AR Setter Maggie Malone Found God Again

Maggie Malone will bring new status to the proceedings when she defends her OT title. (MIKE SCOTT)

WITH A NEW AMERICAN RECORD, javelinist Maggie Malone feels like she’s on top of the world at age 27.

The Texas A&M alum admits she had no idea her 219-3 (66.82) blast at Chula Vista was a big one when she released it, saying, “I did not, which is pretty accurate for me most of the time.”

She could hear her coach, Tom Pukstys, yelling from the stands, “Go! Go! 70-meters [229-8]!”

“And I was like, ‘70-meters? Someone’s getting a little hungry up there.’ I knew it went pretty far and I walked back to the girls, and they were all like, ‘No, Maggie, that was probably 66 [216-6].’ I was like, ‘What? It was probably like 64 [210-0].’

“So when the measurement came up — I‘ve known what the American Record was since I started javelin and I never thought that I could ever reach it. I thought that 66 was an untouchable number and I was always in such admiration of what Kara [Winger] did in 2010.

“So when it came on the board, I knew instantly that I had broken the American Record. I was like, ‘Holy cow, this is incredible! God, you’re so good. I’m absolutely shocked and surprised by this.’”

With 6 of the 7 farthest meets of her life this season (see chart), Malone is a thrower reborn. Recall version 1.0, who dazzled the U.S. javelin scene in ’16, winning the NCAA in a Collegiate Record 204-0 (62.19), then capturing the Olympic Trials, ,making her the first ever to manage that double.

She didn’t advance out of qualifying in Rio and struggled in the following seasons. When asked about it, she says, “Oh man, it’s a long story. I don’t even know where to start.” And then she takes a deep breath and opens up.

“In 2016, it felt like I made the team almost on accident. It was just a real surprise. I signed with Nike and got an agent and all these things. I don’t think I was ready or prepared for that. Also, I was going through some identity and mental health issues — a lot of my identity was wrapped up in my performances.

“When that happens and you aren’t throwing well and you’re having hard practices and you’re injured, then you feel like a failure and like you don’t belong.”

She explains, “2016 happened. I got thrown into, ‘OK, you’re a professional javelin thrower. Here are all the expectations for you moving forward.’ I just wasn’t mature enough to handle it, to be honest.”

She returned from Brazil and quickly was visited by a fracture in her foot and a bulging disk in her back. “At a time when I just hated the sport. It honestly got to the point where I would come to the track and I would have an anxiety attack walking through the gates.”

An amazing counselor was one part of the cure, she explains: “We worked a lot on ‘Who is Maggie?’” She got her Masters degree in marketing analytics. She stopped throwing for a while, skipping 2018 entirely. “When I was a collegiate athlete, I never got to be just a regular college student. I just wanted to do that. I decided I wasn’t going to really throw anymore.”

She made new friends, she flourished as a person, but throwing still nagged at her. “I didn’t have the hunger for it, but I just had this kind of ping in the back of my head.”

The transformative moment, she says, came after she finished her Masters and “found God again. I was really working on my faith and that’s been a huge staple. It’s been the driving force of this season, and in everything from 2016 till now, it’s been the only consistent thing in my life that has gotten me through the good and the bad.”

With talk of the 2020 Olympics on the horizon, Malone thought, “You know what, Maggie, what if you just made a go for it?” She started dating Sam Hardin, another former Aggie javelin thrower who is also having a PR season.

“He saw a lot of potential in me and was just like, ‘Maggie, you can do this.’” Malone, who said she had kept training during her layoff, minus the throwing, started getting more specific in practice again. Her ’19 season brought her a 182-7 (55.67) best and a 5th at nationals.

It also brought her another unwelcome challenge. Random sores, swelling and nosebleeds hit, with one possible diagnosis being spider bites. “At the USATF meet,” she says, “I was so swollen I looked like the Michelin man.” After many doctor visits, she finally found the answer from a nutritionist, Cynthia Monteleone, who discovered that grains and sugars in Malone’s diet were triggering autoimmune issues.

“I changed my diet an absolute 180. I started eating better and feeling better.” The problem cleared up.

Another of what she calls her life-changing “God moments” happened when she was in Tucson for a meet and she saw coach Pukstys — himself a 2-time Olympic finalist — holding court with a group of throwers at the hotel’s breakfast buffet.

When the others departed, Malone approached him. “I said, ‘Tom, I don’t why I’m talking to you, but I have this feeling that I need to leave College Station. And I’m interested in maybe pursuing another coach. Would you be willing to coach me?”

Caught off guard, Pukstys indicated he was interested, but would have to talk to his wife. And Malone responded, “OK, that’s great. What if you coached like 6 other people and me?”

“What do you mean?” asked Pukstys.

“I think we should start a training group.”

Pukstys admitted he had wanted to do that for years, and having recently moved to Birmingham, Alabama, it was feasible.

“Well, that’s convenient,” said Malone.

A few months later, Malone had Hardin convinced to move to Alabama with her. It didn’t take much, since he was raised there. Soon a number of other throwers decided to make the move as well: Avione Allgood (now Whetstone), Justin Carter, Ethan Shalaway, Curtis Thompson, and Bekah Wales.

Now called the USA Javelin Project, Pukstys’s squad has been instrumental in giving Malone the support she needs to flourish. “I can’t ask for better people to train with every single day that expect excellence out of themselves and also expect the best out of the people that they’re training with too,” she says. “And they’re awesome to travel with and compete with and celebrate with. This is everything that I wanted in the sport.”

She gives special credit to Hardin: “He understands javelin on an analytical level that I don’t, so he’s able to communicate technique ideas to me.

“And Tom is the most incredible technique coach. He threw for so long that he can watch somebody throw and say, ‘Hey, are you feeling this? I think if you did this one thing, you could feel it in this area and that’s going to maximize your throw in this way. He’s able to literally watch somebody and tell them what they’re feeling because he did it. And he knows how to tap into that.”

Malone also credits strength coach Malcolm William and his program: “It is specific to me and my skills and strengths and weaknesses and I am in the best shape of my life because of that.”

Now she looks ahead. With the help of her mental coach, Taylor Brown, she has changed the way she approaches competition. “In the past I was so fixated on the number,” she explains. “Now I’m at the point where, ‘OK, let’s see what I can do,’ and I’m going to focus on technique.

“If I can execute the technique well and compete to the best of my abilities that day, then I know I can walk away with it. I feel like I’m going into the Trials and the Games with absolute trust in God and knowing that no matter what, it’s going to be OK.”

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