Senior Danielle Crawford competes in the shot put event at the New Balance Nationals Indoor on March 8 in New York City. (Video Credit: Jennifer Showalter)
By Jimmie Johnson III
Rockbridge County High School senior Danielle Crawford was confident that this year she would not be denied in taking first place in the shot put competition at the Virginia High School League Indoor Track State Championship.
The previous three-time state champion had finally graduated, and Crawford was predicted to win the event by over two feet. At the state meet on Feb. 23, she was going to relax and have fun.
But her competitors came to play.
Junior Tracey Hueston of Northside High School threw 5 inches past her previous personal best and was in the lead with two throws to go.
The RCHS shot put and discus coach also happens to be Crawford’s father. Both father and daughter were surprised by Hueston’s performance.
“We get up there and this girl from Northside just brung it; she wanted it,” Chris Crawford said. “I kept telling Danielle, ‘This girl has got you by three inches, you got to go.’”
Danielle had been throwing a whole foot behind her seeded mark, which is based on her past performance. And on her fifth throw, Danielle nearly injured herself.
“If my joints would have been tight, I probably would have broken my finger. It didn’t go very far at all,” Danielle said.
With only one more throw, Danielle said she could “feel the pressure.”
“[My hand] was hurting, then I walked into the circle and it was just, ‘I gotta do this,’” Danielle said. “I was focused on the 40-foot line, I was like, ‘I gotta go get that; she can’t get me if I go get that line.’”
She got close. A throw of 38 feet and 7 inches put Danielle in first by more than a foot.
Hueston still had one more opportunity, but fell short.
Danielle became RCHS’s first female indoor track state champion since the school’s head track coach Jennifer Showalter earned a state title in 1994 in the 55-meter hurdles.
“I was ecstatic and speechless,” Danielle said.
Teammate Noah Lawhorne said he was proud of Danielle for throwing well in spite of the pressure.
“I was very happy for her because I knew she could do it,” he said. “She throws awesome in practice, and I think she gets in her mind a little bit too much at the meets.”
Danielle credits her dad with her success.
“I don’t know if I could have pulled that last one out,” she said, “if it wasn’t for him there in my ear telling me, ‘You gotta go get this.’”
Father-daughter coaching dynamic
Danielle and her dad’s connection over shot put began in the seventh grade. Her dad would take her to watch her older brother, David Crawford, at his shot put practices.
In 2015, Danielle and her father both joined the RCHS varsity track team. He became the throwers’ coach, and Danielle joined the team as a ninth-grade thrower.
The duo plays off each other. Danielle has a reserved personality, while her father is outgoing.
“You’re never gonna hear her say anything about anyone else. She lets her throws speak for themselves,” Crawford said. “Now her daddy standing on the sidelines, yeah, I’m gonna be a little loud.”
While Danielle said things can get “interesting at times,” Showalter, the head coach, said it’s a good dynamic.
“He’s tough on her, but I think he’s good for her,” Showalter said.
Crawford said the father-coach dynamic allows him to push Danielle more.
“I know what can get under her skin and what will motivate her more. I know how far and how hard I can push her,” he said.
He enjoys being involved in some of his daughter’s history-making moments.
“Just being right there with her and watching her set these school records, winning states. That’s a great accomplishment, and knowing that I was part of that has been great,” Crawford said.
Crawford knows what it means to hold a record. He has held the outdoor shot put record for RCHS since 1994.
Danielle said her goal is to hold records longer than her father.
“I wanna get them up there so I can hold them for a while,” she said.
Nationals and the outdoor season
Danielle had one more opportunity to throw at the New Balance Nationals Indoor on March 8 in New York City. She finished 14th out of 44 competitors in the emerging elite division, with a school record-breaking throw of 38 feet and 10.5 inches.
“I was more relaxed. I wasn’t there to win, I was there to throw,” Danielle said.
Danielle’s first throw was a mere 37 feet and 5 inches. Her second throw did not count because she stepped out of the front side of the throwing circle. But on her last throw, she nailed it.
She broke her previous school record by a half inch.
“I was like ‘oh my god, I just set the school record again,’” Danielle said.
She said she loved being around top-level athletes.
“At nationals, I get to see people that I never get to see before and learn how they throw,” Danielle said. “You pick up stuff, like how they twist their feet or how they snap their hips and how fast they are.”
The RCHS track team is preparing for the outdoor season, which begins Wednesday at Monticello High School.
Danielle said her goal is to break 40 feet in shot put.
She wants to compete in the shot put in college. So far, Wingate University in North Carolina is her top choice.