Ask Emma Hargreaves about her emergence as one of the state’s top performers in the shot put and discus, and she’ll point to another sport for much of that growth.
The Old Town High School senior, the reigning Class B indoor state champion in the shot put, recently competed in her final gymnastics meet.
Hargreaves was a three-time Maine State YMCA gymnastics champion and a seven-time New England YMCA championship qualifier who qualified for the YMCA nationals six times.
She also has coached the sport at the Old Town-Orono YMCA since age 13.
“There have been a lot of tears,” Hargreaves said. “It’s time for this chapter to close, but I’m very sad to see it ending.”
The Bowdoin College-bound class valedictorian is counting on her gymnastics background to continue to benefit her blossoming track and field career. That chapter began as a jumper at age 7 and shifted more toward throwing events during her middle-school years.
“Gymnastics is a really competitive sport with a lot of time spent in the gym so I built up upper-body strength that not a whole lot of girls my age had, so I had a natural inclination toward throwing and I really liked it,” said Hargreaves, who also competes in the pole vault, long jump and triple jump at Old Town.
“You need super strong abs to rotate backward and sideways in gymnastics, and then you need great balance and a strong core,” she said. “You have to have a strong body because you’re holding you’re whole own body weight all the time, and especially swinging on the bars you get some crazy shoulders.
“Being powerful in gymnastics has really translated well to track.”
Veteran Old Town track and field coach Rod White is familiar with other student-athletes in his program who have benefitted from gymnastics training, though not necessarily in conjunction with throwing events.
“I get a lot of pole vaulters who were gymnasts because they’re used to being upside down, but with Emma, I think it’s her conditioning and strength work she does with gymnastics that helps her most with the throws,” White said.
Hargreaves said more subtle elements of her gymnastics background also have aided her track-and-field career.
“It has a lot to do with body awareness,” she said. “When you’ve been throwing yourself through the air and doing flips and twists since you were 4 years old you’re really aware of what your muscles are doing.
“It also gave me a work ethic. I can drill the same movements for hours in the shot put, and gymnastics taught me that the time you put into it is what you get out of it, which is a lesson you can say you know but you keep re-learning.”
Hargreaves threw the shot between 30 and 32 feet early in her high school career but began concentrating more on her technique last year. She elevated her personal best to 34 feet, 2 1/2 inches at the 2018 New England indoor championships and 36 feet, 11 3/4 inches while finishing third at the Class B outdoor state meet.
She also placed third in the discus at states last spring with a best of 106 feet, 5 inches.
More recently, Hargreaves has added CrossFit training designed specifically for the shot put and discus, and the distances have continued to increase.
Hargreaves captured her first shot put state title on her final throw at the 2019 Class B indoor meet, with her best of 38 feet, 1/4 inch good for a 2 1/2-inch victory.
“It’s taken a lot of mental work to get to be the kind of competitor who can win on the last throw,” she said. “I tend to shut down in competition, so it was a big deal to be able to pull that out at states. I came into that meet with the mind of a competitor. I had to work to find it, but since I’ve found that it’s been helping me out.
“The way I looked at it, if I could go backwards blind on a balance beam, I could focus throughout this very scary shot put competition.”
Hargreaves has steadily increased her bests in the discus and shot put this spring. She won both events at Saturday’s Penobscot Valley Conference large-school championship meet hosted by the Coyotes.
Hargreaves captured conference discus title with a best of 107 feet, 8 inches and the shot put crown with a personal best of 41 feet, 10 1/2 inches. Her shot put performance erased the 36-year-old conference record of 41 feet, 3 3/4 inches and eclipsed school and facility standards.
That effort will rank Hargreaves among the favorites in the event at this Saturday’s Class B state championship meet in Brewer along with the likes of seniors Sarah Cox of Waterville — who placed second the indoor state meet — and Christa Carr of Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield.
Both Cox and Carr topped 40 feet at the 2018 outdoor state meet, with Cox winning the Class B outdoor crown at 41 feet, 5 3/4 inches and Carr second at 40 feet, 10 3/4 inches. Hargreaves placed third at 36 feet, 11 3/4 inches.
Even as she continues to break school and personal records, Hargreaves remains a student of her craft. Several times during a recent regular-season meet, she stopped in mid-windup, aware her form was slightly off.
“She knows from watching video what she’s supposed to do and now she can feel it when she’s doing it and if she’s not where she feels she should be she’ll stop and regroup,” White said.
Hargreaves plans to continue her track-and-field career at Bowdoin, where White believes she will benefit from more event-specific training in the shot put, discus and hammer throw.
“When you move on to college you have specialized coaches that are with you all the time, so she’s going to get a lot of one-on-one time, and I think she’s just going to take off next year,” White said.