Emma Callahan's head - and her arms, legs and torso as well - has been spinning quite a bit over the past four years, and she wouldn't have it any other way.
Introduced to the shot put by her father/coach as a rotational thrower vs. the glide, the Shenango standout believes her development into one of the top young talents in Pennsylvania is due, in large part, to getting into the spin of things right off the bat.
"I think it was hard at first to get the timing, but I'm very fortunate that my dad started me so young with the spin," the sophomore said of using the spin in 7th grade. "If I would have started with the glide, I would not be anywhere near as technically advanced as I am now. It was hard at the start, but the more technique at the beginning is better equipping me for now."
And where the 16-year-old right-hander is now is US No. 1 with back-to-back PR meets. Her mammoth put last Saturday of 47 feet, 11 inches shattered the facility record at Youngstown State by more than a foot, laid waste to her week-old PR of 44-10 and created a seldom-seen emotional moment from the Shenango thrower and her coach.
"We normally try to stay composed and try not to show much emotion, but after she threw her big one of the day, she became a tad emotional," said Matt Callahan, Emma's dad and coach. "The coach had to turn into the father and give her a hug and cry with her.
"She said to me going into warm-ups that she wanted to beat the facility record, and after that throw, she knew she had done that and I think that was in part what got her emotional. She's been a joy to coach as have the other kids I have been working with. To God be the glory."
In 2019, Callahan reached 41-5.25 with the 4-kilogram ball to finish second in the WPIAL Class AA meet. That performance was PA#1 for freshman by more than 3 feet and positioned her at No. 10 in her class nationwide but just over 12 inches out of the top 4 for ninth-graders.
She was 5th in the PIAA AA final at 39-7.75. One of only two freshmen in the field, Emma was the only 9th-grader to medal in all of the shot finals at Shippensburg and one of just five underclassmen to claim a podium finish.
"Honestly, the most important thing is timing," Emma said of the spin. "If you're off, too fast in one spot, too slow in another spot, it messes the whole thing up. You have to have a balance, coming slower out of the back and then getting faster in the front of the circle as you finish. It's all a timing game. If your timing's off, you're not going to throw well."
Ending her 2019 competitive schedule at Shippensburg, Emma was ranked 14th in the state and the No. 7 returnee to 2020. She quickly showed the off-season work she was able to squeeze in around her matches with the Shenango volleyball team moved her to a higher level in the circle.
In her indoor opener, she was a 39-11 runner-up at Hempfield Area. After a break for the holidays, she went to Edinboro for the TSTCA opener and had all five of her fair throws measure at least 41-5 with the 44-10 best. Not only did she better that mark twice at YSU, but her average topped 45 feet.
"I just felt like I was going through the motions, and I didn't actually push on the shot," Emma said in explaining why she felt there was longer puts to come after Edinboro. "OK, if I can do this decent (44-10) and then actually push on it, I can go a lot farther."
Emma isn't the only PA thrower excelling in the girls' shot this winter. Currently, Keystone state athletes occupy three of the top four spots in the U.S., with Maria Deaviz of Souderton Area less than an inch behind Callahan.
Before she started to excel in the throw cages of Pennsylvania and neighboring states, Emma enjoyed life behind the plate and under softball field backstops as a catcher. She resisted the nudge of track and field from her parents, who both competed collegiately at Slippery Rock University, before making the change of spring sports in junior high.
"I made the switch because at the time I felt like track was more of my passion, and if I put in the time, I could amount to something more than I could in softball," Emma said of her new spring pursuit. "I like the individual side of (track). It is a team sport but when it comes down to the end of the day, it's an individual sport. There's a lot of pressure on yourself, but it's nice to have that pressure on yourself to make you want to do better."