Her best shot: Belleville sixth-grader is already a champion

News-DemocratMarch 16, 2014 

Danell Meitzenheimer winds into a spin, then throws a 6-pound, 6-ounce ball with all her might.

The heavy shotput practice ball arcs into the air, landing about 30 feet away in soft mud.

Plunk.

"Good throw," encouraged mom Theresa, picking up the ball, wiping off mud and returning it.

Over and over.

It's late afternoon on the practice fields at Belleville West. The sun is strong, but the air is cold. A cutting wind slices across the open space.

Coach Myrle Mensey, of St. Louis, pulls up her hood, but Danell doesn't seem to notice. The sturdy 5-foot-4 Westhaven sixth-grader, wearing stretchy workout clothes and a light jacket, has been a shot-putter for two years. She practices every day.

"I look forward to it," said Danell, 12, of Belleville. "When I first started seeing my big sister (Danielle, 16) throw, I wanted to see what it would feel like."

It must have felt pretty good.

Danell competed nationally at age 10, coming in third in her age bracket, with a 26-foot, 7-inch throw.

Last year, she took part in Indoor Junior Olympics in Birmingham, Ala., throwing 29 feet, 11 inches.

In February, she threw 36 feet, 1 inch at the 2014 AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) Indoor Junior Olympics in Houston.

Last weekend, her mom and a friend rented a car to drive Danell and Danielle to the USA Track and Field Indoor Championship in Landover, Md. They left late Thursday night on a 13-hour hour drive for Saturday's competition.

"If I'm going to invest in anything, it's going to be my children," said Theresa, who gets support from Danell's grandparents, Jesse and Genyne Adkins, of Shiloh.

Danielle came in third. Danell was up against 18 girls in her age category. And she had to throw in her tennis shoes.

"When we were in Virginia, she realized her throw shoes were on her bed," said her mom.

She won, throwing 34.9 feet.

"I'm very, very proud of her," said Coach Myrle Mensey. "This year, she not only won AAU, she set a national record and won USATF. She couldn't have done any better for the season, two national championships and a national record. It's just phenomenal."

Myrle, 65, a USA track and field Level 3 certified throws coach, holds the U.S. masters record for her 52-foot, 11-inch throw of a 12-pound weight. She's the 2013 USA Track and Field masters female athlete of the year, and heads a Throwing and Growing Foundation in St. Louis.

"I teach them life skills that in turn help them throw," she said. "You can't just be a thrower without good ethics, good morals. They all play into the life of a thrower."

Danell and Danielle, a Belleville West sophomore, take private lessons. Danell works out about an hour and a half a day, training from September through May.

"The thing that amazes me," said Myrle, "is you give Danell exercises, she embraces it and goes after it.

"It's just like regular homework for school. I can always tell if they have done it. I have them do it again for me. When I don't see improvement, I know they haven't done it."

Danell goes through a regimen of stretches, jumping jacks and leg swings, making sure her arms and legs are loose before stepping into the ring to throw.

"I have to do a good warm up to throw this," said Danell. "I have a phenomenal wind up."

What do her friends think?

"They probably think 'Wow.' We have field day coming up. We have to throw a softball."

Think 6 or 7 ounces for the softball, compared to the 6-pound shot put.

"Other coaches talk about how she has the fastest arm they have ever seen," said Myrle. "She's quick, explosive."

"It's an honor to train her. She's just a great young lady. It feels so good to be an inspiration in her life."

Danell brought her medal to school on Monday.

"We're proud of her accomplishments, said Principal Geoff Schwalenberg, adding that Danell, along with other students, will be recognized during student appreciation week.

"She's a good student, well-mannered and polite," he said, " just a real kind soul and a role model for fellow students."

Myrle credits Theresa for her dedication.

"When you have support of family, it makes you do even better," she said.

Myrle sets an example for the young throwers.

"Seeing her compete gives them the motivation to train hard to get to where she is now," said Theresa.

"I show girls you can throw for a long time," said Myrle, who throws for the fun of it. "I tell them, 'I'm 50 years older than you. You should throw farther than me.'"

That's just what Danell plans to do.

"Danell set her goal last year," said Myrle. "She was going to break the coach's records. She will."

About Danell:

Family: parents Theresa Ridley, of Belleville, and Daniel Meitzenheimer, of Belleville, and siblings, Rodney Chavis Jr., 23, Divonte Ridley, 21, student at Kansas City Community College; Lamadre, 19, student at SWIC; Danielle, 17, and Natrionna, 8.Favorite classes: Reading and social studies. "I love to read and I like history."

What she's reading: "'Slam' (by Walter Dean Myers). It's a basketball book."

Favorite sport to watch: "Probably football or track."

Favorite food: "I like spaghetti the way my dad makes it."

What she likes to do with friends: "We play and go to the park and stuff."

Any heroes in the sport that you watch or want to be like? "My coach. I want to beat her numbers."

About shot put:

What it is: A track and field event involving "throwing"/"putting" (throwing in a pushing motion) a heavy spherical object --the shot--as far as possible.

How it works: Competitors take their throw from inside a marked circle 7 feet in diameter, with a stopboard about 3.9inches high at the front of the circle. The distance thrown is measured from the inside of the circumference of the circle to the nearest mark made in the ground by the falling shot.

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