Throwing for the Distance

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Heptagonal champ rewrites the record book in women’s track.

By Noel Hynd

NOT THAT I COULD ever root against a Penn athlete in any sport, but some are particularly enjoyable to root for. This being the season of the Penn Relays at Franklin Field, my attention has instinctively drifted to track and field, a sport I’ve always felt is one of the most under-appreciated on the collegiate level. 
   Track is a sport of individual events that form an overall team effort. So it’s unfair to single out any particular athlete. But I can be as unfair as my editors allow, so let me single out a Penn athlete who is rewriting the University’s record book in her sport. 
   Luana Botelho, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, is a sociology major with a minor in urban studies. She hopes eventually to earn a master’s in education. Teaching in an inner-city school may be part of her future, she says, as well as perhaps coaching basketball and track. Right now, however, she’s Penn’s only Heptagonal champion (Heps are the eight Ivies, plus Navy) in track and is setting new University records in her events. 
   Botelho first became interested in track when she was watching the Olympics several years ago. She lived in Easton, Massachusetts at the time and, while in ninth grade, was fascinated by the accomplishments of Florence Griffith-Joyner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. 
   “I thought to myself that I would like to be a sprinter,” Botelho says. ” So I went to my high school track coach and told him. He took one look at me — I was already 5 ft, 10 in. in the ninth grade — and he said that sprinting was fine, as long as I would try throwing as well.” 
   In track parlance, throwing means four events: discus, shot put, hammer, and javelin. Botelho experimented with all four events in high school. Eventually, she came to the attention of Tony Tenisci, the assistant women’s track coach at Penn. 
   Tony, who’s been coaching at Penn 13 years, was instrumental in Botelho’s decision to come to the University and for the past three years has been her throwing coach. He has nothing but praise for his recruit. 
   “She’s a quality thrower and a quality individual,” Tenisci says. “We’ve given her the opportunity here to concentrate on two events and excel at them — shot put and discus. She’s responded by setting University records which rank among the best nationally.” 
   In fact, Botelho has decimated some of the old Penn records. The former Penn women’s record for shot put was 40 ft, 10 in. Botelho’s new record is 46 ft, 2 and 1/2 in. She also now holds the University’s discus record, with a throw of 143 ft. With this year’s Penn relays not yet held as we went to press, and the indoor and outdoor track and field season of her senior year still ahead of her, it is almost a given that Botelho will continue to improve on those records. 
   The campus environment has been a positive factor in Botelho’s Penn experience. ” I was surprised by the closeness of the track members and the coaches,” Botelho says. “In high school, I did not have a throwing coach. Everyone was friendly with one another, but the team members were not very close. At Penn, the track team has become another family for me. The women are very close to one another and we all work towards a common goal. It is very team-oriented.” 
   None of this success, however, comes without commitment and hard work. Few spectators realize that the sport involves a year-round training program. Participants in women’s track start serious conditioning in September with running and weight training. Throwers do weight workouts three days a week, and throwing drills for two. Once the indoor season starts in the winter, conditioning is kept up just enough to maintain strength but not tire athletes out for competitions. The program is similar in the spring. Over the summer, dedicated athletes continue running and lifting. 
   Such dedication results in those one or two moments when a Heptagonal title is captured, a record established, or a victory is notched at the Penn Relays. Is it worth it? When Botelho is asked, she responds by talking about her time at Penn overall, not just as a place where she plays a team sport. “Penn has provided me with an incredible experience,” she says. “It has made me grow tremendously as a person. At first I was a bit intimidated, but coming to Penn has been the best decision I have ever made. The relationships that I have established and the experiences that I have gone through will stay with me throughout my life.” 
   Those records that she’s setting in shot put and discus may last for a while, too.

Extra Point: In the NFL draft, defensive tackle Mitch Marrow was selected in the third round, 73rd overall, by the Carolina Panthers.

Noel Hynd, C’70, writes regularly on sports for the Gazette. 

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