“I COME FROM A FAMILY of, not chefs or anything—home cooks, people who just know how to cook,” says putter Darrell Hill. Of late the ’18 USATF champ and 4-time World Ranker has been cooking on camera. More on that later, but suffice it to say he trusts his instincts and is unafraid to get creative with whatever ingredients he has on hand.
This spring when Olympic postponement unexpectedly showed on the menu, Hill—the 5th-place finisher in last fall’s titanic World Champs shot clash—acted immediately to switch up the recipe in his iron ball day job. He parted ways amicably with Greg Garza, his coach the last couple of seasons in San Diego, packed up his belongings and drove to Arizona where 2-time World Indoor gold medalist Ryan Whiting is now coaching him.
Hill, a ’15 Penn State grad, made Team USA for the Olympics in the next year, hitting the first 70-footer of his career at the Trials (70-11¾/21.63). Though he didn’t make the final in Rio, he did at the ’17 World Champs (11th) and 3 weeks later smashed his PR with an unexpected for many 73-7½ (22.44) heave to win at the Diamond League Final in Brussels.
At the ’18 DL Final, that one in Zürich, he punched four throws past 22m to top out at 73-6 (22.40) for 2nd—ahead of Ryan Crouser and just 7¾ inches (20cm) short of Tom Walsh’s winner. Last year Hill uncorked 5 of the 10 longest throws of his life with a 73-4 (22.35) to win at the U.S./Europe duel with his seasonal best.
Yet physically he was not at 100% last year. Intersection syndrome—inflammation of tendons in the wrist of his throwing hand—plagued him from late April through season’s end.
“Just being healthy at the right times has kind of been the hangup for me,” Hill says. “2019 was a really good year for me; I threw well, I threw consistently, I had my most consistent year. I had multiple meets over 22m [c72ft], which I hadn’t done. It was a really good year. But a really stressful year on my body. I took myself in training to levels that I had never reached before and that put a lot of stress on my body. Just having to compete with the schedule that we had [Nationals in late July] and then having to come back and compete all the way in October, it was just really tough. But it’s so hard to say these things in interviews because nobody knows except me and the people who were there.
“But I know that a personal best for me, if I’m healthy, I’ll achieve it for sure. 22.44 [73-7½] is my best currently, but I know that if I enter into the 2021 season with a full bill of health, I think the world will probably get to kind of see who I actually am—that I actually am a part of that upper echelon group of guys who finished in the top 3 at the World Championships, that I’m not a guy that’s supposed to be on the outside looking in. But that’s the position where I am today, it’s what it’s been.
“And I think with me being able to battle through some of the injuries and some of the things I had to go through last season and still compete at a really high level, the mental strength that I gained from that will pay dividends when I’m actually able to be truly healthy and truly compete at my best.”
In erstwhile Arizona State star Whiting, who himself bettered 22m six times in his career, Hill sees a coach whose insights on staying healthy could prove invaluable.
Hill says, “I’ve always been in search of information. I’ve always been in search of growth. I’ve always been in search of getting better. And I just felt that with the relationship I had with Ryan, he could help me go to the next level. There were things I was experiencing in my own career as far as injuries and battling back through that and things that I just knew that a person like Ryan, who has gone through it, can help me, can understand and help program and help me overcome those things.
“Our relationship stems all the way back to 2013 when I was at Penn State University and he was in the prime of his career and I got to watch him [training on campus], I got to watch him go through that, win World Championships.
“When he went to go win his World Championship in 2014, I was at practice that week. I was there to get to see that preparation. I got to see all of those practices and stuff that the world didn’t get to see. I was there for a lot of those days. So understanding who he was and his mentality and his approach to the sport, I thought he could kind of help me get over the hump a bit.”
No one would have guessed a pandemic would radically shift the timeline. “Obviously it was maybe a decision that I thought I would make down the line,” Hill says, “because I was already established in my relationship with Greg [Garza]. And our relationship never soured. So it wasn’t like we had something negative; we’re still great friends.
“But just understanding where we are—this season may not happen—once they decided to push the Olympics back a year. I figured if I was ever going to make a move, it would make the most sense to do it right now so that I can spend the most amount of time with my coach. Obviously we know each other, but we haven’t worked together in that space, coach/athlete. So just wanting to spend as much time as we can leading into the 2021 season, I thought that the time to do it was in April.”
The weeks since Hill joined Whiting in Phoenix have been—tumultuous doesn’t cut it. COVID-19 is still with us. Then came George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer. The brutal act, business as usual in the USA from which white Americans have too often averted their eyes forever, may mark a turning point toward a better more just future for the nation’s Black citizens. That’s up to all of us.
Darrell Hill, his gut wrenched, will not at this moment stand silent. He shared his thoughts with T&FN. They deserve their own space, and you’ll find them here.
As Floyd’s words “I can’t breathe” have seared and shamed us, training has been difficult, Hill admits.
“Truthfully, to be honest, it’s really, really been tough. Ryan does a good job of just kind of checking in on me every day. Like ‘Hey, how are you doing? How’s everything? If you need time, take time. If you need to not come today, you don’t have to come today.’ Kind of just making sure, understanding that there’s real things going on in this world right now. So it’s been really tough and I’ve tried to do my best to keep my routine as much as I can because I try to use sport as a break or relief from some of the things that go on.
“I try to use that period of time to just focus on a craft; you know, to allow my mind to not just be stuck in one upsetting heavy place for 24 hours, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say shot put doesn’t matter as much right now. Because, just look at the way the world is and where our country is. There’s so many things that I feel like we need to address that shot put has kinda taken a slight back burner to that.”
But not off the stove, of course. Hill is a pro shotputter and thanks to Whiting has a workplace. “Ryan has a relationship with a business owner and they’ve allowed us to use their land,” Hill explains. “We have a portable ring that he and his wife, Ashley, they come out every single day before we train and put the ring up, set up tents. We’re able to get our throws in and we have a whole weightroom set up in one of the guys we train with’s garage.
“So it is definitely a quarantine coronavirus situation. Ryan works at Mesa Community College so when things are in a normal state, that’s where we would train. But as of now, we have a makeshift work environment. But you know, looking at what people are working with around the United States and around the world, we have more than enough space and equipment to get the job done.”
With no certainty about the feasibility of summer competition, Hill’s eyes are firmly set on ’21—for the most part. “We’re kind of working toward August or September, potentially,” he says. “I don’t want to be competing super late because I have aspirations for the 2021 indoor season. I don’t want to compete all the way into October and then only have a month to change. We have to rest, you gotta get the rest and then you only have about a month and some change to prepare to compete in January.” Of what will be an Olympic year.
Outside the circle and the weight room, Hill has found another mouth-watering outlet for his talents: Feedin’ The Streets with BIGHOMIE, a series of YouTube cooking videos you don’t want to miss if you love to eat. (Continued below)
Hill’s a natural in his kitchen before the camera, engaging, not gimmicky.
“It’s like an outlet for me,” he says. “Through different periods of time when I was stressed, I would just sit on YouTube and try to just get away from everything and just watch people make recipes. Then I’d go downstairs and replicate it or go downstairs and put my own twist on something. And I love eating first and foremost, right.”
So did his roommates when Hill spun out the grub. They encouraged him to take his chef’s chops public.
“And then,” Hill says, “Kobe Bryant passed. For me that was kind of a wakeup call that you never know when your last day is on this earth. So literally immediately, the first thing I did was I got up, I went to Best Buy and I bought a camera. I didn’t really have a plan, but I just knew that I wanted to make sure that I left a lot more of me in the world, let people know that I’m a lot more than just a shot putter, I have more talents. I have more interests. I just kinda share with people a little bit more of who I am.”
Perhaps in gastronomy full time after his putting days are over? Still only 26, Hill might easily throw through two more Olympic cycles, but “I haven’t ruled [a cooking future] out,” he says. “You know, I’m a person that I don’t like to make plans anymore because, man, what I’m doing today was not part of my plan at all. So I just keep going 100% in every area and when opportunities present themselves, doors open, I’ll walk through them.”