Erra-Hernandez brings talent, motivation to track and field
Known by many as “Dez,” junior materials science and engineering major Zachary Erra-Hernandez threw himself into the competition this year as a member of Carnegie Mellon’s men’s track and field team.
After helping the Tartans win the men’s University Athletic Association (UAA) conference championship this winter for the first time in school history, the Las Cruces, N.M. native looks to repeat this feat in the outdoor spring season by personally qualifying for the NCAA championship for the second time in his signature throwing (javelin, discus, hammer, shot put) events.
When he was a first-year, Erra-Hernandez showed his throwing prowess early on: He made UAA’s second-team in shot put in the indoor season, followed by third-team honors for discus in the outdoor season.
His success continued into his sophomore year — Erra-Hernandez was the UAA champion in shot put during the indoor season and claimed his career best in the weight throw (15.10 meters). In the spring, he achieved career bests in the javelin (43.52 meters), discus (47.05 meters), hammer throw (49.83 meters), and was once again UAA champion in the shot put. His in-conference achievement qualified him to compete in the NCAA National Division-III Track Championship last year, where he placed 12th in the shot put.
Erra-Hernandez has been throwing since he was in eighth grade, and “loves the mental challenge.”
He also disputed the misconception that throwing only requires brute strength. “It is very technical,” he said. “It requires practice, focus, natural competitiveness, and repitition.”
Even as an accomplished college athlete, Erra-Hernandez says he continues to work to improve. “At practice the other day, I threw the hammerthrow, and it hit the back of the cage and bounced back at me,” he said. “Although I was absolutely terrified, we all laughed about it later.”
Erra-Hernandez is a two-sport athlete, playing football for the Tartans in the fall as a fullback. For Erra-Hernandez, his biggest athletic accomplishment has been “being able to balance both football and track and being able to contribute in both.”
Erra-Hernandez’s teammates agree. “Zach brings an array of throwing skills to the team. It’s almost like he’s an area shooter by the way he can throw the discus or shot put anywhere he wants in the sector,” senior Daniel Cardenas said. “He’s one hell of an area shooter.”
First-year teammate Paul Hamerski agreed, and was quick to praise Hernandez’s significant personal impact on the team. “Zach is definitely one of the best throwers on the team. He scores us a lot of points, which is great, but his impact as a leader is much more important than as a thrower. He always does his best to perfect his technique during practice, which is a huge motivator for the rest of the team. Plus, his intensity at the meets drives his teammates to perform to a similar energy,” he said. “Personally, I owe a lot of the things I’ve learned about throwing to Zach. Overall, he is phenomenal at pushing himself and his teammates to do their best.”
Erra-Hernandez cited Carnegie Mellon as the “ideal place” to be a student athlete. “Everyone recognizes that they’re student athletes and are really willing to put in the work,” he said.
And Erra-Hernandez has most certainly put in the work and he’s seen the rewards, earning an internship with Nucor Corporation this summer to fulfill his dream of working in the metal business.
Of course, Erra-Hernandez has not thrown out all of the fun from his throwing career. He loves “how close-knit the team is.” This past Saturday, the team hosted their final home invitational of the season, highlighted by a series of goofy relays with Tartan track members sporting ridiculous costumes and themes. “[They’re] a great group of guys. I know these are people I will keep in contact with for the rest of my life,” he said.
For now, the team-oriented Erra-Hernandez keeps his eyes on the prize. “It would be huge if we won the UAA championship again. I know that our hard work will pay off,” he said.