By Stephen Thompson, Goheels.com
When it comes to sports, size typically matters. More size means more power and length. But Sarah Howard finds a way to produce big results in a small body - for a shot putter.
The sophomore from Dublin, Ga., is the number one shot putter on the North Carolina track and field team, but she lacks the typical size of an average shot putter on a competitive Division I program. She only stands about 5 feet 5 inches and weighs a modest 160 pounds.
"Normally they (shot putters) are closer to six feet and 200 lbs," Howard said. "The girl who won nationals last year - who also broke indoor and outdoor NCAA records - she's 6-1 and 250 at least. And the girl who won the Olympics in the shot, she's 6-4 275."
That's perspective for you and that's Howard's competition. But she doesn't let the David versus Goliath factor affect her.
"It was kind of funny when we threw in New York at the Armory Collegiate Invitational," Howard said. "A lot of them were fairly large and I felt like a little kid at different times. It's just kind of funny and not really intimidating."
At that meet Howard threw 52-4 ¾ (15.97 meters) and finished fourth out of the 59 competitors. At the Gene Anderson Invitational, Howard impressed all with a new personal best 54-4 ½ (16.57 meters), three feet longer than her previous indoor personal record. Her throw from that meet still ranks as the twelfth-best throw in the nation this year, which would qualify her for NCAA Indoors if the season ended now, and it ranks as the second-best shot put in UNC Indoor history.
"It's always a goal to make nationals - indoor and outdoor," Howard said. "That's the main thing every year, that and improving. This year I want to be able to consistently throw my PR from last year. That would mean the meets I throw really well at, I should be able to increase my PR by a huge amount."
So what's her secret to throwing so well with the serious disadvantage in size?
"I've been throwing for a long time," Howard laughed. "But we do a lot of technique stuff and we put a lot of work in the weight room, especially this past summer. That's been a big thing - trying to get weight room numbers up a lot. It's been effective because my PR has gone up a lot already."
North Carolina head coach Harlis Meaders has really been pressing Howard and other throwers on technique, but especially Howard because of her size limitation.
"We do a lot of technical drills," Howard said. "He's really good at communicating what he sees and making sure that what he sees is what I'm feeling in the circle. Any work we do in practice is correlated to throwing. No matter what it is. And he really enjoys it too, which makes it fun at practice because he gets in to it."
"In order for Sarah to throw farther... and farther is a word Sarah and I play with," Meaders said. "What's far for one kid is not far for another kid, so we just want to throw farther. So in order for Sarah to throw farther, she has to be really consistent with her technique.
"If you look at Sarah as far as height and overall bodyweight, she's small - especially for a thrower. But inside, Sarah's a giant and she competes like a giant. It's kind of fun to watch.
"I think she's accustomed to being the smallest person out there, but I think she puts that as a chip on her shoulder and uses it to her advantage. She's an excellent competitor, trains really hard, and she's really dedicated. I think she's going to have an exceptional year."
Despite the physical disadvantage, Howard continues to put up huge throws, and she validates herself as one of the nation's premier shot putters. The only measurement that matters for Howard is the distance between her and where the 8-pound, 13-ounce ball she threw landed.
Howard's next competition will be at the New Mexico Don Kirby Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M., where she hopes to improve on her PR again. The meet will feature another round of great competition in the shot put for Howard and will begin on Friday, Feb. 14 and conclude on Saturday Feb. 15.