WATERVILLE — Rather than sheepishly — or even apologetically — answer the question, Kim Donaldson would try to dodge it when asked.

“I feel pretty bad sometimes, at some of those meets where I just show up,” Donaldson said. “When they ask me how long I’ve been throwing, I try to just avoid it at all costs. Throwing what? What are you talking about?”

Then, with a competitive shot put resumé that spans just months and not years, Donaldson would go and throw farther than most of, if not all, her competition, collegiate athletes who have thrown the shot for years. Through a combination of natural ability, acute athleticism and hard work, Donaldson — who on Sunday graduated from Colby College with a degree in Biology and an Anthropology minor — has improved from a throwing neophyte to one of the best in the country in just four and a half months.

“Absurd success,” Will Barron, Colby’s throwing coach, said of Donaldson’s climb from zero to elite. “I’ve never seen an athlete like her come through here.”

This weekend, Donaldson will join three Colby women’s track and field teammates (Alanna McDonough in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, Emily Doyle in the 400, and Jenna Athanasopoulos in the heptathlon) at the Division III national championship meet at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. Donaldson is seeded 14th in the shot put and will compete at 1 Friday afternoon.

STARTING OUT OF BOREDOM

In late April, Donaldson won the New England Small College Athletic Conference outdoor shot put title with a throw of 44 feet, 4 inches, more than 5 feet better than second place Lily Talesnick of Trinity. During the indoor season, Donaldson placed second in the shot put at the New England Division III meet. She was third at the ECAC Championships.

Donaldson’s shot put career started out of boredom. A four-year member of the volleyball team, Donaldson hated the idea of not participating in a sport during her final semester at Colby.

“It just felt weird to be a retired Colby athlete,” said Donaldson, who also played basketball in her first year at Colby.

Added Donovan Donaldson, Kim’s father: “She likes to be active. She doesn’t like to be lallygagging. If she has time to do something, she’ll go find something to do.”

As a high school student at Fountain Valley School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Donaldson was encouraged by her father to try new things. He had Kim try activities like equestrian, field hockey and lacrosse, sports new to her that would be a challenge. He’s not surprised by his daughter’s rapid track and field success, although he finds the level at which she’s succeeded staggering.

“She’s very spirited, and I always encourage her to do things that she hasn’t done before,” Donovan Donaldson said. “She’s got some natural ability. I knew she would be a competitor. We were all happy, and impressed. The thing about her is, she’s very determined. She doesn’t like to fail.”

While working out with friend Steven Parrott, a thrower on Colby’s men’s track and field team, Donaldson mentioned she’d like to try a new sport. Parrott brought her to the fieldhouse to meet head coach Dave Cusano, who took one look at Donaldson, and was quickly impressed.

“On sight, it was the googly eyes, the excitement. Her stature, the way she carried herself, everything about her was this is an athlete you want on your team. You hope she adds something from a point-scoring perspective, but in that moment, you can only pretend to admit you’d forecast she’d be one of the best shot putters in school history and in the nation,” Cusano said.

That same day, Donaldson met Barron. Despite having just finished a two-hour workout, Donaldson agreed to throw. When he thinks about that moment, Barron’s smile widens.

“Her first throw ever in the shot put was farther than anyone else on our team is throwing. But it was with terrible technique,” Barron said. “I remember being thrilled she was going to be awesome at this almost right away.”

HONING THE CRAFT

As a volleyball player, Donaldson’s game was built on power. As a senior last fall, she led the NESCAC in blocks per set (1.06) and total blocks (100). Donaldson also was 10th in the conference in hitting percentage (.269), and completed her career with 881 kills and 310 blocks. Donaldson’s senior volleyball season ended with a selection to the all-NESCAC second team. Candice Parent, Colby’s volleyball coach, praised Donaldson’s hangtime and lateral foot speed.

“She became an intimidating presence throughout her career and definitely was someone that opposing hitters tried to avoid,” Parent said.

“Her biggest asset was her ability to jump and smack a ball. There’s a lot of resemblance to what a shot putter does,” Barron said, crediting Donaldson’s work with Colby strength and conditioning coach, Dawn Strout.

In January, Barron gave Donaldson a crash course in throwing technique. It was immediately obvious she had an engine and a desire to work at the new sport. Teaching Donaldson proper form and technique came quickly, Barron said.

“Something as subtle as having your elbow on the wrong side of your knee at the wrong moment makes or breaks your ability to put power and torque into the throw,” Barron said. “Simple cues, when throwing, look up and look at the light. That was a consistent way for her to get into the right position. That plus repetitions, it was fairly easy to get her to where she was.”

Some aspects of throwing technique ran counter to what Donaldson was used to in volleyball. In hitting a volleyball, Donaldson’s shoulders round forward, and she compresses her core. To throw the shot, the core and upper body open.

“You’re still engaging with your core, but it’s less of a downward motion and more of an upward motion. The first few throws definitely felt weird. I don’t think I got the full technique down for a couple weeks. But once I finally hit it, and it felt that much better, it stuck,” Donaldson said. “I didn’t feel like I was being pushed to a point where I would say ‘I’m not going to get this.’ For me, I was able to just listen to what (Barron) was saying.”

Her first competition was at Bates College on Jan. 16. Donaldson placed third, with a throw of 36-10.5. In the weight throw, Donaldson placed sixth at 37- 6.75.

“I was pretty nervous. I remember thinking, ‘When am I supposed to be throwing? What if I miss my event?’ I was also throwing weight. I remember being able to focus in on what I was doing,” Donaldson said. “I didn’t have to think about the technique, because if I forgot it or if I wasn’t focused, I would look like the girl who just started throwing two weeks ago. So I didn’t want to look that way.”

Barron and Donaldson decided to drop the other throwing events and focus exclusively on the shot put.

“Maybe we could have her do well at all three, but we’d give her the opportunity to do outstanding if she just picked one,” Barron said.

At the state indoor championship meet in early February, Donaldson threw 39-2.25 to take second place. A week later, competing against Division I throwers at Boston University’s David Hemery Valentine Invitational, Donaldson took sixth place with a throw of 42-7, the best among the Division III athletes in a field of 56 throwers.

Donaldson’s personal record of just over 45 feet came on the Mules’ spring break trip to compete in California, and at the time placed her second in the nation.

“At her best meet of the indoor season, she got this close, 18 inches, from qualifying for nationals. I said, oh she was close. My expectation was not that she would continue to improve. I thought she had leveled out,” Barron said. “Maybe we could squeak a few little improvements she would get. I had made a joke, I would give her a yard stick, hey you were not good enough by this far. Try to coax her into throwing a little farther, and she did right away.”

Added Donaldson: “The first conversations Will and I had after having a few practices, he was stoked. I didn’t know what my ability was. I was just throwing. He told me I was in good standing to reach where I am now. The goal I had in mind these past four and a half months was getting to this point, right here. I didn’t approach it every day like, ‘This will get me to nationals.’ I had to think about it in a different way. Tomorrow and the next day and the next day, and over time that will get me to the throw that gets me to nationals.”

COMPETING THROUGH PAIN

For most of the outdoor season, Donaldson has competed despite a painful hand injury that could be a compression fracture. The injury prevents Donaldson from throwing in practice, and kept her from competing at the ECAC championships and New England Division III championship meet. Barron has had to get creative in crafting Donaldson’s workouts, sometimes using a weighted bracelet to simulate the feeling of the shot. At the NESCAC championship meet on April 30 at Amherst College, Donaldson fought through the pain and won the conference title with her next to last throw.

“I was in pretty much excruciating pain throughout that entire meet. I could have dropped out of finals, but stayed in,” Donaldson said. “I was still sitting in first, but I didn’t want to sit in first with a throw I wasn’t fully invested in or didn’t feel was good.”

NCAA rules give an athlete five years to compete in four. Technically, Donaldson could throw again next season if she chose to attend graduate school. With that in mind, Cusano had to enter her as a freshman in every competition.

“We didn’t want to mislabel her. A lot of coaches in the area were like, ‘Where’d you get this freshman?'” Cusano said.

Friday’s championship is it competition-wise, for Donaldson, at least for now. She’ll soon move to San Diego, where she’ll start work in athlete and community relations with the United States Olympic Committee.

With such fast success, does Donaldson regret not taking up the shot put earlier? Her answer is a definitive no.

“I don’t regret it because this has been a really fun part of my senior year. I really enjoyed it. It’s not necessarily the senior spring that most would choose, but I’m proud that I chose it. I also think it’s one of those moment I’m able to see success. This was the perfect time to do it,” Donaldson said.

Barron sees the physical toll just a few months of shot put training has taken on Donaldson. He points to the hand injury and a sore knee, and he knows she wouldn’t have been able to excel in volleyball at Colby if she had been on the track and field team for four years, too. That doesn’t mean Barron hasn’t asked himself, what if?

“I remember one day in practice, she was throwing the hammer, and the first rep she had that was executed correctly. I threw up my hands and said ‘You could have been an Olympic athlete!’ To me, she’s the kind of athlete every coach looks for, in almost any sport. She’s got so much physical talent,” Barron said.

“I believe we’re meant to have the athletes we’re supposed to have when we’re supposed to have them. I’m just very thankful we’ve had her this year, and she’s had a positive experience with track and field,” Cusano said.

The top eight finishers earn All-American status. Seeded 14th, Donaldson would have to jump over six throwers to make the top eight.

“Kim has shown such incredible ability to improve each time she’s out at a competition. Even through a potential compression fracture on her hand, I would still put my money on that she would PR (personal record) at nationals,” Barron said.

Cusano’s goal for Donaldson at nationals is simple.

“I want her to enjoy the environment. Wear the Colby stuff proud. For her, enjoy all those moments. Take them all in. The fact that she’s elite in just attending this championship, that in itself gives her that status. She’s so competitive, I won’t be surprised at how she performs,” Cusano said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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