Throwing out the record book: Leia Mistowski continues to make her mark on hammer throw

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Leia Mistowski. COURTESY IMAGE / TRIBE ATHLETICS

It’s not hard to tell when senior track and field thrower Leia Mistowski is stepping up to throw: all an observer would have to do is listen to the crowd, where they could hear murmurs of “watch her, this girl is really scary,” and “I heard she’s over 60 meters.” The consensus among the viewers is clear: this thrower is the one to watch.

Mistowski steps into the cage, plants her feet in the throwing circle and begins spinning until she blurs, whipping the hammer around her, faster and faster. When she releases it, the silver weight flashes in the midday sun as it soars across the throwing field, thudding violently back down to earth to dig a crater far past the other marks in the dirt from previous throwers’ attempts. On her very first throw of the day at the Colonial Relays, Mistowski has already created a new facility record.

For other athletes, that might be their career accomplishment. But for Mistowski, who has been creating new school records since she first arrived at William and Mary four years ago, the focus after this weekend was still on where she could improve.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Mistowski said. “I’m still learning new things every time I throw. It’s a never-ending learning experience.”

“It’s still a work in progress. I’m still learning new things every time I throw. It’s a never-ending learning experience.”

Mistowski’s career in the hammer throw started when a coach, convinced that Mistowski was still growing into her height and would eventually become the tall athlete that is the ideal hammer thrower, had her try a throw for the first time. He hadn’t shown her the correct grip for a hammer throw — handle slotted in your gloved left hand, right hand stacked on top — and so she first tried swinging it around with her fingers interlocked and, a few frantic spins in, had no way to let go.

“I helicoptered on to the throwing pad when I tried to release it,” Mistowski laughed. “And I remember my coach was like, ‘You’re supposed to let go of it at the end.’”

That was her first lesson in hammer throwing, but there would be many more to come. Even though Mistowski never quite reached her expected height, her technical prowess and innate athletic ability have made up for her 5-foot-6-inch stature; she’s played everything from basketball to softball to soccer to volleyball.

“It’s actually relieving when you’re the shortest and you’re throwing the farthest, because that shows that hard work pays off,” Mistowski said.

Part of that advantage comes from Mistowski’s work as a student at the College, where she’s majoring in kinesiology. Her love of throwing impacted her choice to major in the department, and now her studies have come to impact how she performs in the throwing circle.

“Doctor Kohl in the kinesiology department talks a lot about practice variability, and I do that in varying the lengths of the wires I have and varying the weights of the ball,” Mistowski said. “It puts my body on its toes.”

Mistowski spends much of her time practicing and working out in preparation for Tribe track’s many meets. The track athlete has a well-established game day routine. It begins with foam rolling, stretching and gritting her teeth through an ice bath the night before. Then, the morning of, before her customary turkey and ham sandwich, she straightens her hair and carefully applies her signature gold eyeliner.

“Before I did green and gold,” Mistowski said. “But then I was like, it’s not working, I’m not throwing as far as I want, so I changed it.”

Mistowski doesn’t like to get bogged down by superstitions, but sometimes it’s the little things that push a person to the heights Mistowski is aiming for. She qualified for the national-level throwing competition last year as a junior, putting her among the best 24 competitors in the country and qualifying her as an All-American thrower. Mistowski is aiming to do it again in 2018. Along the way to qualifying by placing in the top 12 throwers in the Eastern region, she hopes to break her personal record on the hammer throw, which currently sits at 62.03 meters.

All 16 of the best performances on the hammer throw in school history belong to her, and two weeks ago, she was named the Colonial Athletic Association Athlete of the Week for the week of March 20.

“My ultimate goal would be to throw 65 meters,” Mistowski said. That projected improvement is based off a general rule in track — the distance you throw indoors in feet generally matches up to what you are able to throw outdoors in meters. This year, Mistowski threw 65 feet indoors with the 20-pound weight, which should mean 65 meters outside isn’t far off. Those are big aspirations, but no one doubts Mistowski’s ability to achieve them, not even Mistowski herself.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself. But it’s because I know I’m capable of doing well.”

“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Mistowski said. “But it’s because I know I’m capable of doing well.”

Certainly no one who saw her blow the competition out of the water at the College’s home meet would be able to argue. As the results of the women’s championship throw were read, first place was already a foregone conclusion.

“And with a new stadium record and a new Colonial Relays record,” the announcer said. “Leia Mistowski of William and Mary, at 60.61.”

Mistowski accepted the cheers and congratulations with cool determination. For Mistowski, it’s never about basking in her current achievements — it’s always about the next throw.

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