Deandra Howard, who won the junior varsity girls shot put championship at the high school track provincials earlier this month, isn't the type to let the pressure of competition get the best of her. Quite the opposite, in fact.
"I throw nowhere near as far [in practice] as I do in competition," says Howard, a Grade 10 student. "I throw like eight [metres] in practices, then in competition, I throw far. When I get adrenaline I throw way farther than normal."
She proved that she was by far the best at provincials, throwing further in qualifying than any other athlete threw in the competition, despite the fact that she wasn't giving it her all.
"I just wanted to qualify and that's it," she explains. I just there once and left. I actually didn't want to throw too far because if I threw too far the first time and then the next day in the finals if I didn't throw as far as I did in qualifying I wouldn't have been happy so I tried to make sure I didn't actually try during qualifying."
Following the qualifying round, Howard was confident that she would be on the podium for the second year in a row - she won silver in the same event as a Grade 9 student - though not certain where she might end up.
"I was confident I would get a medal but i wasn't sure," she says, since she couldn't be certain how much of an effort her competitors had made during qualifying, when only one other throw exceeded nine metres. "I wasn't sure if they were actually trying or if they were just like me and didn't try."
Howard's approach changed for the finals.
"In finals, I tried giving it my all and it started to rain and it got cold so I didn't actually do as good as I wanted to," she says, though she still managed a distance of 9.61 metres, well ahead of the second-place throw, which travelled 9.04.I" was actually going for the record."
In the end, Howard's championship winning shot was actually shorter than the one she won a silver medal for last June.
"Last year there were more people that were closer to what I was throwing so I pushed myself harder," Howard says. "This year, no one there nines until their last throw.'
The remarkable thing about R.D. Parker Collegiate's champions shot-putter is that she was reluctant to even give the sport a chance.
"Last year when I was making the team for provincials I had an opening in the junior girls shot put and Deandra had an opening for another event," says Coral Thompson, one of the Trojans track coaches. "I hadn't seen her throw but I had a pretty good hunch that she would be successful I spoke to her and told her how I thought she would probably be pretty good if she wanted to give it a try. She was a little unsure at first but I got her to agree."
It didn't take long for Thompson to see evidence that her hunch had been correct.
"At her first practice she threw the provincial standard throw and after that I knew she might be a contender at provincials," said Thompson. "After her second-place performance last year as a Grade 9, I had a pretty strong feeling that she would be able to get the gold this year and as it turns out my feeling was right."
Howard, who initially viewed herself as more of a runner, is glad she trusted her coach's instincts.
"I was actually mad when I had to do it the first year but I'm actually glad," she says. "I'm proud that Miss Thompson actually convinced me to do it because I wouldn't be a champion now if she didn't. I'd get nowhere in running but shot put I actually have a chance."
Running actually made Howard's road to the championship a little more difficult this season, because of an injury she suffered at the Zone 11 track championships.
"I just came back from a recovery of my hamstring," Howard says. "I tore it in zones doing the 100 metre, my first race, and dropped out because it tore. And then in zones I still came first with a pulled hamstring. That was sweet."
Howard's desire is one of the reasons she could overcome such obstacles, says Thompson.
"Deandra is a very competitive person, says her coach. "She often does throw better in competition than at practice because the other athletes give her that drive and power that she needs to throw that extra distance. She really thrives on the excitement of competition."
Another factor is the nature of her strength.
"She's powerful but she's also explosive which is important with shot put," Thompson says.
High school athletics may be over but Howard will still have a chance to demonstrate her technique later this summer. After the competition, a scout approached her and asked if she wanted to throw at the Western Canadian Midget & Youth Championships in Medicine Hat, Alberta July 13-15.
"Hopefully I'll do that," says Howard, who also has her sights set on a bigger event further down the road.
"In 2013 there's a [Canada] summer games and that's in Quebec so I'm hoping to train so that I can be the best in Manitoba so that I can got for that. That'd be sweet."
Her coach is also eager to see what Howard can accomplish in the years ahead.
"I'm very excited to see how she does in the next two years as a senior athlete," says Thompson.