For the first time in her brief but successful shot putting career, Thompson's Deandra Howard came home empty-handed after competing at the Canadian junior national track and field championships in Winnipeg July 27-29, where she finished last among the 12 competitors after a throw of 9.64 metres.
Brittany Crew won the women's shot put championship with a distance of 14.03 metres, while Jillian Weir and Rayann Chin, the second- and third-place finishers, threw 13.68 and 13.40 metres respectively.
Samantha Simcoe, who finished 11th, was the only other competitor not to break the 10-metre mark, recording a distance of 9.72 metres.
The distance recorded by Howard, who completed Grade 10 at R.D. Parker Collegiate in June, is just short of her best throw ever in high school competition, a 9.68 metre toss that won her the silver medal at Manitoba's high school track championships in 2011, and is actually longer than the 9.61 metres that won her a gold medal at the 2012 high school provincials in June. Until recently, it would have been close to her personal best, which was 9.68 metres until the Western Canadian track championships in Medicine Hat, Alberta last month, when she upped her maximum distance to 10.70 metres, a 102-centimetre improvement, on her way to a third-place finish at that tournament.
Until the junior national championships, Howard had finished in the top three in every tournament she had entered as a shot-putter. Ironically, she didn't even want to be a shot-putter until a teacher, Coral Thompson, asked her to compete in the sport at the Zone 11 track championships when she was in Grade 9.
Howard knew going in that there was little chance that streak would continue.
"I'm not going in there expecting to medal," she told the Thompson Citizen prior to the junior national championships. "Just the experience is going to be great."
She also fell a little short of her personal goal, which was to finish in the top 10 at the meet.
Just making it to nationals was an impressive feat for the Thompsonite, who trains on her own using a shot she borrowed from the school and marking out her practice throws by pacing them off.
"I would go to the high school and just do some throws," says Howard, describing her training regime, which also includes working out at her home. "I use my feet to measure it out. I just look at that because my tape measure is in feet not metres and that's too much to convert."
The experience of competing against the best that Canada's other provinces have to offer has given Howard a glimpse of the competition she will face if she achieves her goal of representing Manitoba in the women's shot put at the 2013 Canada Summer Games in Quebec.
Until the shot put season rolls back around, Howard will concentrate on building up her strength, perfecting her technique and keeping herself in good physical shape.
"I have to train a lot now, " she says. "I got to get more muscle."
She also learned at the Western Canadian championships that strength is not the only factor, as first place went to a competitor from Saskatchewan who didn't look, until she threw, like a champion shot-putter.
"I really underestimated her," says Howard. "She was the second smallest one there."
Strength must be focused as well. A shot-putter needs to channel muscle power power and release it in a single effort.
"It's really about the explosion," says Howard, as well as the trajectory. "If you put it too high it's not going to go that far."