Ho hum. Another track meet, another medal.
Thompson shot-putter Deandra Howard did what she does best at the 2012 Western Canadian midget and youth track and field championships in Medicine Hat, Alberta July 13-15, rising to the level of competition and coming home with a medal, this time a bronze.
"I've always placed," says Howard of her two-year shot-putting career, in which she's always finished among the top three, including silver and gold in the junior girls division at the high school provincial track championships in consecutive years. "I've never not placed."
But that doesn't mean the Medicine Hat meet was just another competition.
Howard, whose previous personal best was a distance of 9.68 metres at the 2011 high school track championships where she earned silver, improved by 102 centimetres, tossing the shot 10.7 metres to finish third among youth shot-putters from the four western provinces.
"I was really shocked," says Howard, who has now earned a spot at the national junior track and field championships in Winnipeg starting July 27. "I didn't believe it because I've never thrown that far in my life. I've never even come close to touching 10 [metres] and then I did it."
Things didn't look promising for Howard in the first round of the competition, with an initial throw that didn't even break the nine-metre mark, something that Howard does on practically every attempt. She got over nine metres on her next attempt and again in the second round, and then made throws of 10.66 and 10.7 metres to end up with the bronze medals, matching the target she set for herself coming in.
"My goal was to get at least third," she said.
Howard credits the other athletes for helping her achieve a new personal best by stirring up her competitive spirit.
"I always want to do better than everybody else around," she says, noting that this is a double-edged sword, as she finds it hard to perform her best when competition isn't as fierce. "I don't even think I'll be able to throw it that far in zones next year."
The Thompson shot-putter also learned that looks can be deceiving. The winner of the youth girls shot put competition was an athlete from Saskatchewan who was the second-smallest of all the competitors in that division. Howard said that reinforced that winning is not all about strength but also about technique.
"I really underestimated her," said Howard, who likened being on Team Manitoba to her experiences in high school competition. At Zone 11 track championships, R.D. Parker Collegiate's team looks great, but when it comes to provincials, the reality that there are many other athletes as good or better sets in. Those same athletes, many of whom are chosen for Team Manitoba, are simply typical when faced off against those from Alberta and Saskatchewan.
"They look so good in Manitoba but when you go to the other provinces it's nowhere near as good," Howard says.
The upcoming national championships will be different than Howard's other competitions, although they are being held at the University of Manitoba stadium, the same venue where she won silver the her first provincials in 2011. For the first time, her mother and sister will be in the stands watching her compete.
"This could be a good thing or a bad thing," she says. "Hopefully it makes me want to do better."
She'll also draw motivation from the memory of her final throw of the 2011 competition, which she thought at the time might have been enough to approach the junior varsity girls record of 9.94 metres.
"That's where I faulted my really good throw, so that might make me mad," Howard says. "I've got to redeem myself."
That being said, Howard doesn't view being in familiar surroundings as much of an advantage when it comes to shot put, saying "it's just a circle." She also admits she has trouble concentrating on the task at hand when she competes.
"I'm always worried about what's going on around me," she says, recalling how she told teammates not to cheer until after she threw at provincials because it made her feel nervous. "I can't over think it like I always do."
Overall, the RDPC student would rather that the nationals were held in a city she's never been to before. Still, it makes it a lot easier for her to attend, thanks to some help from her sponsors Beastly Boutique and Pet Grooming, Moore's Specs and Ronald Morrison,
Howard also knows that, most likely, this will be her first competition that ends without a medal, though her goal is to be among the top 10 competitors.
"I'm not going in there expecting to medal," she says. "Just the experience is going to be great."
It should also help Howard build to her ultimate goal, of rep-resenting Manitoba at the Canada Summer Games in Quebec in 2013 and she's excited to have the opportunity to compete on a national stage less than two years after she was first asked to compete in shot put for RDPC.
"I'd never even touched a shot put before," she says.