By Rich Fisher | Trenton Monitor Correspondent
In becoming the third best teenage shot putter in the world, Alyssa Wilson had a tougher time getting to the event than she had competing in it.
On July 20, Wilson won the bronze medal at the International Association of Athletics Federation’s World Under-20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland. As the youngest competitor in the event, the 17-year-old parishioner of St. Joseph, Toms River, threw 53 feet, 7 inches during her second toss of the finals. Germany’s Alina Kenzel (57-8¼) and China’s Jiayan Song (53-8¼) won the gold and silver, respectively.
The pressurized competition was almost like a vacation for the Donovan Catholic rising senior, considering what she had to go through to get to Poland.
Driving into JFK Airport several hours before her scheduled 9:30 p.m. departure on Friday, July 15, Wilson got a call notifying her that the flight would be delayed for four hours. That was generous, as take-off was at 3:30 a.m., a whopping six hours late. After changing flights in Chicago, she faced a 9-hour flight to Warsaw, followed by a 3-1/2-hour ride to the hotel.
The bus pulled in at 1 a.m. Sunday morning, which is 7 p.m. Saturday, East Coast time. So, the entire ordeal took a mere 24 hours from start to finish.
“And we still had to eat dinner at the hotel,” Wilson said with a laugh. “We didn’t get to bed until after 2 in the morning.”
It would stand to reason things could only get better, and they did. After getting some well-earned sleep, Wilson spent the next few days practicing at Zawiszaj Stadium while also searching for a decent meal.
“I would only go out here and there to get something to eat, only because the hotel food wasn’t that good,” she said. “Other than that I trained, and went back to hotel and rested until the competition. When the competition over, I went out and had fun with all my other teammates.”
Wilson was not only in a foreign country, she was flying solo for the first time as neither her parents nor her coach accompanied her on the trip. That was done by design, in order to allow Wilson to grow up in certain ways.
“I think one of the reasons why my parents didn’t go on this trip,” she said, “is that they wanted to let me go out on my own and just see how I’d be able to deal with it.”
The strategy looked like it initially might backfire, at least where the competition was concerned. Wilson threw a less-than-stellar-for-her 50-5¼ inches during the morning preliminary round, which ranked seventh. Fortunately, the top 12 advanced to the finals.
“I guess I let my nerves get to me,” said the Jackson resident. “I didn’t even hit the qualifying mark, but they take the top 12 so I was OK.”
She admitted that not having a coach or parent in attendance might have been a detriment.
“Yeah, definitely,” she said. “Usually my coach or my dad are there yelling, telling me what to do, telling me to calm down. That was definitely one of the major factors.”
But the maturation process was already underway for Wilson. Rather than crumble, Wilson gathered strength from within to rebound in the finals.
“I kind of went back to the hotel and relaxed a little bit,” she said. “I just told myself ‘It’s all or nothing; I came here for one event, I don’t have the other two events (discus and hammer) to fall back on if I do badly in this one.’ So I just had to go after it, seeing as I only came there for the shot put.”
Wilson fouled on her first finals attempt before launching her bronze medal distance on her second. Her attempts to improve were thwarted when she also fouled on her third and fourth attempts, but by then she had established herself as one of the best in the world in her age group. She had already laid claim to her spot as one of the best in the nation when she threw 55-9¼ at the June 19 to place first in that event during the New Balance Outdoor National meet in North Carolina.
When the world competition was over, Wilson said she was pleasantly surprised when gold medalist Kenzel asked to exchange uniform tops with her.
“It was a little strange overall,” she said of the experience. “I’m happy I competed well for the first time, for my first big world-class meet, where my parents or coaches weren’t there. “
Asked what her accomplishment taught her about herself, Wilson said “I guess that anything I put my mind to, I can get through as long as I keep training hard and doing what I’m doing.”
She wasted little time resuming her power lifting training at Donovan Catholic after she returned. Wilson is setting a goal of the 2020 Olympics and is looking to hit trial marks in all three of her events over the next several years.
“I’m continuing to train every day,” she said. “I want to get quicker for next season and hopefully get the national record in the shot put during the indoor season.”
Whether she does or doesn’t, one thing is certain – the trip to the Bennett Center in Toms River, where indoor competition is held, will be much quicker than the trip to Poland.