Q&A WITH… MAGGIE MALONE

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Country: United States of America

Profession: Athlete – Javelin

Career highlights:

  • 2020 Olympic finalist
  • 2016 Olympian
  • American Record Holder – 67.40m
  • US Olympic Trials Record Holder – 63.50m
  • NCAA Collegiate Record Holder – 62.19m
  • In 2016 Maggie became the first-ever javelin thrower to win the NCAA title and the US Olympic Trials in the same year.

Congratulations on winning the Athletics Association MiPro Performance Award for July! Please can you take us through that 67.40m throw 😊

In the 67m throw I had 3 cues I was really working on: staying tall through my body (head to toe), rhythm in the throw, and having tension through head/neck. I had no intention or thought that I would throw 67m because I had an extremely emotional and frustrating week leading up to this competition.

I had no idea how it was going to go… but, I went in with my game plan and I saw it go so far!

I think I looked at the crowd and was like, “wow that’s far… THAT’S FAR!” And they read it out loud and I just lost it. I couldn’t believe I threw 67m. I was just ecstatic and so thankful for God and that moment. I then had to get drug tested immediately and do some other stuff so that they could ratify the record… so I called Deanna Price (American record thrower in Hammer) and she and her husband walked me through what I needed to do and gave me all the numbers of people to call.  Gotta love the throwers’ community!

You are coached by javelin great Tom Pukstys, what would you say has made this partnership so successful?

I’d say working with Tom worked because he was a great thrower himself, and so he knows the “feelings” that it takes as a javelin thrower. He is really good at seeing a throw and explaining what WE felt and how to make changes.

We know Identity is such a difficult issue for many elite athletes. Could you tell us about your “Maggie Malone, the Olympian” journey and what challenges you may have faced with this identity?  

This is something that I have struggled with for a really long time. I was always thought of as Maggie Malone the Olympian or the Athlete and this ate at me to the point where I just truly lost myself. My identity was only found in success and if I wasn’t successful that meant that I was somehow wrong or unworthy, that I’d let people down…and all the negative things I could think of.

 So, I started working with a counsellor in 2017 because I had failed at the Olympic in 2016 and that totally broke me. I felt I had failed on the world stage and embarrassed myself. I was also going through injuries at the time and just a bunch of other stuff. My mental health was not good, and I hadn’t been successful, which meant it just spiraled from there.

I had to work on who I was apart from Maggie Malone the Olympian, javelin thrower or athlete. This helped me understand what my core values are, what I believe in. My faith is huge, I knew that I was the daughter of Christ and that is truly where I found my identity and not in sport. 

I know now that my identify isn’t defined by a number that comes up on the screen or the distance thrown. At the end of day my identity is always rooted in who Jesus is and that brings me comfort and peace. This also allowed me to feel freedom from these chains that I brought into competitions and training and allowed me to have a more free mindset. Learning to open my hand instead of leading with a closed fist allowed me to open myself up to having greater success.

Mental health was a strong theme at the Tokyo Olympics, what are your thoughts on the difference between mental toughness and mental health for athletes?

I would say that mental toughness is a result of whether or not your mental health is strong, and you are “healthy”. What I mean by that is if your mental health is not a priority and if you are not good mentally and in your heart, and you don’t have a good identity about yourself, you aren’t in a good headspace. Then how are you going to be mentally tough? Because the Olympics are like the arena to see who is mentally tough.

I will say that mental toughness means are you are able to be resilient, fight back and not allow things to get into your mind and you are able to compete without these impeding feelings and continue when things don’t go well. I don’t believe that you’re able to be mentally tough if you don’t have a strong mental health foundation first, meaning you have a solid identity, you know where your strength comes from yourself, you have joy in the sport or whatever you’re doing. All of that needs to be in check first before stepping into the arena and competing at a level which requires and demand so much mental toughness to compete well.

How did you managed to fit in studying a Master’s degree in Marketing Analytics and training/competing? 

I actually finished my Masters in Marketing when I was injured and I wasn’t really competing and I was also going through a lot of mental health work. So I was training but I wasn’t really in a competition mindset. I was in a lot of counselling sessions and physical therapy because I had injured my back, had a bulging disc and fractured my heel. I really wasn’t in a capacity to compete, but I had always wanted to get my Masters because both my parents had had theirs. So, I pursued that and I am so thankful that I did. I learned a lot through the programme and made incredible friends, and I also found who I was.

It was nice to have a little mental health break from javelin and the athletics setting. I needed just to be a college student for a little bit. There were some really hard seasons in the programme and some moments that I’m not proud. But I know that I was lost in a lot of areas during that time, but I also know that God is so good and was pursuing me the whole time. I really dived into my faith at that time and I am thankful for that season of hardship because it resulted in a lot of growth. Without it, I don’t think I would have found who I am now and I wouldn’t have created the foundation that I now have.              

What are your plans going into the 2022 season and what are you looking forward to the most? 

I have recently moved to Phoenix, Arizona and I am really excited about that. I finally get to be closer to my strength coach who I love, Malcolm Gwilliam. He is incredible. Having him in the gym has already made a huge difference, demanding so much of me and pushing me to limits that I have never felt before.

I am really excited about the World Championships in Eugene and excited to see where the season goes, because I feel I have built a strong foundation with the team around me.  I have such an awesome team with my strength coach, my mental coach, technique coach and nutritionist, and we are all going for the same goal: a gold medal at some point.  I really want to get a medal at Worlds and the Olympics. That is what I am pursuing right now.

I am looking forward to this new training environment. It is very positive, and I am excited to build on the foundation from this last year. I want to throw 70m. I want to see what God has in store for me, hopefully I can reach those heights. I don’t know if that’s in the cards for me, but I will do everything in my power to achieve that.

I am also looking forward to training with my boyfriend Sam Harden, who also coaches me in Javelin. I would love to see him make the World Champs team, and we could do it together in 2022 and make the Olympic team in 2024.  

Also getting the focus more on javelin, I have worked a full-time job these last few years. I’m taking a step back from that and pursuing javelin full-time. I am excited to see what happens when I dedicate more time to the sport.

I am excited to go to Europe and compete in the Diamond League. I am looking forward to competing with the best in the world, that is something I have dreamt of doing. I am fired up to be around all the women I admire, Kelsey-Lee Barber, Līna Mūze and Barbora Špotáková – all the women I have looked up to and now call friends.

We read that singing is one of your hobbies, what is your favourite song to sing and why?

One of my favourite songs is King of Kings by Hillsong. I love worship music, it soothes me and brings me so much peace and joy and it is pleasing to God. Leading worship in my church is something I would love to do in the future.

What is the WORST advice you have ever been given?  

Love this question! One is definitely that I should tint my eyebrows and that resulted in embarrassing pictures that I never want to see again because I looked insane!

As an athlete, it is that “Stronger is better” meaning that If I’m really strong that means I will throw further. That is a lie, and some coaches have it backwards. You don’t have to be the strongest to throw far. Stronger is not always better and could lead to injuries if you don’t know how to utilise your strength correctly and can cause imbalances.

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