For Hern, it’s hammer time all the time

Since she was a seventh-grader, Kimery Hern has been good at throwing things. Heavy things.

She has spent the past two high school track seasons showing off this talent, qualifying in the discus throw for the state 2A track and field meet in 2003 and coming into 2004 as the dominant girl in the event in the North Cascades Conference.

But for the past nine months, Hern, now a junior at South Whidbey High School, has been moonlighting in a different sort of throwing event. On most days in the off season, she has been leaving her discus in its carrying bag in favor of something more exciting: the hammer.

Since attending a throwing camp last July, Hern has been on steady track to be the best high school hammer thrower in the state. On Saturday, she proved that she is almost there, tossing an 8.8-pound steel ball at the end of a three-foot wire 142 feet, 3 inches to place third at the Centralia Spring Break Hammer Championship. The throw ranks her among the 10 best female high school hammer throwers in the nation. Not bad for a girl who hadn’t even seen a hammer before last summer.

“I caught on really fast,” said Hern while warming up at track practice at South Whidbey High School this week.

Tossing this big orb of metal through the air has become an obsession for Hern, even though becoming the best can never earn her a state high school championship. The hammer throw is an official high school event only in Rhode Island; in Washington, one of the few states that even allows high school athletes to train with the hammer, athletes must compete through the United States Track and Field Association, not their high school teams.

Perhaps the most technical of the four classic throwing events in track and field, the hammer throw requires more speed and coordination than it does brute strength. Competitors stand on a concrete circle, swing the hammer around their heads to get it in the air, then begin spinning and pivoting to build up momentum. The best throwers will make six revolutions or more before releasing the hammer.

Hern, who is up to three spins in what her coaches of have told her is a short span of time, is currently in the process of refining her moves. With each turn of the hammer, she has to crouch lower into her stance, counterbalancing the increasing pull of the spinning hammer.

“It’s heavy enough to pull me off my feet,” she said.

To throw farther, Hern shows up at school every morning around 6 a.m. to lift weights and build the abdominal muscles she needs to keep a hold of the hammer. After school, she works out as a member of the Falcon girls track team, training in the discus, shot put and javelin. She doesn’t get to throw the hammer every day, as the track area needs to be clear or people. The school does not have a dedicated hammer-throw area.

But the hard work is nothing Hern resents. She can talk for minutes straight about the history of the hammer throw, technique, and about how she plans to improve her form. She has, in less than a year, become not only South Whidbey’s first-ever high school hammer thrower, but one of the event’s most ardent practitioners.

Hern’s coach, Jeff Greene, said she is on track to throw over 150 feet May. That distance, he said, would be good enough to get scholarship offers from a number of colleges.

“Basically, she’s just a natural,” he said. “That will be her future.”

A throw over 150 feet could also make Hern the best Hammer thrower in the nation. At Saturday’s hammer meet, the event winner, Acacia Foster of Orofino, Idaho threw 148-1. That mark is the best in the nation this year.

Hern will compete in weekly hammer throw competitions into the summer. She said she hopes to be one of the top three high school hammer throwers from Washington by season’s end. In fact, she plans on it.

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