How did you get started with hammer throw?
My mom’s pretty good friend from college had been coaching for awhile and he had seen me grow up and he was like, “wow, this girl is really athletic.” So it was mainly him who got me into throwing. I grew up having abnormal-sized feet, I would say. Usually when people have big feet earlier on in their life, that means they’re going to be tall. So he was like, “oh, she has big feet! This is awesome!” Tall is what you need with the big radius and everything like that for hammer. But I always blame the coffee that I’ve been consuming since an early age and ended up being very short and having big feet, so that was very unfortunate. But so the whole reason was him and he was always talking about it. I was always thinking, “this seems so interesting, and it’s not something you see everyday on TV in the highlights or anything like that.” It’s a very unique sport. I was very fortunate to be living in Rhode Island, which is one of the few states that actually allows hammer in high school competition. Not a lot of people throw it until college because the dangerous sport is banned in the majority of high school competitions in the nation.
How many medals have you won?
I have a shoebox full of medals at home from high school competitions. In terms of the medals I’ve received in college, I have not gotten many because there are very few meets that give out medals compared to high school. I competed at the Penn Relays for the first time last year because they do not have a high school competition for the hammer throw. I ended up placing at the Penn Relays, which was where I received my first collegiate medal. In addition, I ended up winning the women’s hammer in the conference meet last outdoor season, which was a big deal to me and very exciting. But in terms of high school, I received medals at many of the small meets and the big meets. I was All-American 3 times in high school, so I’ve received three All-American medals. I competed in Puerto Rico on an all-expenses paid trip and ended up coming in 2nd, so I got a medal from that too. Those are the coolest ones in my opinion, probably because the meets occurred outside of Rhode Island and I got to compete against girls outside of Rhode Island. During my senior year of high school, I also won the women’s weight throw in the indoor state meet, and the women’s hammer throw in the outdoor state meet. I also got medals for invitationals, class meets, and other smaller meets, but those aren’t very special to me. So I’ve received a lot of medals throughout my track and field career. I probably have a picture somewhere of all my medals. I think I actually put them all on at one point, and it almost broke my neck because there were a lot of medals. So I’ve gotten a lot of medals from small and big meets combined.
Do you remember the feelings you felt when you got them all?
Some of them were just not a big deal. The competition wasn’t great or the meet simply wasn’t a big deal. But when there was really good competition, I always remember feeling so satisfied to win or get a medal, just because I knew my hard work paid off. At indoor nationals my senior year, I was in 5th place going into the finals and I thought I was going to stay in 5th place, but one of the competitors threw further than me, bumping me down to 6th place. Sixth place was the last placing one could place to become an All-American, so I was satisfied with the placing. All 3 times I’ve been an All-American, I came in 6th place. I wish I finished at least in the top five, but I was an All-American and that’s all that really mattered to me. But Nationals was just such a big deal every time I went. The first time I became an All-American for the indoor weight throw my junior year of high school was such an amazing feeling because I didn’t think it would happen that year. My sophomore year, I finished in 18th place at Nationals. It was my junior year and I thought there would be so many other girls throwing farther than me. I remember the night before, going over how I would feel if I became an All-American and I was so excited and was determined to earn the title. My mom had the thought process of, “Oh yeah, it’s a good experience, let’s go to Nationals.” She believed in me, but she didn’t think I would become an All-American my junior year. When I actually became an All-American, my mom started crying because she was just so happy for me since she knew how much hard work I put into my training. I was in shock for about 20 minutes after the competition ended because I achieved this goal that I believed was not feasible. I ended up throwing a PR (Personal Record) at nationals too, so both of us were simply ecstatic. The first time I became an All-American was an amazing feeling.
At the indoor state meet my senior year, I was an inch ahead of the girl who was in 2nd place going into finals. I wasn’t throwing my best and I thought to myself, “Alright Leia, you gotta step up your game. She can throw further at any moment.” Luckily, I did throw about a foot further in finals, which successfully secured my first place finish. I remember being really focused and just going through the motions of the throw in my head instead of socializing with the other competitors because I needed to concentrate on the task at hand. The same girl gave me a run for my money when it came to the outdoor state meet my senior year because she was about a foot behind me at the end of the meet. Senior year was definitely a big deal for me in terms of winning both the indoor and outdoor state meet because there was really good competition for both meets.
So your family is super supportive and loves watching you throw?
Yeah, unfortunately my mom is in Rhode Island so she doesn’t get to see a lot of my collegiate competitions. But when I had a meet at Princeton University in New Jersey last year, my mom brought a few of her friends, so that was fun to see all of them and have their support. I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, and I was one place short of placing, so that was a little bummer. I was in place to medal, and this girl from Columbia University in New York ended up bumping me out and my mom’s friend that was with us, her son went to Columbia so she was cheering for her too. She also didn’t have a whole cheering squad like I did. Plus if I see her again it’ll be different because I’ve changed up my technique since last year. Even though my mom has been with me every step of the way, she doesn’t know much about throwing. She calls throws “shots” and that’s not correct at all. I have to correct her every single time, and she’ll correct herself even after she says it. She’s like, “oh right, they’re throws, not shots.” No mom, this isn’t basketball. But she’s trying and is very supportive. My brother, he wished me a happy birthday last year and told me that he hopes I get a new personal record, even though I wasn’t in season yet. Besides my mom, he is one of the first people I notify when I throw a new personal best because he is really supportive of me too and always tells me to “keep it up”. I remember him texting me that he shared a link on Facebook about how I broke the all-time record for the weight throw for the third time this season. I was very surprised to hear that because he’s very nonchalant about sharing things about me, especially on social media. But there are those rare times when he realizes, “wow, this is pretty cool. My sister is the bees knees.”
So how do you think this is going to shape your future?
I honestly am not sure. Since I’ve been building upon my mountain of medals, everyone has been saying to me, “we’re going to see you in the Olympics!” It would be nice, but I know it is a very harsh road to get there, especially with funding everything. I’m not saying it’s not unrealistic, but I’m a sophomore in college and usually Olympic throwers are in their mid-twenties when they make the Olympic team. I’m pretty sure there’s someone that’s around their 40’s that’s trying out for the Olympic Trials, so I have a lot of time. It would be an amazing experience, but only time and hard work will tell.
How has it shaped your college experience?
I guess I’ve definitely become more friends with athletes. People are like, “whoa you throw things? That’s so cool.” I’m one of those unique people. It’s fun branching out to people. At the same time, I like to meet non-athletes. Throwing has made me more sociable because I tend to talk to my competitors at meets to try to alleviate any stress or anxiety before I throw. I don’t like to be one of those people who are really cocky and out-there; I just want to be a normal person who does something unique – kind of like a superhero in a way. I know people know me as “the Hammer Thrower,” but at the same time, I’m a normal person. I go to school like everybody else. I do everything that normal people do. I’m just good at what I do.
Are there other hammer throwers here?
There are. We have a male hammer thrower, Brian Waterfield. He’s actually qualified for the NCAA indoor championships in Alabama for the indoor weight. He’s thrown over 21 meters with the 35-pound weight, which is incredible since he started when he got to college. I’m pretty certain that I’m William and Mary’s first female hammer thrower that has ever been recruited straight from high school. All the other hammer throwers started throwing the hammer once they were on the team. Before coming here, I looked at the records, which were about where I was at in terms of PRs (Personal Records) at the time – it was just about a couple inches different. I had to keep in mind that the girl that had the record at the time was in my spot in terms of training. We both had been throwing for the same amount of years. She threw 4 years in college and ended up throwing as far as I was throwing with four years of experience as well, which made me think that the coaching must good. There’s one other girl, Rochelle Evans, who throws the hammer. She specializes in the shot put and discus mainly, but she’s getting a lot better at the hammer and weight throw.
So you broke the record?
How many records have you broken?
I’ve broken the freshman record for both the women’s hammer and the weight throw, and I’ve broken the women’s weight and hammer all-time school record. As of right now, the freshman record for the hammer is the same as the all-time record; 182’ 2”. Unfortunately, last year I didn’t throw the indoor weight very well and I was 2 feet off of my personal best from high school, which was 54’11”. I figured I would get a personal record and break the all-time record last year, but that didn’t happen during my indoor season. But this year I’ve thrown the 20-pound weight 57 feet and 7.50 inches. It’s completely unheard of to increase that much from one year to another, but I guess it just all came together this year with all the lifting cycles we’ve been doing and throwing. It’s all finally coming together. I’m really aiming to throw 18 meters, or 60 feet at my next meet the first weekend in March. Luckily the meet is in Boston, so my cheering squad will be there to cheer me on.
So you practice every day?
Yeah, I practice every weekday. Sometimes I practice alone on the weekends if it’s really nice out and I’m not competing. It’s a different story with recruits. If there’s a hammer recruit visiting, then the hammer throwers will take Friday off and practice either Saturday or Sunday to show the recruit how we run practice. In terms of lifting, the throwers lift Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays after we throw.
I imagine it’s hard to keep up with schoolwork and everything.
I don’t think I would be doing as well academically if I were not throwing. I believe that throwing keeps me sane. It’s a good getaway and somewhat therapeutic. Luckily I am not taking a very heavy course load this semester, which definitely has its benefits.
We practice year-round outside. So even last Monday when it was sleeting outside, we were practicing outside. Outside, in the snow. That’s exactly what I did in high school so I’m very used to it. My school in high school had a terrible throwing circle so I had to go to other schools 20-30 minutes away from me to throw. I started off throwing off of a beach parking lot and threw into a grass field. My coach and my mom would watch me throw outside in the middle of winter, in the beach parking lot, while freezing their butts off. I would throw and then go get it in the snow, all bundled up in four layers of clothes. With hammer and weight, since it snows up north a lot, we would have sailing fabric tied onto the hammer in long ribbons. Although it would definitely affect the aerodynamic aspect of the throw, we could actually find the implement in the snow because the ribbon was long enough that it stuck out of the snow. If the ribbon fell off of it, we’d have to shuffle our feet under the snow and risk stubbing our toe because we’ve kicked this 20-pound weight. Since it doesn’t snow as much here, we don’t have to do that. So we basically practice outside all the time, except if there’s serious weather conditions, such as a thunderstorm– that’s dangerous. But other than that, we practice outside in the heat, rain, snow, and sleet. We just have to dress appropriate for the predicted temperature.
Don’t your hands get cold? Can you wear gloves?
I wear a specific hammer glove that makes it more comfortable for my fingers, but it doesn’t really prevent calluses like that *shows hand*. For right-handed throwers, the glove goes on their left hand and vise versa for left-handed people. The hammer glove is cut off at the fingertips and doesn’t cover my thumb because I simply don’t need it for throwing. I’ve had a lot of recurring blood blisters and have even had to shave the skin off my calluses to pop blood blisters that form under my calluses (gross, I know). My coach always says, “you’ll never be a hand model” and I’ve accepted that. If we wanted to, we could use actual gloves when it’s cold out, but I just kind of suck it up. I think it doesn’t benefit me well in terms of my throwing. My right hand tends to slip off when I’m wearing an actual glove because my right hand is overlapping my left hand, which has the throwing glove on it.