In an era of post-collegiate “career athletes” – Olympic hopefuls who put much of the rest of their lives on hold to grasp for the Olympic rings – hammer thrower April Phillips is living the flip-side of that kind of life.
She’s an athlete with a career … as well as the goal of qualifying for the Olympic Track and Field Trials.
Phillips (pictured), a four-time Big Ten champion in the shot put and hammer throw at the University of Michigan, is one of many Minnesota residents with a full-time job. The 26-year-old engineer, though, is one of the few nine-to-fivers with her sights set on the Trials.
“Work brought me to Minnesota,” Phillips told DtB recently. “When I hired into Lockheed Martin it was for a leadership development program that cycles you through 4 different types of jobs in two different locations. My first location was in Syracuse, New York, and I completely gave up throwing for the one and a half years I lived there -- time to grow up and enter the real world.”
When it was time for Phillips to choose her next work location for the giant defense and technology corporation, she picked Minnesota. She was beginning to miss throwing by then, too.
“Having thrown in the Big Ten conference in college and now living back in Big Ten country, I thought it would be a perfect time to use my network and try to get back into throwing,” Phillips said. “I’ve had a few opportunities to move since then for work, but have committed to staying in the area through Trials. Plus, I really have grown to LOVE Minnesota.”
Through University of Minnesota women’s throws coach Lynne Anderson, Phillips connected with Hamline men’s track and field coach Lynden Reder. The Gopher men's record-holder in the hammer, Reder is a Trials aspirant himself. Phillips now trains with Reder and works as an assistant coach at Hamline.
“Work as an engineer occupies my life from 6:30 – 4:30 and practice runs after that into the evening,” Phillips said. “Even then, track can get trumped by work and my own training suffers.”
Last weekend, though, Phillips and Reder took the time to travel to Tempe, Arizona to compete in the Sun Angel Classic. Phillips finished 6th in her event with 190-10. Reder was 3rd with 204-8.
“The previous two seasons Lynden and I have been lucky enough to have the MIAC schools let us compete in their track meets,” Phillips said. “However, this season, I’ve made the commitment to travel and hit some meets I’ve had success at in the past. I’ll be throwing at Cornell in a few weekends, and then at my favorite meet ever – the home meet at my alma mater, The University of Michigan.”
Phillips needs throw 206-8 to provisionally qualify for the Trials in Eugene, Oregon in late June; a throw of 219-2 would qualify her automatically for the meet. Phillips’ PR is 202-6 set last year.
“That is absolutely the goal this year,” she confirmed. “When I got back into throwing in October 2005 it was just as a hobby; I really missed throwing. I’m excited to have progressed enough these past few years to have the Trials as an achievable goal.”
Phillips conceded she was “disappointed” with her performance in Arizona over the weekend.
“Anytime I can get weather that nice and a competition that good, I hope to throw closer to (or break) my PR,” she said. “But, I did get to spend time talking to talented coaches and watching great throwers, so I definitely have some tangible things to bring to practice. It is still early in the season; I’m excited to get back to work!”
Phillips opened her season with a win at the Hamline Invite on April 5th, throwing 196-9.
“I feel pretty good about that meet,” she said. “It was the best opening meet I’ve ever had in terms of farthest throw, and overall a good series for me. Now, I did pull a little on one and throw it over a fence … but at least it was entertaining for the spectators!”
Photo by Justin Le.