By Kyle LoJacono
Reta Woodard is still a newcomer to track and field, but the Land O’ Lakes High graduate recently announced she is one of the top weight throwers in the country.
Woodard, a Land O’ Lakes High graduate and redshirt sophomore at Embry-Riddle University, won the NAIA Indoor National Championship in Geneva, Ohio, on March 3 with a throw of 18.5 meters, winning by 0.68. The worst of her three attempts still would have been good enough to earn the title.
“I was going there to win,” said Woodard, who is competing on a scholarship while studying air traffic management. “I got it done and that’s what I went there for.”
Woodard entered the event ranked No. 1 in the nation after throwing a 18.56 earlier this year. She finished third last season at indoor nationals when she posted a 17.57.
“Basically I worked on technique every day at practice since then,” Woodard said. “I did strength building, but my technique was the most important thing.”
Woodard executes her throws with the power and grace of a seasoned veteran, but she is only in her fourth year doing field events. She joined the Land O’ Lakes team as a junior after some convincing.
“She never really even wanted to do it,” said Gators girls track coach Rock Ridgeway. “Her sister (Nicole) was the athlete. Me, her mother (Patricia) and father (Robert) and sister talked her into trying out, and she’s just kept going up and up and up from there. She was very dedicated.”
It didn’t hurt that Woodard had a natural gift.
“At first I didn’t know anything about shut put or discus, which is all you can throw in high school,” Woodard said. “My sister was doing it, so one day I went out there and tried it. From that day on I was on the team and really got into track and field. I was good at it, and with the coaching I’ve gotten better and better.”
As a senior Woodard took third place in the Class 3A state meet by throwing the discus 37.21 while taking fifth in the shot put with a toss of 11.63.
“There was some natural ability, so it just took some fine tuning by me and coach Al Claggett,” Ridgeway said. “She did most if it herself.”
Woodard is the first of Ridgeway’s pupils to win a national title on any college level during his 17 years coaching at Land O’ Lakes.
“Her mom, who’s a bus driver, came in one day with a big smile and an NAIA championship shirt on and told me,” Ridgeway said. “I was speechless. Just shocked me totally. Somebody who at first didn’t want to do it, but put her focus into it and look at what she’s done.”
The national championship throw, which came on her second attempt, also set a new school record.
“I didn’t know right away if it was going to be good enough to win,” Woodard said. “I knew it was better than my first, but I also knew it wasn’t a personal record.”
Woodard’s title helped the Eagles finish tied for fourth as a team, their best finish ever at the event.
“That really made things cool because I’ve always liked being part of a great team,” Woodard said. “You can win your events, but then to have the whole team do well because everyone has talent makes it better.”
It was also the first time Patricia had traveled to watch her daughter at nationals
“She got to see me win, and that meant everything to me,” Woodard said. “It was the icing on the cake.”
Woodard’s next major challenge comes at the NAIA Outdoor National Championships May 24-26 in Marion, Ind., where she will likely compete in the discus and hammer throws.
“I’m looking to get the top ranking and then national championship at outdoors,” Woodard said. “I think I’m capable of that. I’m going to continue to work as hard as I have to get that first place. I have two more years of eligibility and I’m planning on being national champ every year.”
Along with personal satisfaction that comes with a national title, Woodard has enjoyed showing people anyone can achieve things regardless of where they start.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you know and what you don’t know,” Woodard said. “If you put your mind and your body into it anything can happen.”