Whitney Simmons admits she was frustrated.
On the one hand, the UT Tyler senior traveled to Geneva, Ohio and on her first throw, had already locked up a second-straight national title in the women’s hammer throw. Her first attempt on Saturday at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field National Championships produced a mark of 63.75 meters.
But that was not all Simmons wanted to accomplish. She was eyeing a personal best of 64 meters.
“It was really exciting because there was the national record and the championship record out of the way on the first throw,” Simmons recounted in a news conference Thursday at UT Tyler’s athletic offices. “I still had five more throws to compete with … the next throw was a mid 63, which is still my second-best throw to date. And then my next three throws went straight into the cage.”
Her frustration building after three-straight scratches, she talked with her throwing coach, UT Tyler assistant Chris Stonestreet.
“I can’t finish it, my legs aren’t allowing me to finish my fourth turn; I feel like I am going too fast and I can’t finish it,” Simmons said about what she said to Stonestreet.
Simmons said her coach’s response was to the point.
“‘This is your last collegiate throw.’ And right then I was like, Oh my gosh, this is my last throw in this uniform for UT Tyler,” Simmons continued. “He said, ‘Set up the winds like you know how to set them up and (let it loose!)’”
It was all Simmons needed to hear. She stepped into the cage for her sixth and final hammer throw.
“I let all those different emotions hit me at once: sadness, fear, anxiousness, excitement; and I walked into the cage and I took a deep breath,” Simmons continued. “I thought (let it loose), and turned as best as I could, as fast as I could and I let it go.”
Her throw initially looked like it was going to hit the upper left of the cage, but Simmons said it cleared barely.
Next question, would it stay in bounds?
“I was like please don’t be out of the sector,” Simmons said. “It was six inches to a foot inside the sector line, but it was in, and even the official threw his hands up because he knew that it was even better. I was waiting for the distance to pop up on the board, and it never popped up, but I heard the lady say it and I just started screaming and jumping.”
Simmons had broken her own national record with a mark of 64.03 meters (210 feet, 1 inch).
Stonestreet was watching all the action unfold and immediately raced to Simmons to give her a hug.
“Both of us at opposite side of the ring were staring at that board waiting to see what came up,” Stonestreet said. “I heard her screaming, I was screaming and we just ran around the cage and met. She literally finished her career in the best way imaginable. It couldn’t have been more perfect.”
Stonestreet added Simmons legacy will live on at UT Tyler. She’s a four-time All-American in the hammer and has now three NCAA D-III championships - two in outdoor track and field and earlier this season in indoor. She also set a new indoor record at that NCAA championship with a mark of 63.08 at the University of Houston.
Four years ago, Simmons came to UT Tyler to play basketball, but after deciding to also do track, she qualified for the national championships in hammer and earned All-America honors. She dropped hoops after that to focus solely on track.
Simmons leaves as one of its most decorated track and field performers.
“She came from a small town (White Oak) and wasn’t recruited, and from Day 1 she connected with the program,” Stonestreet said. “She is ranked No. 20 in the United States at a Division III school. She could’ve left after her freshman year and had a full scholarship to really anywhere she wanted to go, but she repeatedly said over and over again that this is where she wanted to be, for school and for track.”
The future now could lead Simmons and Stonestreet to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics.
“I’ve definitely been entertaining that thought for quite a while,” Simmons said. “That is what I have my eyes set on. Just to make it to the trials and actually make it to the Olympic team, I do feel confident that if we stay on the correct training path that could definitely be a possibility.
“I do want to pursue (this) on a professional level (also) and see what at least the next three years have in store for me. The best woman in the world is 31 and I am 22, so I still have plenty of time.”