Says Liz, “I wasn’t competing to be mean. It was like psychological warfare. I would always cheer on my competitors. The Doane girls hated it. There’s nothing that gets in your head more than when someone you’re competing against goes, ‘You got it. Go for it.’ They’re like, ‘What?’ I did generally want everyone to do well. You don’t want to win because your opponents are bad. You want to win because you’re better.”

Born in Bethlehem, Penn., Liz spent her formative years in her hometown of Billings, Mont. Her older brother had once been recruited for basketball by former Concordia men’s basketball coach Grant Schmidt before choosing to compete in track at the University of Wyoming. As for Liz, her athletic abilities seemed to take off her senior year of high school. Some NCAA Division I schools even took notice, but Liz had given her word to Ed and she wasn’t going back on it. She was headed to the place she remembered by the brick streets and the Dragon Palace restaurant she had eaten at as part of her brother’s recruiting visit.

It really was the perfect match and a place where Liz met her future husband, Michael Grau. When Liz changed her major from DCE (Director of Christian Education) to education, her advisor, Dr. John Hink, called her in to ask if she was having a “faith crisis.” Liz appreciated that she had people all over campus that cared about her as a person. She is forever impacted by moments like this.

As Ed said, “Liz is the type of person Concordia was created to send out into the world. She is our mission statement, a Christ-centered person who lives a life of learning, service and leadership in the church and world. She does it not only in athletics but in her everyday life.”

After being named the State College Female Athlete of the Year by the Lincoln Journal Star in 2016, Liz told the news outlet, “I will never forget the family at Concordia — my teammates, my coaches and the school. We were like a family. Sometimes arguing. Sometimes cheering. And all of the time there for each other.”