On a spring day in 2013, I sat down in a classroom to interview an athlete who was nearing the end of an illustrious high school career. Maggie Ewen was a senior at St. Francis who a few weeks later would capture her fourth big-school state championship in the shot put and her third title in the discus.
The resulting story began with these words …At least one more inch. That’s all Maggie Ewen thinks about when she steps into the discus or shot put circle. The St. Francis High School senior is not focused on state records or national records or her college career or the Olympics. Just one more inch. That’s it.
“For me, throwing is not about winning the meet, it’s about doing better than I’ve ever done,” she said. “I just want to do better than I did before, even if it’s an inch.”
On Sunday afternoon at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa, Maggie and I held another interview session. A lot has changed since that day five years ago, but a lot hasn’t. After making her debut as a professional athlete by winning the shot put at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships, she echoed the words she spoke as a high school senior.
“The goal always is to just throw farther,” she said. “If that gets me a title, if that gets me a record, that’s just kind of bonus on top of everything. I’m really just here to try and throw farther.”
From St. Francis, Ewen went to Arizona State University. Adding the hammer throw to her discus and shot put repertoire, she won seven Pac-12 Conference titles and four NCAA championships while setting two NCAA records. She turned pro after this spring’s NCAA championships (and graduating with a degree in exercise and wellness) and signed a sponsorship deal with Nike. She opened the USATF meet by finishing second in the women’s discus on Thursday. Then came two days of waiting and preparing for Sunday’s
Her pro shot put debut was quite a scene. Her cheering section included parents Bruce and Kristi Ewen, aunts and uncles, high school throwing coach Mark Hanson, and even one of her elementary teachers. Kristi yelled, “Go Maggie!” as her daughter stepped into the circle.
There was plenty of drama involved. Maggie’s opening throw of 58 feet, 10 1/4 inches put her in fourth place after the first of six rounds. She threw 62-7 ¾ in the second round and fouled in the third. At that point the leading throw was 63-1 ¼ by Jessica Ramsey and Ewen’s 62-7 ¾ put her in second place.
Her fourth throw was 60-11 and then came the big one. Maggie’s penultimate attempt flew 63 feet, 3 ½ inches, the best throw of the day at that point. Her celebration was muted, little more than a couple of clenched fists at waist level.
“It was far but I didn’t know how far,” she said later. “I was happy but I still needed to wait and see what it would do for me.”
Ewen threw 61-5 ¾ on her last attempt, and then came the waiting game as the other throwers took their final shots. Ramsey had the last throw of the competition and one more chance to overtake Ewen. Ramsey whirled in the circle, the ball sailed high out of her hand … and she stepped over the toe board for a foul.
The St. Francis contingent exploded in cheers and hugs as Maggie’s national championship was clinched.
This was quite an accomplishment for a young woman who has always been known for her work ethic and calm demeanor. She comes from an athletic family. Bruce was a thrower at Illinois State who participated at the 1988 Olympic trials in the hammer. Kristi played volleyball at Columbia Heights and Ohio State. Maggie’s older sister Alicia played volleyball at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. Alicia also was a track and field athlete and Maggie played volleyball in high school.
“When Maggie was a sixth-grader she watched her sister throw and she was writing down all the distances,” Hanson told me for that 2013 story.
“One of the fondest memories I have is when she was an eighth-grader at state; she was practicing and she went through at least 40 dry runs without a discus in her hand all by herself. To see that drive in her, that young, was amazing.”
That drive to succeed has taken Maggie to great heights. Her Minnesota state records in the shot put (54-8 ½) and discus (175-9) still stand, and her next competition will be the Athletics World Cup in London in mid-July.
As a professional athlete who for the first time in her life isn’t competing as a member of a team, Maggie said she felt very few nerves at the USATF championships.
“Honestly, I felt super relaxed,” she said. “Just being able to represent myself pretty much, not have to worry about a whole team that I need to represent and support, just to go out there and have fun. It was really low stress, a lot of good energy, and that’s how I like to compete.”
Maggie’s Twitter profile page includes these three notations…
“Arizona State … Track and field … Minnesota Pride”
Well done.Other Minnesotans At USATF Championships
Three Minnesotans competed in the men’s 10,000 meters, with Hopkins grad Reed Fischer
finishing fourth on the same track where he competed as an athlete at Drake. Winona alum Garrett Heath
was fifth and White Bear Lake grad Joel Reichow
placed 12th in the field of 23.
Fridley High School and Gophers graduate Harun Abda
advanced through the first round in the men’s 800 meters but did not finish high enough in the semifinal round to qualify for the finals.
In the men’s 1,500 meters, Minneapolis South and University of Minnesota alum Hassan Mead
did not advance past the prelims. Another former Gopher, Stillwater graduate Ben Blankenship
, was entered in the 1,500 but withdrew before the prelims. Both Mead and Blankenship ran the 1,500 at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Mead also ran the 5,000 meters at the USTFA meet, as did Hopkins and University of Colorado runner Joe Klecker
. Mead finished third and Klecker was ninth in a field of 21 runners.
In the men’s steeplechase, Mounds Park Academy and University of Michigan graduate Mason Ferlic
ran in the prelims but did not advance to the finals. Molli Detloff
, an Elk River High School alum who this spring finished her career at the University of North Dakota, finished 10th in the hammer. Rosemount High School grad and current North Dakota State athlete Payton Otterdahl placed 15th in the shot put.
Two Minnesota natives competed in the heptathlon. Willmar and University of North Dakota alum Rose Jackson
placed 13th and Shaina Burns
of Lakeville South and Texas A&M finished 14th.
In the men’s long jump, Staples-Motley alum Brian Huber
, the NCAA Division III national champion for Minnesota State Moorhead this spring, placed 15th.
Several University of Minnesota track athletes who did not attend high school in Minnesota also competed in Des Moines. Among them was Emma Spagnola
, who did not advance past the semifinals in the women’s 400-meter hurdles. Another Gopher, Madeline Strandemo
, a Fargo, N.D, native, competed in the women’s steeplechase but did not advance to the final round. Former Gopher Sean Donnelly
, a native of Ohio, finished third in the men’s hammer.Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn