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  • It's been ten years since I first picked up a shot. You all might know it as a shot put, but it's a shot. Back then it was twelve pounds of cast iron. I was told to put it on my neck and push it out into the field.

    I haven't stopped.

    I initially went out for track and field for a couple of reasons. I could throw a football or baseball pretty far, so I figured I could throw a javelin, too. I have only thrown the javelin once in competition, nine years after setting out to do just that. I also wanted to try something new. My brother had always led the way as far as playing sports. He played soccer, basketball, baseball, and football, so naturally as I became of age I played those sports, too. The only problem was I couldn't swing a bat to save my life and I was getting too big for soccer. I had to look elsewhere to expel my energy.

    The same time I picked up the shot I tried to throw the discus. It was rubber, rough around the edges, and I couldn't get it to spin the right direction.

    I eventually learned, and it would become my favorite of the five throwing disciplines.

    It was an interesting conversion to track. Having an almost entirely team oriented sports background, it was a shock to my system to be faced with this almost completely individualized sport. I was all alone in the circle. At first it was nerve racking, but over time I came to find solace in that ring. I got better with each throw and more comfortable in such an unfamiliar sport.

    The time came for my first meet. It was against a much larger and more athletic school, but I was only in 8th grade. The likelihood of my impacting the outcome of the meet was slim to none. Regardless I went in with a clear head and lots of optimism. A fellow teammate of mine, a junior at the time, told me not to get discouraged by my result as I would probably come in last place. After all it was my first meet. I told him I was prepared and that I was just going to have fun. The throwing events started and I put my first two throws out around 29 feet. A modest throw for a fourteen year-old. The other competitors were well beyond my mark into the 40s and 50s. I didn't care. I was having fun and barely breaking a sweat.

    My name was called for the third and final throw. I walked into the circle, placed the shot on my neck, and kicked back towards the toe board. Turning into the throw I pushed as far as I could. It landed with a thud, right over 30 feet. I smiled, walked out the back of the circle, and high-fived my coach. I did well. I don't know who won that event that day but I know who came in last, and it wasn't me. It was my teammate who told me I would. I placed one spot above him.

    From that day forward I was hooked. The thrill of releasing that heavy ball into the air, the whiz of the disc flying off my finger, and the camaraderie between myself and fellow throwers from other schools, states, countries, and skill levels. I even gave up playing organized basketball, a sport I had played since I could practically walk. Confused and worried at first, my family gradually realized I was in this for the long hall. When I started getting letters from Division I programs, they changed their tune.

    Eventually I continued throwing in college. Although the implements were heavier, I got stronger, quicker, and more confident. I was offered a spot as a partial scholarship athlete on Boston University's program. For four years I trained along side some incredible athletes, and even better human beings. We were quite the international bunch. Several athletes hailed from Canada, across the pond to the UK, Hungary, Croatia, and even Australia while others like me came over just a train ride away. Coming together with all of these individuals, focusing on the same goal, and improving with each passing day was truly remarkable.

    Eventually the dream came to an end, or so I thought. My last meet was at Princeton University. It was the IC4A championship. It was raining. Not ideal throwing conditions but when you throw in New England for most of your life, you get used to it. I was having an off day. The shot just wasn't going out far enough. My coach didn't say much. We both knew that this was going to be my last collegiate throw. I told him I would be happy with a 50 foot throw, a nice cap to a lengthy career.

    Still, there was that desire to compete and do what I came to Princeton for. Throw. So I got in the circle and tried to not think about life after this throw. It was terrifying to comprehend. I pushed it aside and placed my feet at the back of the circle. The shot was cold. The grip chalk I was using helped combat the rain. My wrist strained to keep the now 16 pound behemoth steady on my neck. I crouched down to begin my rotation towards the toe board.

    I took a breath.

    My foot started turning.

    Wait! Stop! I'm not ready to throw! I want to go back. To go back to high school. Back to that first meet. I want to see my old coach smile after my throw. I want to relearn everything. Start from scratch. Try and rid my body of bad habits. I want to pick up the phone and find out I am throwing in college on scholarship. I want to see my throws, lifts, and sprints improve again. I want my old teammates back. I want to win at conference again. I want to compete against the number one rated thrower in the world, Reese Hoffa. I want --

    I let out a yell. The shot is out of my hand. I can't take it back. Everything is etched in stone. The door is closed. Training is over. Done.

    "Fifteen thirty-nine!" the official calls out. "That is your best."

    It converts to 50 feet 6 inches. My coached laughed. "Well, you hit 50. I guess you're done." I laughed, too. But saying I was done was harder than I thought it would ever be. I came in 20th overall at the meet. Not the best performance, but competing at the meet was success enough. That result wouldn't define me as an athlete or a person.

    On the bus home from the meet I had a long time to figure out what I was going to do. My old dream of throwing in the Summer Olympics had been put to sleep a long time ago, though I still fantasize even now. The roar of the crowd as their eyes focus on me. The flash of the cameras as the implement leaves my hand. The electric buzz lingering in the air until it hits the ground over the Olympic record line. I drift back down to Earth and pop in my ear buds, waiting to cross the next state line.

    I'm now a year out of competition. At the time I thought track would be only a memory. It is anything but that. I've filled that void in my life by continuing to give back to the sport that has given me so much. In continuing to compete unattached I've also taken up coaching. It's strange how I get just as excited to see my own athletes compete as I did when I was in the circle. It's a good life.

    Looking back on those days makes me smile. The places I've been to, the people I've met, and the mental and physical changes are too numbered to list off. I can still hear the cheers after a good throw, the thumbs up from my family as I exit the circle, the sing-a-long sessions on the bus, and on, and on, and on.

    In the thousands of throws I have taken during the course of my career as an amateur athlete, I've learned so much about myself. Little things about technique and bigger things like being a good teammate, staying positive, and having fun. I have applied those to multiple facets of my life. It has made me more independent, more confident, and appreciative of what life has given me. Years from now when my body no longer permits me to throw or do other things of that nature, I will accept it with a thankful heart. It was all worth it.
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