Madras High School track and field standout Sierra Ferguson has redefined herself for the upcoming season.
After being invited to the Tourney Sport USA event in Honolulu, Hawaii on Dec. 28 to Jan. 5, Ferguson got a fresh perspective on competing in discus and shot put.
A national event, Tourney Sport USA invited only those high school athletes who placed in the top three in their state, and Ferguson was on the list. Last year, Ferguson recorded her personal best of 140.6 in the discus, and 33.1 in shot put, which was good enough to put her in the state's top three.
"They sent something in the mail and I ended up getting it at the school office," noted Ferguson, who attended the event after raising the money for her first trip to Hawaii.
At the meet, Ferguson competed with the top athletes in the nation and had the opportunity to be coached by two-time Olympian Aretha Hill, who is currently at the top of her sport in women's discus and shot put.
"I really liked her. She told us that everyone has their own style of getting ready (to throw)," said Ferguson, who also noted that while she worked on re-establishing her throwing style this summer in a clinic, old habits returned in Hawaii.
"I was throwing all upper body. I didn't have any separation, and Aretha (Hill) said the three most important things are flexation, separation and balance. If I wouldn't do something right, she'd give me a broom to keep my arms up. I'd say, 'I'm tired; can I stop,' and she'd say, 'That depends; are you going to keep your arms up?'"
After receiving intense coaching from Hill, Ferguson went on to place second in both the discus and shot put at the national meet. She competed with 12 other girls in both events and exceeded her personal best in the shot put by a foot with a mark of 34.1. In discus, Ferguson threw 122.4.
"Another thing I forgot was that the harder you try (in discus) the worse you'll do. In the shot put, you have to throw hard - discus is just the opposite," said Ferguson, a senior. "I threw a 135 and a 140 in my two warm ups (before competition) and after that my arm was gone."
Ferguson noted that Hill's help and words of wisdom instilled in her the confidence that she lacked before.
"I started throwing 38- and 40-foot marks (in shot put) when Aretha (Hill) was working with me," noted Ferguson. "It's helped me to be around an Olympian and see how they do it. She taught me to relax. She taught me that I had to go out there with the mind set that you're the best."
After attending the national meet in Hawaii and competing with the country's best prep athletes, along with working with Hill, Ferguson is excited for the upcoming track and field season, where she is setting her goals higher than ever.
"I've learned that I can do a lot better than what I'm doing. I wrote down summer camp notes and notes from Aretha (Hill). My goal is to throw over 150 in discus and throw 38 in shot put," said Ferguson, who had a close, but heartbreaking performance at last year's state track and field meet, when she placed second in the discus throw, missing the individual state title by a single inch.
"At state last year, for the very first time, I started worrying about my competition, when really, I didn't need to worry about it," said Ferguson, who plans to change things this year at state.
Though track and field is Ferguson's favored sport, since she says it's more of an individual sport than a team sport that depends more on individual performance, Ferguson also participates in basketball, where she is currently on the varsity team for the Lady White Buffalos. Ferguson has also competed in football throughout high school.
After placing second in the national tournament, which was the first national event Ferguson has ever attended, and receiving inspiration and coaching from two-time Olympian Hill, Ferguson has realized her true ability.
"Aretha (Hill) said we have no idea how far we can throw, because your mind puts limits on it," said Ferguson. "I know I just got to be myself and throw like I can, now that I got a taste of what I'm capable of."