Puma National Champ Proves Perseverance Pays Off

Thursday, June 15, 2023
Puma National Champ Proves Perseverance Pays Off

Native Arizonan and newly crowned National Junior College Athletic Association National Hammer Throw Winner Audrey Armstrong began her track and field career, not as a thrower, but as a sprinter during her freshman year of high school. However, when she was forced to switch schools during tenth grade, she began to lose interest in her sport.

“Switching schools, I wasn’t in the best place mentally… leaving my friends… I was in a lonely place,” Armstrong said. Ready to leave the sport behind, Armstrong’s coach suggested she try throwing.

From the get go, Armstrong was competing at a high level in discus, shot put, and javelin, qualifying for each of the invitationals. Even during the pandemic, when school and athletics was shut down and she missed an entire season, Armstrong continued to practice and came back even stronger her senior year. She made state in discus and shot put, placing tenth in the discus.

“Winning the national title wasn't something I even thought I was capable of coming into college,” said Armstrong, who found her niche in the hammer throw, an event not offered in high schools nationwide.

“Audrey was nervous right out of the gate,” said her throw coach Jim Lothrop. “But she got over her nerves pretty quickly, performing through them, which is a good trait to have.”

Taking third place her first year at Paradise Valley Community College motivated Armstrong to work even harder. Determined to win, she shifted her training into high gear.

“The summer going into sophomore year, I worked every day. I spent two hours outside in the heat each day practicing hammer, then the next two hours lifting. It was a big sacrifice I made giving up my entire summer; I didn't go on a single vacation. Even when I couldn't make it to practice in the morning, I would go in the afternoon when it was well above 100 degrees outside. It was a brutal summer but that's what gave me grit and made me strong.”

Armstrong entered the 2022 season in prime shape making a six meter personal record (PR), well above every other girl in the nation by six meters.

There are three things that make a good thrower according to Lothrop – talent, hard work, and guidance. “She picked up the technical aspect of throwing really easily and committed herself to working hard,” he said.

However, by the end of the season, Armstrong was beginning to burn out. At regionals, she threw five meters under her PR. Then at nationals, expecting to win by five meters, she almost scratched, before getting her wits about her.

“I was freaking out. In the back of my mind all I could think was ‘This can't be happening. I have worked way too hard for this.’” On her sixth and final throw of the competition, she stepped into the ring, took a deep breath, said little prayer, and started. “By God's good graces, I threw the winning throw that got me to first place – a mark of 51.93 meters.”

Armstrong went into the national championship meet with the top mark  of 54.80 in the NJCAA in the Hammer Throw. She holds the PVCC school record with that mark, which she set at the Cody McBride Invitational in March 2023.

This is Armstrong's first NJCAA National Championship title. She is also the first female NJCAA National Champion for the Pumas since pole vaulter Jamilyn Michaud won an NJCAA Outdoor Track & Field title in 2008.

Since 2015 under Coach Lothrop, PVCC has had 18 outdoor throwers make the top eight at the National Championship meets as All American athletes, as well as eight indoor All-American athletes. Armstrong joins Israel Oloyede and Jesse Avina as the only three Pumas to win the National Championship Title.

Looking ahead to next season, she recalls the wise advice a PVCC athlete alumni said to her – “You’ll either get really good at this sport or you’ll quit.”

Armstrong now understands what he meant by that comment. “This sport isn’t all fun all the time. It gets hard and you have to push past that if you want to be great,” she said, adding, pursuing your dreams comes with balance. Armstrong is reminded that taking breaks is important, “Otherwise, you'll get burnt out when it matters the most. I put my body through so much and it just couldn't handle it. It was a great learning experience and a mistake I won't make twice.”

Armstrong is studying business and will continue on to Grand Canyon University to pursue her bachelor’s degree and her throwing career. “This sport has become my life. The amount of hours, pain, stress, tears, happiness that this sport has caused, it has all been worth it.”

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