Shot putter, young jumpers leap into nationals

ISU freshman Kate Hall lands in the pit after jumping 6.44 meters in the women’s long jump finals at the Big 12 Indoor Championships. Hall placed second. 

Kyle Heim

Getting to know Christina Hillman requires the understanding that a two-time national champion can go from having her ensuing indoor season shut down by injury and experiencing an outdoor season full of disappointment back to being a champion again.

It requires the understanding that someone can possess opposing character traits.

Hillman’s one of the strongest shot putters in the country but wouldn’t hurt a fly. She’s as confident as any of her competitors but never fails to recognize the achievements of her opponents and teammates. She’s one of her biggest supporters and her biggest critic.

Inside the track and field world, Hillman is known as a three-time Big 12 champion and two-time national champion in the shot put. She also currently holds the second best mark in the shot put in the country and will make her final return to the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships this weekend.

“[Hillman’s] very supportive, encouraging and very hard-working,” said ISU freshman Kate Hall. “She definitely deserves this because she’s been working really hard.”

But the true Christina Hillman can only be seen when she isn’t competing.

Just when it seemed like her day couldn’t get any better after setting a season-best mark and winning the title in the shot put at the Big 12 Championships two weeks ago, Hillman displayed even more excitement watching her best friend compete.

“I was happy that I did well at Big 12s, but I don’t know if that was my favorite moment,” Hillman said. “And he’d kill me if he heard this, but I think my favorite moment was seeing [ISU men’s shot putter Jan Jeuschede] do really well.”

Jeuschede recorded an indoor personal record in the shot put, finishing runner-up at Big 12s and earning a qualifying bid to nationals.

“I was jumping up and down, Hillman said. “I was having a ball. I would say that was probably my favorite moment.”

Hillman has no doubt she will end her indoor season career strong at the NCAA Championships, even though two summers ago her collegiate track and field career was in limbo after her back gave out on her while doing the technique of a front-squat wrong.

“I felt my back kind of crunch in a way,” she said. “It completely gave out on me. I ended up getting two bulged disks and a herniation.”

Hillman has even spent the entire indoor season dealing with an elbow injury, and her back still isn’t 100 percent.

But she doesn’t waste time pitying herself.

“If you think about it, everyone has injuries,” Hillman said. “I know Dani [Winters from Kansas State, who finished second in the shot put at Big 12s] has had her share of injuries.

“Some of the female shot putters and I will sit down and talk about what ails us. We sound old and decrepit. But it’s the name of the game. We put our bodies through a lot, so it’s not like I’m the only one suffering from injuries.”

It only seems fitting that while Hillman begins to add the finishing touches to her collegiate indoor track and field career, two up-and-coming stars will just begin adding to their own.

Freshman Kate Hall and sophomore Jhoanmy Luque will both take cracks at their first indoor track and field championships this weekend.

“It’s going to be an awesome experience,” Hall said. “It’s going to be so much fun going with [Luque] and competing. We’re going to be there to push each other and encourage each other, and that’s what matters.”

Hall owns the fifth best mark in the long jump, while Luque is ranked 15th.

“[Hall and Luque] are just so talented,” Hillman said. They’re young. “[Hall], she’s a true freshman and she’s going to indoor [nationals]. I didn’t go to indoor [nationals] until my sophomore year. She just has a lot of potential and so does [Luque]. [Luque] has two events that she’s really good at that she qualified outdoor.

“It’s so cool that I’m leaving this year, but they have so many years left. So I have a lot of hope in them and I know they can do some great things.”

Luque said she was concerned after not qualifying last season for indoor nationals, but a personal record in the long jump at this year’s Big 12 Championships helped sneak her into the top 16.

“It means a lot because it’s very hard to go to nationals and represent the university,” Luque said. “I feel very proud of that. “It’s great [having Hall going too]. Our relationship is awesome. She helps me, and I help her.”

Hall is the only one in the group to qualify for indoor nationals her freshman year and she is trying not to get ahead of herself.

“I’m just trying to take one step at a time, but obviously in mind I’m thinking about winning and becoming an All-American,” she said.