There were a lot of people wanting a picture with IU junior hammer thrower Nycia Ford Friday.
First, there was a group picture, then a quick selfie or two. Then, there was a stream of photos with various friend and family members, including her sisters.
Each time, a different person took the picture with somebody else’s cell phone. Each time, Ford had the same excited smile on her face.
She had just finished in second place in the women’s hammer throw competition at the Big Ten Outdoor Track and Field Championships after throwing a personal record throw of 64.19 meters on her sixth and final throw.
As Ford was swarmed by the number of people waiting to congratulate her, it was fitting that her sisters, throwers at the middle-school level themselves, were among the group.
After all, Ford said everything she does in the hammer throw circle is about leading by example and teaching her sisters lessons.
“They’re my biggest inspiration,” Ford said. “I want them to see me not only come out on top or overcome the obstacles I’ve been through, I want them to see me struggle to get there. This wasn’t something that was just handed to me. It was something I had to work for. It didn’t just take a matter of days, or weeks, or months, it took years to get here.”
Ford had to overcome her fair share of obstacles Friday.
She only needed one throw to cement her spot in second, as she hurled the hammer 63.03 meters on her first attempt, just shy of her previous personal record of 63.30 meters. However, a string of three foul throws in a row left things up in the air, especially with a trio of Minnesota throwers looming on the sidelines.
The Golden Gophers’ threesome of junior Temi Ogunrinde, senior Agnes Esser and junior Nayoka Clunis, finished first, third and fourth overall in the event. As Ford endured the three foul throws, Minnesota’s throwers continued to consistently throw more than 60 meters, while cheering, high-fiving and even dancing their way through the competition.
Meanwhile, Ford stayed calm. She kept her body loose by constantly moving and only paying attention to the words of IU throwing coach Cory Martin.
“He knows how to communicate to me as an athlete,” Ford said. “He keeps it simple because he knows when he tries to pinpoint little things here or there, I start to overthink. He just tells me to stay aggressive because he knows I’m the type of athlete that if I just keep my head in and keep driving and pushing, everything is going to work out exactly how it’s supposed to.”
Even when Esser and Clunis’ final throws didn’t surpass Ford's first throw, securing second place, Ford managed to do even better on her final toss. Even though her mark of 64.19 meters wasn’t enough to catch Ogunrinde’s first-place throw of 66.97, it was still by far a personal record for Ford.
“Honestly, it didn’t feel better than my first throw,” Ford said. “I just did exactly what my coach told me to do. Even when I feel like my technique isn’t lining up like I want it to, as long as I keep staying aggressive like coach always keeps telling me, something positive always comes out of it.”
Ford’s big day was the kind of start IU Coach Ron Helmer was looking for. He said during the three-day slog of an event like the conference championships, gaining early momentum is key.
“She comes in seeded fourth, throws a PR and ends up second,” Helmer said. “Those are the kind of forward steps we absolutely need people to take and expect them to take if they come in here ready to compete.”
The second-place finish means Ford will advance to the NCAA prelims in Tampa, Florida, on May 24.
It’ll be another opportunity for Ford to do her sisters proud.
“Even after throwing that 63 at the beginning and then just fouling and fouling, in the end I still pulled something out,” Ford said. “I just wanted that to be an example to my sisters. Even when you feel like you’re not going to get there, if you keep pushing, it’s going to come and that’s what happened today.”
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