Take my advice and do not look away when Jessica Ramsey steps into the shot put ring. I speak from from personal experience regarding this matter.
I showed up to cover the 2018 USATF Outdoor Championships in Des Moines four years ago, certain that the women’s shot competition would come down to a battle between Maggie Ewen, Raven Saunders, and Michelle Carter, so when Ramsey stepped in to take her first toss, I was paying absolutely no attention. I can’t recall now if I was playing on my phone or looking around and trying to determine my odds of making it to the bratwurst stand and back before the comp really got rolling, but next thing I knew, “19.23m” appeared on the scoreboard and I had absolutely no idea who had thrown it.
Turns out it was Ramsey.
She ended up finishing second to Ewen that day, which was pretty remarkable considering Ramsey’s season’s best in 2017 had been all of 17.76m.
After the meet, I found out what the deal was. Following a very successful career at Western Kentucky during which she won Sun Belt Conference titles in the shot, disc, and hammer, Ramsey had found her way to John Smith’s throwing group, which is based at the University of Mississippi. She continued to throw the hammer and shot under Smith’s guidance–in fact, the day before her 19.23m toss in Des Moines she finished fifth in the hammer with a mark of 70.41m–but Smith could see that her future lay in the shot…provided she would agree to switch from the glide to rotational technique.
It took a while for Jessica to get completely on board with that plan, and for a couple of years she switched back and forth between the two styles of throwing. Sometime in 2018, she decided to fully embrace her rotational potential, and the result was that lightning strike in Des Moines.
She regressed slightly in 2019, producing a season’s best of 19.01m, and then came Covid.
Prevented from training at the university due to the lockdown, Smith improvised by setting up a facility outside of town that he named “the Barn.” He and Ramsey and the hammer thrower Janeah Stewart spent the next few months training at the Barn, determined to be ready when the season resumed.
It turned out there were not a lot of opportunities to compete that summer, but a 19.50m toss indoors in February of 2021 showed that the time at the Barn had been well spent.
Still, was anybody–aside from Smith–expecting the 20.12m Olympic Trials record she unleashed in Eugene last summer?
Anyhow, I’d recommend paying attention when the women’s shot gets going at 2:35 Pacific time this Saturday.
Jessica’s best toss so far this year came two weeks ago in Nashville where she hit 18.83m, but Smith says she’s close to making bigger throws. When I spoke to him last week, he reported that Jessica had recently achieved four or five training PR’s, and estimated that she’d have the “ability” to throw well over nineteen meters in Spokane.
And though it is early in the season, and her best throws will certainly come this summer, Smith says, “We take every opportunity for a national title seriously.”
Ramsey says that it would “mean a lot” to make her first Indoor Worlds team. She has been maintaining her normal hectic schedule since last summer, training, working at Insomnia Cookies, volunteering at Court Appointed Special Advocates–an organization devoted to helping abused or neglected children–and even doing a bit of coaching at a local high school where she sometimes trains.
She says she’d like to compete for another ten years, and then maybe go into social work full time.
This weekend, she’s likely in for a tough battle with Ewen and Chase Ealey for a spot in the top two and a trip to the Indoor Worlds. But she feels ready.
“I don’t try to put pressure on myself,” she explained. “I try to have fun and always give one thousand percent.”
That approach has led to some pretty amazing performances in the past, and if she produces another one this weekend, I for one, will be paying attention.