By CORY MULL
Cover and action photos by Pat Montferrat, NJRunners.com - Award photo by Marleen Van den Neste
WILLIAMSPORT -- Rachel Fatherly is counting the number four.
That is, four feet.
According to Fatherly, the standout Williamsport senior who recently won shot put gold at The Penn Relays, that’s the additional length she has given to her shot put since she reconstructed her technique over the summer.
“Once I get in the power position, I have to move and go,” said Fatherly, who is planning on attending Penn State and competing for the Nittany Lions. “There’s no hesitation. I have to push and make sure I have the height. Height and lift is key to a good throw. As long as I stand up tall, all I need to do is watch it land.”
Over the last two seasons, Fatherly has moved into prominence in the throwing events. A third-place finisher in last year’s PIAA Class AAA meet, the Williamsport senior followed the performance up with a runner-up finish at indoor states in the shot put, and then a gold medal at the prestigious Penn Relays.
Soon enough, during the District 4 Championships on May 19th, she’ll have another chance to prove her growing dominance.
But it was in Philadelphia, in front of a captive audience, that Fatherly felt like she was truly beginning to blossom for the first time in 2012.
“I came in seeded fourth and I guess the win showed my competitive side,” said Fatherly, also a 1,000-point scorer for Williamsport in girls‘ basketball. “Normally during track season, I don’t get a lot of competition until states. But at Penn Relays it was good to see people throwing around the same marks. It helps you get better. It pushes you.”
Much like track pedigree, her marks and career arc in the shot put have improved since she began working with coach Jeff Strohl. While she was a standout thrower as a freshman and sophomore, it really wasn’t until she began working with Strohl, shortly into her junior year she says, that she began to see quality growth in her technique and results.
“He honestly taught me how to throw shot put,” Fatherly said. “Before he came in, I was just using my strength. I needed to use more legs and arms. If I continued to throw with just my arms, he said I would get hurt, but once I learned to put my legs into it, it became easier, and I improved.”
It wasn’t easy, though. To get there, she had to learn a new movement.
For most, the time for learning new skills is during the summer. It was then that Fatherly absorbed the glide, a difficult shot put technique.
Despite the work ahead, Fatherly knew that by adding this technique, she could potentially add significant feet to her throws. So with the help of Strohl, she quickly prioritized the movement and repeated it over and over during practice.
However, her work rate couldn’t be judged solely by her summer schedule. Fatherly says she consistently practiced her technique through the fall, and into the winter when she was playing basketball. When there wasn’t a game, she was practicing her technique.
“Keeping up with the practice was a big key,“ Fatherly said. “I practice all year round. In previous years I only practiced through the track season. But this was a change, and a great thing.”
The practice paid off.
She had bested her personal best of 2011 (43-2.25 at the state championships) about a month into the new spring season. Her 47-foot, 11.5 inch heave at the Susquehanna High School Outdoor Invitational in early March gave her PA#1 and US#8 marks.
It was also seven inches better than her next closest competitor. Since then, she uncorked a 47-5 at The Penn Relays. And she’s added a 45-3.75 at the Lock Haven High School Classic.
She says her current goal is somewhere in the 50-foot range. She said she’s thrown in the 48-range in practice.
“I use that number as motivation,” she says.