Forty feet – no problem

Story by Chris Graham
sportsdom@ntelos.net

Listen to today’s “SportsDominion Show,” featuring an interview with Eastern Mennonite University track star Chelsea Lawhorn. Show Length: 7:07.

chelsea.gif“I hope to hit 40 feet by the time I graduate.”

And so it is that Chelsea Lawhorn has thrown down the gauntlet.

The Eastern Mennonite University junior is already one of only 11 women in Eastern Mennonite University track-and-field history to pass the 37-foot mark in the shot put.

So give her credit for having done something special.

And she will take a league-leading throw of just under 38 feet into this weekend’s ODAC championships.

Let’s just say that 40 feet is doable for Lawhorn.

And actually, let’s say that anything is doable for a young woman who didn’t even think she’d throw a shot after high school.

“I just remember my high-school coach telling me that he was there to see me, and he pointed to him up in the bleachers. And I was so nervous,” said Lawhorn, an Augusta County native and graduate of Riverheads High School.

He, in this case, was Seth McGuffin, the track-and-field coach at EMU, who saw something in Lawhorn that she didn’t even see in herself.

“I like athletes who have potential,” McGuffin said. “She needed to know that if she worked hard she could make something of herself. I had not seen her throw, and I didn’t care how far she threw. I just liked her enthusiasm and how well she cheered on her team.”

What Lawhorn remembers from their first meeting is McGuffin telling her, “It doesn’t matter what you throw now, it matters what you are doing to get better.”

“He was talking to me all about throwing, and how he doesn’t always look for the top athletes and the best marks – he told me how important potential was, and how he looks for potential in high-school athletes. And if he sees potential, that’s what he wants to recruit, and that’s what he looks for,” Lawhorn said.
“And so he told me that even though I was throwing only 25 feet, and that wasn’t the best, he saw potential for me to improve,” Lawhorn said.

So she ended up at EMU on the track team, this kid who didn’t even throw in a district meet in high school until her senior season.

She started seeing what McGuffin saw in her during her first college meet, she said. She finally hit the 30-foot mark in that meet, after almost starting from scratch in training with her new coach.

She was regularly hitting 34 feet by her sophomore season, and has made 37 feet her goal for her throws this year.

“It’s a huge accomplishment for me, I think, because it shows me that I can really overcome something I don’t think I can actually accomplish. I didn’t think I could come this far,” Lawhorn said.

You think this story’s over, but it’s ready to begin. Because the story of how Chelsea Lawhorn transformed herself from second-tier high-school athlete to a college star through hard work and dedication and the like is only skimming the surface.

Lawhorn was born legally blind, and though she slowly was able to get some vision in her right eye, her situation had deteriorated by age 4 when she was diagnosed with nystagmus, an involuntary eye movement that affected her peripheral vision and depth perception and made balance and climbing steps and those kinds of things difficult at best.

“I always was told that I needed to sit in the front of the classroom, and to ask the teacher if I needed any handouts or help with overheads or anything. I never wanted to do that. I hated that. So I avoided that at all costs – because I wanted to be like everybody else,” Lawhorn said.

She ended up on the track team at Riverheads because a close friend was on the team throwing shot and discus.

“Everybody was always encouraging each other. There were so many different events you could do. And I felt like it was something that I could be a part of, and I wanted to try it out,” Lawhorn said.

And look how far it’s taken her – or rather, how far she’s taken herself.

She realizes that what she’s done qualifies for remarkable.

“I mean, from 25 to 40? Ohmigosh!”

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The SportsDominion.

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