After playing many sports throughout her high school career, Alyssa was fortunate to be recruited by Grand Valley State University to throw hammer on a scholarship. Juggling both school work and athletics is always a challenge and, on top of that, she held a job, too. “I definitely struggled harder with time management as a freshman and my grades reflected that,” Alyssa admitted. “It took me the next two years to repair my GPA and figure out a better way of doing things.” After overcoming those struggles though, she was able to excel in all areas. She doesn’t look back with dread but astonishment that she was able to prevail.
The roots of the hammer throw date back to the 15th Century and it one of the oldest events featured in the Olympic Games. The hammer throw is one of four throwing events in regular track and field competitions, along with the discus throw, shot put and javelin. The "hammer" used in this sport is not like the everyday hammer we would typically think of. It consists of a metal ball attached by a steel wire to a grip. The size of the ball varies between men's and women's competitions. While the men’s sport has been in the Olympics since 1900, women’s competition wasn't introduced until the 2000 Summer Games. It’s an incredibly graceful sport when you break down all that goes into a successful throw. Besides having strength, one has to have the proper technique and footwork. “The word strong and masculine get interchanged too often, especially when you think of a throwing sport. A lot of people associate throwing with being masculine, but there is such a beauty in it,” Alyssa explains.
To train for such a unique sport, it takes a lot of dedication. It takes eight weeks of conditioning before practice even begins. To train specifically for hammer, one throws different weights of hammers. A heavier hammer helps to perfect technique and lighter hammers help form better footwork and increased speed. “We threw 5-6x per week for about an hour and half, then a lot of lifting. A lot.”
Beyond physical strength training, the sport requires a lot of mental fortitude. Because hammer is an individual sport, despite being on a track and field team, it demands the athlete be super focused on herself. Alyssa remembers the moments leading up to the throw and totally getting in her own head: “All eyes are on you.” “Don’t mess up your footwork.” “Drive the knee.” “Counter the weight.” These thoughts consumed her, adding even more pressure to perform well. She credits time and maturity in overcoming self-doubt. “Eventually I was able to turn the mindset to, 'Let’s see how good I can be today', instead of, 'I hope I don’t fail'.” All of Alyssa's hard work paid off. She went on to earn four All-American titles and was on four National Championship teams in Division II.
Alyssa credits her success to the hard work she put in by herself, but also her amazing support network. Being surrounded by supportive teammates was essential to Alyssa maintaining a positive outlook. “Leaning on them to cheer you through a lift or push you through conditioning was key for when I felt exhausted,” she signified. Admittedly, after college, it has been harder to find the motivation and support network. It’s easy to find yourself in a slump. Reaching out to friends, family, and a signing up for a local gym has helped keep her on track. Side by side with her sister, Alyssa was introduced to Nugro Wellness. The gym has provided a family-like environment to all of its members. “I finally felt like I had a support system again and a place where I could push myself further,” beamed Alyssa.
Within that same gym family, Alyssa was introduced to Sara Moylan, Founder and Creator of SHEFIT. In classic fashion, Sara showed Alyssa the Ultimate Sports Bra and invited her to try one out during her workout. “This bra has changed women's lives, including mine.” Alyssa will never have to submit herself to wearing two bras ever again. Sara invited her to be a part of future SHEFIT photoshoots. Alyssa explains why she was hesitant at first and apprehensive to be so vulnerable. “The thought of taking my shirt off in front of people and especially in front of a camera, was terrifying. My entire life I have always been a 'bigger' girl. I am six feet tall, athletic, and love keeping my shirt on. My first shoot I was terrified. It took a lot of encouragement from everyone there to start to feel comfortable but, once I got out of my own way, I had a blast! I let my insecurities go by the wayside and just had fun with it. I left there feeling confident and wondered why I was ever nervous in the first place.”
It’s not always easy to be so carefree. Negative thoughts are always creeping in, everyone has insecurities, and Alyssa was no exception. The mental strength built up over time is a tool she leans on time and time again. We believe Alyssa said it best when it comes to self love …
“These experiences have helped me to love and accept myself more than anything I have ever done. They have helped me to look within and know that my self-worth isn’t just my physical appearance. That I don’t have to cry when I see an unflattering photo of myself because that isn’t all that I am. A mean comment isn’t going to ruin my whole day, because that person doesn’t know me. They see me, but they don’t know me and there is way more to me than a photo on a page. And that's all because of a sports bra.”