James Cole’s ultimate goal for his Air Force track career was to qualify for the NCAA Championship event. He couldn’t believe he accomplished that goal as a junior.

Cole’s first discus throw at the West Preliminary Meet in Eugene, Ore., on May 28 was unlike anything he had done before. He threw it 179 feet, almost three feet farther than his career best. It was the second-best mark in Air Force history.

“I was pretty surprised,” Cole said. “I wasn’t planning on doing that. I was looking to do the best I could and whatever happened happened.”

Then Cole waited. He was in the first flight, and had to wait about 3 1/2 hours through two more flights for the news to become official: He posted one of the top 12 marks at regionals and was qualified for the NCAA Track and Field Championship in Des Moines, Iowa, this week. He’ll be joined by Falcons teammates Justin Tyner (3,000-meter steeplechase) and senior Noah Palicia (decathlon), who had been out since late April because of a hamstring injury but was added by the selection committee because another competitor was a medical scratch.  

Cole said he will enjoy his unlikely trip to the NCAA event.

“I’m feeling pretty blessed, because I never expected to make it this far,” Cole said.