If you have an hour to kill some day, try reading through the list of Maggie Ewen’s accomplishments on the Arizona State Track and Field web page. Four national titles spread over three events. An NCAA record in the hammer (74.53m). An NCAA record in the shot (19.46m). Eleven all-American finishes. One could make a heck of a case that she is the best all-around thrower in NCAA history.
But Maggie’s career has not been free of heartbreak. As a junior, she broke the collegiate record in the hammer and won that event at the 2017 NCAA meet. This spring, she extended her record and looked to be a strong favorite to retain her title, but she fouled all three attempts in that event at this year’s regional, and lost the chance to defend in Eugene.
Two weeks later, she arrived at NCAA’s devastated but determined to make her final collegiate competition a memorable one. She left as newly crowned NCAA champion in the shot and disc.
Maggie’s coach for the past two years at ASU, Brian Blutreich, has also had a remarkable career, mentoring numerous Olympians and NCAA champions.
Recently, Brian was kind enough to answer a few questions about Maggie, her remarkable talent, her recent triumphs and tribulations, and her future as a professional.
Winning NCAA titles in three events is pretty unusual. What is it about Maggie that has allowed her to achieve that?
Obviously, she has a ton of God-given talent. She’s got the patience to learn three events, to be able to figure out three events. She’s still not great at any of the three at this point, but she can do things that other people just can’t do. That’s the bottom line.
This is only the second year we’ve been together, so we’re far from where we want to be, or where we are going to be. There is s lot more left in her, for sure.
I feel like I’m behind because usually the way I try to run my program it’s year three when you really start to get it. And this being year two and her doing three events, it feels like we’re behind in terms of correct repetitions. You need a certain amount of correct repetitions to change muscle patterns. Then, once you change them you have to develop them. So, it’s a longer process that people might think.
How did you divide the events in a typical training week?
We tried to do a regular practice with each event twice a week, then a short practice with each event once per week. And when I say short, I mean maybe fifteen minutes. So, if she did a shot workout she’d finish with fifteen minutes of hammer. If she did a hammer workout, we’d do fifteen minutes of discus. Just to be able to touch each implement as many times as we could without burning her out.
She couldn’t do a full session of shot, a full session of hammer, then a full session in the weight room–she would break. So, we’d hit one event pretty good, and just kind of drill another event for fifteen or twenty minutes, then move on to the next day.
It has worked pretty well so far, but we’ve really had to be careful with how she feels. The biggest thing is communication in terms of how her body is. She knows her body pretty well, so she can tell the difference between “sore” and “hurt” and “tired,” compared to “in the hole.”
And if you get “in the whole,” you have to stop everything for two weeks. Once your neural system is trashed, then you can’t do anything. So we have lived on that fine line between how much is enough and how much is too much. To do all three is very difficult.
Is Maggie’s super power that she can get really good at an event in less time than most athletes?
Well, obviously she worked with Dave Dumble for three years, so she was at a certain level when I took over. She works really hard at trying to figure stuff out. She’ll do a lot of dry drills to work on stuff, and she’s a classic top athlete in that once she leaves the track, it doesn’t stop for her. She’s always thinking about training and technique, always watching videos. Doing drills in the kitchen or the garage. She’s been a very good student of the sport.
She’s all in, and that has made it really nice for me, because I know she’s constantly trying to figure stuff out.
At the end of an amazing outdoor season, you guys had that…
Yes, that one glitch. And anyone who has been around the sport knows that what happened to Maggie in the hammer at regionals is the type of thing that happens to everyone, even the very best throwers. But, how did you deal with the aftermath of it?
It was very, very difficult. After things calmed down that day and we went to dinner, I said to her, “You’re going to have to put this behind you mentally, or it’s going to affect you big time.”
You know, when you’re young and passionate, it’s just hard. You’re defending NCAA champion, you’re NCAA record holder, and you’re not going to the meet in the event you won last year.It was difficult. She wasn’t sleeping very well, so there were times I had to push back training and tell her, “Just go home and sleep, if you can.” Obviously, it was very hard for her.
But I also told her, “Hey, true champions become champions because they deal with adversity.” I kept preaching to her that this wasn’t the first time she’d had to struggle, and it won’t be the last.
That first week after regionals was rough. Then, coming into the NCAA finals week, it started to get a little bit better. Fortunately, the hammer was the first event, and after it was over she said, “I think I’m doing better now.”
She’s done incredibly well the last two years, being in the spotlight and winning. People came to think that it was easy for her and started to think that she should win all the time. I think towards the end it started getting to her a little bit.
We only had about two weeks off last year because she made the World Championships team in the hammer, so now we’re at the end of a two-year period with basically just a couple of weeks off, and I think it was starting to get to her a little bit. “The triple has never been done” and all that. When regionals happened, it just kind of popped a big bubble and all the air went straight out.
But then in Eugene, she rallied and won the shot.
Yes, and we had a pretty good discus practice the next day. The discus is the event she loves the most, and I said, “Just have some fun with it.”
Then when she saw the weather forecast, she said, “I can’t wait! I hope it rains a lot!”
That’s a funny thing for a discus thrower to wish for.
Yes, but the rain kind of brings the field back to you. Remember, she was going against Shadae Lawrence (the defending champion) and Valarie Allman (a World Championship team member) so the more it rained, the better she thought her chances were to do well.
And that’s the attitude you have to have at the next level. It’s forty-eight degrees and raining with a stiff tail wind. At home it’s dry and a hundred degrees. We don’t train in the rain. We don’t train in cold. She’s from Minnesota, so she understands cold, but it’s her fifth year away from Minnesota. But she embraced it and never stopped competing. I tell my kids the meet is never over until it’s over and she got in on her last throw and just let it rip. That was a huge deal for her because she had never won a discus title, and against that field…I could just tell by the look on her face that that meant more than the hammer and the shot.
Did winning the discus wipe away all the hurt from not getting to defend her hammer title?
It definitely didn’t hurt. I told her, “Hey, you’ve got the career triple. It may not have been all in one year, but you’ve done something that no one else has ever done. Be proud of that and we’ll move forward.”
I think at some point she’ll be able to look back on it and enjoy it.
But now we’ve got USA’s and we are going to take a little different direction.
What do you mean by “a little different direction”?
She will not throw the hammer at USA’s.
What’s your reasoning behind that?
We haven’t touched the hammer much since the regional. At USA’s, it’s the day before the shot. She really loves the disc and she wants to throw it one more time before she’s done with it because she knows she’s not going to throw it next year. I just want her to be able to enjoy the meet and not get stressed out about the hammer.
If it was a World Championship or Olympic year, that would be a different story. But there is literally nothing on the line, so let’s just enjoy it and finish up the season.
After that, she’ll probably go to Europe and do one or two meets with the shot just to get her feet wet and learn how to travel. Different food and beds and training places. At the end of July, she’ll shut it down and start her new life.
I’m glad you brought that up. That’s kind of the million dollar question regarding Maggie. Moving forward, will she continue to throw the hammer and the shot?
Next year, she will for sure. Then we will reevaluate and see where she’s at and figure out the Olympic year. I think she can make the team in both, but that’s two years away and you never know about injuries, and this and that, and who’s throwing really far, so we’ll see. Right now, we’re still trying to figure out how to train to make the World team, especially with the World’s being so late, in October. That makes things harder. The US season is so early, and you don’t want to spend your whole season overseas either. So, it’s tricky figuring out when to start training and how to train. So after next weekend, we will figure out a plan and see if we can get her to the next level.
So, she’ll continue to train with you in Tempe?
For the next two years, yes. Then after the Olympic year, she’ll have to decide if she wants to continue to throw. But right now we have a two-year commitment to each other and we’ll see where her passion lies after that.
It will be really interesting to see how you two put together a competition schedule with Maggie throwing hammer and shot.
Exactly. There’s not a lot of hammer meets overseas that are part of the regular circuit. It can be hard to find a place to train it. Shot’s a lot easier. More meets have it. There are more places to train. But that’s the fun of it,. Trying to figure it out and see what happens.
I know she can be a 20-meter shot putter if she does things right, and a high 70’s hammer thrower if she does things right. So, we’ll see. It will be a fun challenge. For me, as a college coach, she’s already achieved everything I could ever dream for her, so I’m just trying to have some fun with this as well and see where it goes.