Pivot, throw, exit stage rear, insert earbuds, sit, repeat.
Lowell junior Nicole Kiszenia’s routine at track meets has changed dramatically. She no longer leads cheers or treats competitions as social events.
She makes it a point to avoid hearing her distances from her shot put and discus throws.
“Throwing is business now; it’s not for fun,” Kiszenia said. “I’m working hard for this and need to take it seriously.”
From the bus ride there to the bus ride home, Kiszenia, determined to earn a state berth, top 40 feet in the shot put and land a college scholarship, is zoned out in her headphones. She only takes them out to throw.
“I can’t listen to my distance,” she said. “(Directly after throwing) I can only think of my form. I just know that I have to throw my best every throw. It shouldn’t matter my distance. I know if I throw my best based on my effort.”
Track is a game of inches, and Kiszenia knows this well. Last spring at the Chesterton Regional she was on the cusp of a state berth until Merrillville’s Nakel McClinton rallied to surge up the leaderboard on her final throw and edged Kiszenia and another girl out of contention.
Likewise, during the indoor season last month Kiszenia was in line to make the finals of the Hoosier State Relays, even though a severely sprained ankle from basketball season kept her out of the first two weeks of track practice. The top 24 in her division qualified for a trip to the finals in Marion. With two days to go in qualifying she sat in 22nd. By the time qualifying closed she was 25th, on the outside looking in by and inch and a half.
Her outlook didn’t dim.
“I’d say I was very grateful to have been that close to qualifying, but I realized I can do better,” Kiszenia said. “Then I worked really hard to try to do better.”
So far, so good in the outdoor season. Kiszenia was named field events MVP at the Chesterton Relays on April 13 after helping the Red Devils repeat as champs in the three-girl shot put relay. This weekend she threw a season-best 37 feet, 10 inches in the shot to beat the throwers from the other nine schools by a full two feet while taking fifth in the discus at the Plano (Ill.) High School Field of Dreams Invitational.
“She is so focused and working hard,” Lowell coach Scott Coil said. “Whenever a meet starts she flips a switch and is into what she’s going to do.”
Coil is responsible for Kiszenia’s presence on the track team. As a freshman she wanted to be team manager for cross country, which Coil also coaches. He told her she had to participate in track if she wanted to manage the cross country team, which was filled with her friends.
Kiszenia intended to play tennis, but that never happened.
New throwing coach Mike Hall has added fine-tuning of technique, which goes well with Kiszenia’s already-established rigorous strength regimen.
Not one for scoreboard watching, Kiszenia wants to be the next state qualifier in a Lowell lineage that includes 2006 state shot champ Rachel Thiel. Carissa Thiel, a 2011 Lowell grad, was one of Kiszenia’s early role models.
“Really it doesn’t matter what I hit, just where I end up in the end,” Kiszenia said.
Kiszenia isn’t a captain, nor is she particularly vocal, what with all the headphones and introversion. However, her work ethic turns heads.
“A lot of the girls are amazed by what she can do,” Coil said.
So what’s coming through the headphones?
“Mostly Christian rap music,” Kiszenia said. “I throw because I’ve been given the body and the ability to throw by God. It’s not religious, I just think that since I’ve been given gifts I’m serving the Lord by throwing and showing His strengths.”