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Letting it Fly
Peaceful mind equals national championship

Anna Norgren Mahon throws the hammer, a track and field event seemingly evolved from the sling and stone used to bring down large prey or the occasional biblical giant. This year, the Class of 1996 alumna accomplished some figurative giant killing of her own with an astonishing series of throws that earned national championships, American records, and rank among the world’s elite in her sport.

It’s tough to pick a single golden moment from Mahon’s outstanding season, but one likely suspect is her performance at the 2002 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships on June 24. With a sell-out crowd watching the meet at Stanford University, Mahon cut loose a 230-foot 6-inch throw that gave her the women’s national hammer title over five-time champ Dawn Ellerbe. It also gave her a matched set, an outdoor title to go with the indoor 2002 national championship she won in the 20-lb. weight throw.

But those national championships almost pale in comparison to a lengthy trio of throws, the first two at a West Point meet in early June and the final in San Antonio in late July, in which Mahon claimed and twice extended the American record. The mark now stands at 236 feet, 3 inches and holding. With a laugh, Mahon says that even her mother was baffled by the first record setter, wondering for a moment if the officials had mismeasured.

Mahon’s climb in her sport has been steady and resolute. She’s put in the physical work with throwing and weight-training sessions that add up to a half-time job on top of her full-time schedule as a high school English teacher. And she’s honed her technique with the aid of coach Bill Sutherland and training partner Bethany Hart. At 5-11, 180 pounds, Mahon is four inches and seventy pounds short of her rival Ellerbe, making it essential that Mahon marshal every bit of speed, grace, physical, and mental strength.

She credits gains on the mental side for having a large role in her breakthroughs this season. “I’ve come to understand the need to slow down to go hard,” Mahon says. “Inevitably, the more relaxed you are and the more fun you have, the better you’ll do.”

That was a lesson Mahon began learning at UVM. In high school, the Connecticut native was a swimmer first, a hurdler on the track team second, and a field event weight thrower…sometimes.The prospect of frigid winter- morning walks to swim practice convinced Mahon she wanted to be a track and field athlete in college. Impressed by her “fast feet,” intelligence, and discipline, Coach Ed Kusiak soon encouraged Mahon to focus her efforts on hammer throwing. UVM alumnus Art Brown ’69, Mahon’s high school coach, had tipped Kusiak off that this was “a great kid,” the sort he’d want to have on his team.

“I was terrible the first two years,” Mahon says. “I had to learn a lot and mature as an athlete.” A large part of the problem was a mental barrier, a sort of performance anxiety that would make her tense up even if the coach came by to watch her throw in practice. Looking over at the runners, eight on a track instead of one in a ring, Mahon thought about returning to the hurdles because they seemed like less pressure.

Kusiak urged her to stick with the throwing and Mahon’s mother suggested that a sports psychologist might be the answer for her daughter, who describes herself as “so analytical.” First lessons in relaxation and positive focus kicked in during her UVM years and her hammer began to spin out farther, eventually earning her a spot in the Olympic trials her senior year.

Post-UVM, Mahon has always found the time and energy to train whether she was balancing her sport with life as a graduate student at Boston University or her later teaching career in Connecticut. “It’s something that has to get done, she says. “When you’re passionate about something, you just do it.” Having a husband, Sean Mahon, who can understand much of what she faces (he was a varsity high jumper at Southern Connecticut and is now a high school teacher) is a great support, says Mahon.

As Vermont Quarterly went to press, Mahon was competing in Madrid, Spain in a meet featuring the world’s best. Two years from now she hopes to be doing the same when the 2004 Olympic Games roll around. After narrowly missing a place on the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team, Mahon has her sights on not only a trip to the Games, but a place on the medal podium in Athens.

Don’t really try this at home
Let’s get a sense for Anna Norgen Mahon’s American record. Take a full one-gallon jug of milk, tie it to a three-foot piece of rope. That will give you a rude facsimile of a regulation hammer (an eight-pound metal ball on the end of a three-foot wire). Make sure the kids and pets are in the house, then go outside, spin, and fling. Mahon’s record throw is about the length of an NFL kick-off or, for the UVM-centric, the distance from the fountain on the Green to the front steps of Waterman.

Farnham Announces Retirement
Athlete, coach, administrator — Rick Farnham ’69 has known UVM varsity sports from all angles over more than three decades. That long UVM career will come to a close next summer, as Farnham has announced his retirement after ten years as the university’s director of athletics.

“I have had a tremendous experience during my time at the University of Vermont,” Farnham said. “I feel lucky to have spent my entire career at the same institution. My experience at Vermont has provided me an opportunity to develop lasting friendships and a great appreciation and affection for the school and the athletic program.

“There have been many memories during my tenure, but the most positive reflections I have are working with the dedicated coaches and the quality student-athletes they continue to bring to the university.”

Farnham’s association with UVM athletics began in 1965; he was an offensive lineman and place kicker for the Catamount football team. Post-graduation, Farnham turned his attention to coaching as a football assistant and head of the men’s lacrosse program. Named assistant director of athletics in 1975, Farnham would succeed Director Denis Lambert ’54 upon his retirement in 1992.

Farnham anticipates being involved with UVM sports in one more role, as a fan, in the years ahead. “I am looking forward to retirement and being able to cheer on the Catamounts from a different perspective,” he said.

A national search will be conducted for Farnham’s successor with plans to have a new director in place July 2003.

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