Throwing an 8 pound, 13 ounce metal ball is serious business, but for Columbia County's top three prep shot putters, competition isn't all work and no play.
That much was clear last week at Greenbrier High School, where Lindsey Sutherland, Taylar Stallings and Tesha Thurmond displayed their skills during a five-team track and field meet.
While the trio was giving their respective squads a shot in the arm last Wednesday, the shot-put standouts also took some time to shoot the breeze at the Brierpatch.
"It's fun really, because we just crack each other up," Stallings said. "We're all like family. Lindsey and I went to middle school together, and Tesha and I went to elementary school together."
Their smiles didn't mean winning wasn't important - not by a long shot.
Among the line of shot-putters, three stood out.
Thurmond, a Greenbrier sophomore, posted an opening put of 34 feet, 2 inches.
Then Stallings entered the circle. The Evans junior proceeded to put the shot 35-5, to which Thurmond responded, "She's been practicing."
Sutherland stepped up next and showed why she's the big shot in Columbia County - the Greenbrier senior took over first place with a mark of 39 feet, 2 1/2 inches.
In the second of three rounds, Thurmond improved to 35-11. As Stallings prepared for her turn, Thurmond turned comedian, and Stalling almost dropped the shot.
"She was joking around, calling me short stuff," Stallings said, not bothered in the least by the good-natured ribbing. After all, she's just as tall as her friendly foe.
Sutherland soon put an end to the levity, with an impressive heave of 40 feet to cap the competition.
"That was my best throw so far this year," said Sutherland, the two-time defending shot-put champion in Region 3-AAAA. "I'm looking to get to 41 for state. My goal is to win state this year, since I finished second last year."
Sutherland already has signed a duel-scholarship with Gardner-Webb University, and will be a member of both the track and volleyball teams.
Still, a state title would be a fitting finish to a fantastic prep career. According to her throwing coach Dave Machovec, Sutherland is on track to do just that.
"Lindsey was second with a 40-foot throw last year, and I can see her throwing 42 or 43 feet by state, easily," said Machovec, who also coaches the Evans track and field teams.
Thanks to a combination of training, talent and technique, Stallings also has become a contender for region and state honors.
"I've never seen a girl as explosive as Taylar," Machovec said. "I don't foresee anyone in the region reaching the marks Taylar is throwing. I could see her placing in the top four at state."
As for Thurmond, even her best shot might come up short in Region 3-AAAA - Sutherland rules that domain. "It doesn't matter to me, as long as I finish second and make it to state," Thurmond says.
As a freshman, Thurmond qualified for the Class AAAA state championships in discus. She still considers discus her best event, but she's made great strides in shot.
"I just practice and get better and better at it," Thurmond said. "I learn from my mistakes."
Thurmond is a self-taught thrower, while Sutherland and Stallings are tutored by Machovec.
Although all three are physically strong, Sutherland thinks success in shot requires more than muscle.
"When you go to state you see these huge, huge girls - and then you see me. But I'm throwing farther than them," she said. "If you have the technique, you can throw far. It's not just about being big and strong."
Machovec calls it "connecting the dots." The best shot-putters begin with weight training which focuses on abdominal and back muscles, as well as the torso. Once that foundation is established, athletes learn to transfer power from the lower body.
The key ingredient, of course, is desire.
"Going to state is one of my goals," Stallings said. "Another is to beat Lindsey at least one time."
Bring it on, says Sutherland: "I hate to just blow everybody out of the water. I like good competition. It makes you work harder."
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