Varsity Kansas

Cheney’s Gabby Lavington becomes premier thrower in short amount of time

Cheney's Gabby Lavington is nationally ranked in the shot put.
Cheney's Gabby Lavington is nationally ranked in the shot put. The Wichita Eagle

The best girls shot-put thrower in Kansas this season wasn’t even a thrower two years ago.

Gabby Lavington came to Cheney as a sprinter. And a good one at that, as she ran a leg on the school’s state-placing 400-meter relay team as a freshman.

But after tearing her quadriceps muscle, Lavington was robbed of the same explosion she had before the injury. She figured since she couldn’t return to form in the sprints, she would turn to throwing.

So Lavington picked up a shot put for the first time in the spring of 2014. Entering Friday’s state track and field meet, Lavington has the best throw in Kansas this season at 46 feet, 11¾ inches. It’s the eighth-best throw in Kansas girls history.

“It’s crazy to think that I probably wouldn’t have ever touched a shot put if I hadn’t been injured,” Lavington said. “If you would have said all of that a year ago, I would have thought you were crazy.”

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At least three times a week for every week since the state meet last season, Lavington drove herself to the shot-put ring at Cheney High and practiced by herself.

She would spend hours at a time working on form. She watched videos on the Internet and tried to emulate the throwers with her own throws. All of this by herself, without a tape measure and without another form of motivation.

“It did get really repetitive and tiring and sometimes you just don’t have a good day,” Lavington said. “But the thing that got me through it was something my coach said. He said progress is a squiggly line. You’re going to go up and you’re going to go down, but you have to believe that squiggly line is going to go back up at some point.”

Lavington didn’t realize her improvement until she drove to an indoor meet at Kansas State. She didn’t throw her best, but was close to breaking 40 feet.

A breakthrough occurred when a Division I coach sought her out after the competition and told her she had so much more left in her. Hearing the excitement in his voice lit a fire under Lavington.

She switched her style from shuffling on her approach to gliding, a more advanced technique that features a 180-degree spin at the end that leads her into the throw.

“There’s only so much motivation you can have by yourself,” Lavington said. “What it really takes is someone else that believes in you even more than you do to get there.”

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When this spring rolled around and Lavington quietly told teammates and coaches she was closing in on 45 feet, there were a few wide-eyed looks.

“It’s one thing to do it in practice,” Cheney coach Rich Simmons said. “But to do it in a meet, where it’s official, that’s a whole other thing.”

Lavington delivered on the hype immediately, breaking the school record in her first meet with a throw of 43-9 at Wichita State. But what shocked Simmons even more was Lavington’s demeanor.

She was disappointed she hadn’t reached 45 feet.

“I’m just one of those people where I’m never quite satisfied with how I’ve done,” Lavington said. “When I hit 45, then I wanted to go to 50. When I hit 50, then I’m going to want to keep going up and up and up. I never want to stop.”

Lavington has cleared 45 feet in five straight meets leading up to state and her season-best throw has nearly a three-foot advantage over the defending champion in the event, Halstead’s Jena Black.

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When Lavington arrived at Cheney, Simmons recalls being impressed by her natural athleticism.

“She was a good athlete, but it wasn’t a case of, ‘This girl is going D-I,’ ” Simmons said. “That sentence was never said.”

After her breakout season, Lavington has received interest from Division I colleges from across the country. Her season-best throw is in the top 20 nationwide this season.

Still, she’s not satisfied. She plans on breaking the 3A record at the state meet, set by Jacquelyne Leffler of Northern Heights in 2007 at 45-6¾, and breaking 50 feet by the time she graduates next spring.

That may have sounded crazy two years ago, but now, it is reality.

“It makes you realize if you put in the time and the dedication, it is possible to get to the top,” Cheney teammate Trevor Lies said. “She’s a perfect example of that. You usually only see it on the TV, but I’m actually witnessing it first-hand someone work her way completely above everyone else. It’s just incredible.”