Samantha Zelden first picked up the javelin when she was a fifth-grader, trying to follow in the footsteps of Alexandra Hontas, an older girl whom she looked up to.

“Every sport she played, I played,” Zelden recalled. “I wanted to be just like her. I guess I have her to thank me for where I am now.”

Zelden won the gold medal in the 17-18 year old division at the AAU Junior Olympics in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday with a throw of 148 feet, 7 inches. It was a personal best for Zelden, a rising junior at St. Scholastica.

“It feels pretty incredible,” Zelden said. “My goal was to just (personal record), but to be able to do that on such a big stage is an amazing feeling.”

Zelden wasted little time registering her personal best, reaching it on her first throw in the preliminary round. She easily outdistanced second-place finisher Abigail Buchan of West Virginia by 28 feet.

It was Zelden’s second national title after winning in 2013 in Detroit. She won silver and bronze medals the previous two seasons.

Her success shouldn’t come as a surprise. She set an Louisiana High School Athletic Association state meet record in May when she threw 146 feet to help lead St. Scholastica to the Class 4A state title.

“My goal for this season is to be able to go out and improve and reach that 150 mark and get to state, set another record and try to help my team win another championship,” Zelden said.

But there is plenty to do before then.

Zelden, who lives in Folsom, also plays volleyball, basketball and softball at St. Scholastica. She juggles all of that while maintaining a 4.2 grade-point average. A straight “A” student, she hasn’t made a “B” since the seventh grade.

“It takes a whole lot of patience and prioritizing my time,” Zelden said. “But I wouldn’t drop any of the sports because sports are such a big part of who I am. If I had to break it down, I would probably say (track) is my favorite but I love all of my sports. Sports define me but track stands above all the others. I never dreamt I would be where I am.”