Last Saturday evening, as they sat awaiting the medal ceremony for the 20-pound weight throw at the National Scholastic Indoor Track & Field Championships, Maureen Griffin of Pocatello (Idaho) High and Krista Keir of Westerville (Ohio) South High realized that the hard part was over. They were done throwing their weights around, and it was time for a little goofing. They faced each other, flexed their biceps, posed...and dissolved into a fit of giggles.
They had a right to be giddy. Krista had finished third, and the amazing Maureen had put even more ground between her and what passes for her competition. In an event in which no other high school girl has ever had a throw of as much as 46 feet, she is a kind of Bob Beamon—consistently throwing in the high 50s. While her rivals in Boston had trouble controlling even one turn in the ring, often sending the weight crashing into the protective cage, Maureen (right) was executing three tight fast turns that drew wooo's of admiration from the stands. "She's never had a crowd before," said her coach and father, John, who persuaded her to try the shot put in fifth grade and the hammer in ninth. "I hope she doesn't know people are looking at her. She'll probably bomb out." He needn't have worried. On her sixth and final toss, Maureen heaved the weight 60'10½", breaking her own four-week-old national record by almost a foot.
Maureen is a pioneer in her event, and like most pioneers she sees a lot of unmarked territory spread out before her. This is only the second year the girls' weight throw has been included in the meet, and some of her dominance no doubt is due to the event's novelty. The NCAA includes the women's weight at its championship, and the women's hammer—the outdoor version of the event—is set to be included in the 1999 world championships. Maureen, who also holds the high school record for the hammer (160'10½"), hopes to throw 200 feet in the next two seasons.
It cannot be easy being a big, strong girl in a society that plainly values thin ones. Humor is a convenient mask. After lobbing a throw dangerously close to a camera while practicing in the shot on Saturday, Maureen cracked, "Let's break it: all those pictures of our butts!" Big women do not want to draw attention to themselves. That may explain why, in contrast to many male throwers, who grunt or yell upon release, none of the girls who threw in Boston uttered a peep. "It might help, but I think Maureen's a little embarrassed to try," said her father.
According to Bob Allen, a strapping policeman from Providence who moonlights as the girls' track coach at LaSalle Academy, coaching girls to throw requires at least as much psychology as technical know-how. "There are two types of girl throwers," he begins, climbing several rows up the bleachers so the throwers can't hear him. "There's the medium-sized girl who loves the competition and still thinks of herself as a normal girl. Then you have the big, strong girls: They have little confidence and feel funny about lifting weights. They don't want to get bigger. So I tell them, 'You're big and beautiful. You can throw that thing.' "
Maureen stands 5'9", but we took her father's hint not to ask her weight. Krista revealed that she is 5'10½", but fended off questions about her weight.
It's a rare girl who is comfortable with her size. One who seems to be is Heather Colyer, a junior from East Juniata High in Cocolamus, Pa. For the record, she stands six feet, weighs 200 pounds and holds the national high school girls' record for the indoor shot put. She proudly recalls the day she stood back-to-back with her 6'4", 250-pound brother and realized her shoulders were as broad as his. "Other girls are inhibited about gaining strength and size," says Rob Ricker, Heather's coach. "And that just limits them."
Not Heather, who notes with excitement that at 16 she is still growing. "And if I can still grow," she says, "I can get stronger yet."