Former Saluki thrower shocks the world

Former Saluki thrower shocks the world

By Terrance Peacock

With a throw — One of SIU’s own has cemented herself as one of the greatest women’s track and field athletes to ever pick up a weight.

Southern Illinois alum Gwen Berry won the women’s weight throw competition at the 2013 USA Indoor Track and Field Championships held Saturday and Sunday in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her meet-winning throw of 81-0 1?2 feet traveled the third farthest distance in world history.

The 2011 graduate beat the likes of six- time defending USA indoor champion Amber Campbell, who finished in second place with a heave of 77-8 1?4 feet and SIU alum and former teammate Jeneva McCall who placed third with a 74-2 3?4 foot toss.

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Berry, who is sponsored by Nike and the New York Athletic Club, threw farther than the previous world lead three times during the indoor championships.

The former All-American said it was hectic competing at the U.S. championships, but in the end, she stayed focused and threw as well as she ever had before.

“I put my game face on, and I was prepared to do what I had to do to be successful and I did it,” Berry said.

As a member of the SIU track and field team, Berry won conference championships, competed for NCAA championships and is ranked second in school history in the indoor weight throw, indoor hammer throw, and

outdoor shot put. Berry, now a professional athlete, said the

competition is thicker and the competition lives to perform.

“When you deal with professional athletes, these athletes eat, sleep, and breathe their event,” Berry said. “This is their job.”

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Berry also works for 710 Bookstore and credits a balanced schedule between work and training to keep food on her table as well as perform at the highest level as a professional weight thrower.

The St. Louis native is also a volunteer assistant to the track and field team and uses SIU facilities to train. She said being around the team keeps her grounded and helps her stay focused on the task at hand.

“Being around the other athletes makes me appreciate the opportunity I have to become a world-class athlete,” Berry said. “I make sure I inspire them because I am the role-model.”

SIU throws coach John Smith coached Berry as a collegiate athlete for four years and continues to coach Berry as a professional.

He said Berry was the first woman ever under 200 pounds to throw more than 80 feet in the weight throw competition and it has left coaches, athletes and fans amazed.

“For her to do that at a national meet has got a lot of people in the country freaked out,” Smith said. “I got people trying to back-door people I know for information on what she’s doing for training. People are stunned.”

Smith said Berry threw over her personal best of 77 feet in five out of six throws at the meet, and is one of three women in U.S. history to ever throw 80 feet — two of the women attended SIU.

SIU alum Brittany Riley is the world record holder in the women’s weight throw with a throw that traveled 83-10 1?2 feet set in 2007.

Senior thrower Kim Fortney was a teammate to Berry for two years and has known Berry for four.

She said Berry was a great athlete at SIU, but the difference from her time at SIU and her professional career is her development as an elite athlete.

“I’ve been around her for a long time and I think the biggest difference is her transition,” Fortney said. “In college she only practiced one time a day, now she does two-a-days. Her biggest difference is her consistency.”

Fortney said she sees a plethora of national titles in Berry’s future and the chance to travel the world with her athletic gifts.

For Berry, she said she hopes her future consists of a chance to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“2016 is going to be real,” Berry said. “I want to be the number one contender in the U.S. and hopefully get on that Olympic podium.”

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