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Dave Hunter With Shelbi Vaughan On China's Great Wall

Aggie's Shelbi Vaughan Is Already Discus Royalty

All serious athletes relish success But sometimes achieved success - when it comes too early, too easily - can become a troubling obstacle. The heady intoxication of perceived event mastery often can confuse and misdirect young athletes, causing them to stray away from the very practices and approaches that had lifted them to success in the first instance. While many such tales in track & field can be cited, it seems unlikely that Texas A&M's throws star Shelbi Vaughan would ever be one of them.

Vaughan - who began throwing the discus in 7th grade - concluded her prep career as one the dominant high school track & field athletes ever. As a senior, she set the national high school discus record by nearly two feet, broke the American Junior discus record twice, and finished 4th in the U.S. Olympic Trials, missing a team berth by less than 2 feet. Topping the national high school discus list by 26 feet, Vaughan became the first field eventer to be unanimously selected as she was named the 2012 Girls Athlete of the Year by Track & Field News.

Would this early success spoil Vaughan? The young Aggie field athlete quickly proved otherwise. Despite a troublesome freshman year back injury which proved only to be a temporary impediment to her continued progression, the Texas native has continued her annual improvement in the discus. Having completed three years of collegiate competition for the Aggies, Vaughan - who captured bronze medals in the 2011 World Youth Championships and the 2012 World Junior Championships - has re-written the A&M discus record book on her way to capturing 3 SEC and 2 NCAA discus titles. Her progression has continued. Last season she twirled the platter 64.52m/211'8" - a PR performance which ranked her #2 on the US yearly list and #11 on the annual world list. It is clear from Vaughan's performances as a collegian that a heaping helping of discus success as a high schooler has not satiated her hunger for even greater progression and successes as her career rolls on.

Few appreciate that despite her discus dominance, Vaughan came to College Station on a scholarship - for volleyball. "My first two years of college, I actually played volleyball and I did track," notes Vaughan whose high school volleyball nickname was "The Hammer." "I was definitely not at the national level in volleyball, but it was something I could have been, I would say. But it definitely would have taken a longer time to get there. So I've pretty much made it in discus. I could have gotten there in volleyball. But there comes a time when you have to decide and you have to choose."

Forsaking volleyball, Vaughan - an imposing physical specimen who, at 6'2" and "around 280," still can uncork an explosive vertical leap that allows her to touch 10'3" - has taken on two new implements - the indoor weight and the hammer. Vaughan -who trains under the watchful eye of A&M throws coach Juan De La Garza - notes that these two new events allow her not only to expand her throws game, but also to refine further her technical prowess in the discus circle. "I picked up the weight last year just a week before the first meet and it was scary," notes Vaughan who got the weight out to 17.23m/56'6½" in her first season. "I just kind of do it to keep my mind occupied because I don't want to just drill myself all year round over the discus because I don't want to end up getting tired. I don't want to just be involved in an outdoor sport while all my team gets to do indoor stuff."

And last spring she gave the hammer a whirl. The new event posed some confusion - and some initial comic relief at practice. "I haven't had experience with the hammer," Vaughan confesses. "When we would go from hammer to discus, I would always be confused with how I'm supposed to turn. Sometimes in discus, I would start turning on my heel, and I'd say, 'OK. Just kidding.' And I'd start over. Other than that, once I got the hang of it and got used to switching back and forth, I felt that the hammer actually helped a lot with my balance in the discus."

While it is anticipated that Vaughan will further master these two new implements, the field athlete notes that a primary purpose for taking up these new event challenges is to further enhance her discus prowess. "For me, I am not too knowledgeable in the weight and the hammer because I just took them up. But they definitely help me translate over into discus now that I have a little bit more experience with them. They help with my balance."

The Texas A&M rising senior appreciates that in a technical, strength-oriented event like the discus, patience and consistency are essential ingredients for success. She also knows that time is on her side. Last August in Beijing, Vaughan - one of the youngest discus competitors in the World Championships - just missed making the discus final by little more than a foot. "At Worlds, I looked at the ages of my competitors and I realized that I have so many years to get that much better. It's almost scary." Mindful that the women's discuss medalists in Beijing averaged nearly 27 years of age, Vaughan - who just turned 21 during the World Championships - asks, "How much farther am I going to be throwing when I get into my 30's?"

As Vaughan begins receiving increased international competition opportunities, she tries to distance herself from any infield chatter or gossip about others' possible use of unauthorized performance enhancing drugs. "I never hear anything. I don't know if that is because I am still a rookie," explains Vaughan. "It's almost dangerous for me to think about because there is no way for me to know if another athlete has been using. It's just another reason why I don't pay attention to other athletes and just pay attention to what I can do. I can't control what they do, their choices, their workouts, how they're feeling, etcetera. I don't get involved in that kind of stuff with other people. I just worry about me and make sure I am doing what I need to do". And she adds, "And I make sure I am not doing what I am not supposed to do as well."

The soft-spoken collegian cites rededicated sincerity to her present training regimen as the pathway to take her game to the next level. "Honestly, I believe that what I have been doing the past couple of years has been great. As long as I continue to do those things, I am going to continue to get better," the Aggie offers confidently and directly. "There is only one year - my freshman year - when I didn't get better. And there were so many factors that played into that as well. Every single year since I've started throwing, I've progressed. There hasn't been any downside to it - except for that one year. So I believe as long as keep doing what I've been doing since I started, I am going to keep getting better."

Just as the rise of Vaughan's discus expertise has been slowly and carefully forged over time, the transformation of her nickname has been an evolutionary process as well. Vaughan - formerly known as The Hammer - enjoys recalling how her nickname has changed over the years. "I'm pretty dainty. I'm pretty girly. I like to wear dresses. I like to dress up. My hair is always fixed. I'm always wearing some makeup. I don't really cake it on because I don't really understand all that and I don't really know how to do it right. So I don't want to end up looking like a clown," Vaughan explains with a laugh. "But in high school all the girls would tell me how I look like a Barbie. I always had my headband on. I always had tanned skin. I have blond hair. So in high school I actually was 'The Barbie.' Everyone called me 'Barbie.'" But the field event star made a change when she arrived at College Station. "When I came to college I was kind of not really into Barbie anymore. And I thought, 'I need to grow up from Barbie.' So I actually changed my nickname myself. And I turned it into 'The Throw Princess,'" she smiles. But the multiple-time NCAA discus champion aspires to an even higher position of nobility. "As I keep going higher and higher in my discus career, my dream from here is that hopefully one day I will become 'The Throw Queen.'" Should Shelbi Vaughan produce continued discus progression that ultimately results in a medal-winning performance in Rio - or any subsequent global competition - a royalty upgrade would definitely be in order.

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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