On a recent snowy afternoon in January, Claire Conti, a shotput, discus, and javelin thrower for the Foxes track and field teams, ventured outdoors to enjoy the natural beauty of the day. While out there, she came across some fallen trees, selected one that she estimated weighed about 150 pounds, and dragged it to a clearing. There, she hoisted the tree log behind her head and proceeded to do a set of squats, joking it was extra strength training for the indoor track season.
Claire’s unconventional workout is an example of the innate ingenuity, perseverance, and zest she devotes to achieve a much-desired goal. She’s had a multitude of interests over the years and has excelled in all of them. She started a worldwide fundraising effort to benefit a local animal shelter when she was 5 years old and raised $13,000 over a few years. She has played the cello since she was in first grade, and she is also a passionate artist and photographer. She hopes to become a park ranger one day. With her 4.18 grade point average, that’s certainly a reality.
But right now, one of Claire’s primary ambitions, in addition to her academics, is to improve her score from last year’s indoor track season, when she set a new school record in the shot put (33’2”). She’s aware of how difficult it will be to make the cut for indoor states because, traditionally, only 20 athletes make states from each field event. However, she’s found that having success in her maiden year as a freshman – when she broke the freshman/sophomore record in outdoor track and field in the discus (117’0”), medaled at WPIALs, and advanced to the PIAA Class 3A championships – has inspired her to set even loftier goals.
Claire explains what drives her to become the best version of herself as a thrower.
“Throwing is almost addicting, because once I see a little improvement or hit a new personal record, I want to do even better, because I know I can,” Claire says. “The people around me all believe in me, and it helps me believe and set even higher goals for myself. When my coaches last year told me that I had a shot at states (in outdoor track), I knew that was my goal for my freshman season. And I did it. It gets me to think, ‘Hmm. I made it, let’s get to states again next year,’ but I want to place higher (than 13th).”
Now, with some experience and a strong work ethic, Claire has a good shot of making the indoor championships, too, although there is no discus event indoors.
Coach Tom Moul says, “Our team philosophy is, ‘Be coachable, be a good teammate and work hard,’ and Claire embodies this. She just loves to compete and help her fellow throwers to improve their techniques. She is a true student of the sport and has high hopes of qualifying for the indoor state championship meet. I’m hopeful for that as well.”
Carving a Niche in the ‘Circle’
In a sport that’s not of particular interest to many females, Claire knew in middle school she wanted to be on the track and field team, but she believed throwing was a better fit for her than running. With encouragement from her coach, found she was quite good at it.
“I wanted to throw because I thought it was an event in track that relied more on strength,” Claire explains. “I was so excited when I first started and thought, ‘Yes, this is for me!’. Then, I was able to rely on my strength while I started to lay the base for proper form. That’s why shot put was my best event in middle school – because it was more strength and less form – while discus was more form.”
Finding a good balance between form and strength led to Claire draw upon her knowledge in several applicable areas.
Lifting is something she’s loved to do since she was in seventh grade, when she started training under the watchful eye of her mother, who is a personal trainer. She believes that has given her an advantage over some of her opponents, and she likes to continually challenge herself, for instance, recently setting a new personal record with a 225-pound deadweight lift. She also has another favorite workout drill that involves throwing/slamming a weighted ball to work on various explosive movements.
Since movement and balance are so important in the circle when throwing, Claire says it has helped a lot to use techniques she learned before she was 10 years old when training for her black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Not surprisingly, she was the youngest person at her studio to attain that level.
Adapting to Each Season
“There definitely is a difference (in training),” Claire says of her workouts for each season of track and field. “During the winter, it’s harder to get outside and throw, so I like to drill inside whenever I can. Indoor season is more for weight training. If we have a mild enough day for practice, we’re able to throw outside.”
It’s one reason why, along with other throwers from the area, Claire trains with a personal coach on the weekends.
Claire says Foxes record-setting alumna Jing McCann advised her last year to just enjoy the moment. Claire would offer the same advice to younger hopefuls but would add honestly, “Throwing is hard. It’s an odd movement, but if you just keep an open mind, you can go far.”
The indoor track and field season began January 13 with a multischool meet at PennWest Edinboro. The team will compete there again on January 27, at Youngstown State University on February 10, and then the state meet is February 25 at Penn State University.
“Claire is one of my homeroom students, so I’m well aware of everything she’s involved in,” says coach Moul, a physics teacher at Fox Chapel Area High School. “It’s inspiring to see her in action every day. She dives into everything she’s interested in with both feet. As a track program, we’re really fortunate to have her on our team, not just as a talented athlete, but as a positive influence on a daily basis.”