Riley Simmons' final throw as a high school-level athlete was a personal record, and one that she guaranteed.
Before former Lakewood Ranch High track and field athlete Riley Simmons left for the 2021 Nike Outdoor National Championships, held June 30-July 3 in Eugene, Oregon, she made a video guarantee to herself, attesting that she would throw 47 feet in the shot put.
She didn't post it anywhere before the event. It mainly served as self-motivation, a promise burning a hole in her pocket.
Six weeks prior, Simmons, a Mississippi State University signee, was winning gold at the Florida High School Athletic Association state championships in Jacksonville. There, Simmons had a toss of 44 feet, 3.25 inches. A win is a win, and Simmons was happy taking home the medal, but she also knew she could have thrown farther. She just had to push harder.
After taking a few days off, Simmons went back to her training, breaking it into two sections — one four weeks and the other two weeks. For the first four weeks, Simmons didn't worry about distance. Her focus was on lifting, to add strength and muscle, and on technique. Simmons and her high school throws coach, Mark Stephens, noticed that she has a tendency to dip in the middle of her rotation, which takes away power. Stephens wanted her to "stay over her left side instead."
Simmons was not slouching in the gym, either. She said during her workouts she would power clean 170 pounds, bench press 155 pounds, squat 275 pounds and dead lift 310 pounds. At the beginning of the four-week run, she would do eight reps of each lift, decreasing the number of reps each week to lighten the stress on her body.
In the last two weeks of training, Simmons said, she saw the results of the previous four weeks pay off. She was throwing better than she ever had, consistently besting her performance from the state meet. She felt good about herself, something she did not feel when she made a trip to the 2021 Adidas Indoor National Championships in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in February. Back then, Simmons was recovering from a shoulder injury and could not prepare the way she wanted. Simmons finished 10th at those championships, throwing 41 feet, 11.5 inches. It wasn't the distance she wanted, but competing despite a lack of preparation did end up helping her at the Outdoor Nationals.
"I saw some of the same girls here and at the indoor championships," Simmons said. "I didn't make it to the finals then, but I was able to see the competition. A lot of the best throwers are from up north. You don't see them much coming from Florida. I want to compete with the best in the nation, so the experience definitely helped me. I learned what it was like."
This time, Simmons was ready. She was throwing in front of her future college coach, April Thomas, for the first time. Simmons said hearing Thomas scream her name helped keep her calm. On her final throw as a high school-level athlete, Simmons did what she promised to herself she would do, throw 47 feet, 3.7 inches, a new personal record. It was good for a seventh-place finish.
Not bad for someone who only started throwing seriously as a sophomore.
"When I started I didn't even think I'd throw in college," Simmons said. "Back then, hitting 40 feet was a huge number for me. Now, I want more. I see all this talent here and I want to compete with them. I want to beat them in college. I want to be a Southeastern Conference champion and a national champion."
As she heads off to Mississippi State, Simmons remains a shining example of what perseverance can bring.
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