By STEPHEN MAZZONE
Shelby Ashe and Daina Levy are from two different families, attending high schools in Georgia that are about an hour apart.
That’s about the only difference between these two immensely-talented weight throwers, who nearly mirror the effort of each other whenever they step foot in the circle.
Ashe, a senior from St. Pius X Catholic High, and Levy, a senior out of Kennesaw Mountain High, teammates and good friends for the Throw I Deep club, are the country’s finest with the 20-pound weight. With an appearance in this weekend’s Millrose Games on the docket, Ashe holds the outdoor national record with a toss of 69 feet, 4 inches achieved at the Martin Luther King Open in Marietta on Jan. 16. She broke the existing mark of 67-7 set by Levy just two weeks earlier at the Y2KII Open, also in Marietta.
By the way, those distances also put them No. 5 and No. 6 among NCAA athletes this winter.
Coach Mike Judge, founder of Throw I Deep, a non-profit club based in the Peachtree state, has produced 104 high school All-Americans and five national class record-holders with his staff in the various different weight events the last 10 years. Ashe and Levy are certainly among his elite.
“In my opinion, they push each other like no two competitors in the past,” said Judge, a former standout weight-thrower for the University of Georgia in the early 1980s. “Each knows the other can win on any given day so they can never let up, but both want the best outcome for each other.”
It’s a rarity to have two teammates, two good friends the absolute best from the west to the east coast, but Ashe and Levy have made it work. The determined duo, who often get confused by others because of their likeness in physical appearance, believe the friendly rivalry has only benefitted their performances.
“The best aspect of having your best friend as your competitor is that you are both on the same schedule,” Levy said. “You respect the other person’s time so much more because we each realize that our time is very limited. You also know the other person on a level that nobody else does, allowing for us to push each other that much more. That established closeness only lends us to being better teammates.”
“Daina and I are very, very competitive and we both like to win,” Ashe added. “But that’s obvious. We encourage each other in the weight room and in practice and meets. It’s nice having someone who understands the extent of training, traveling and competing and it gives us a common ground. But we also don’t talk about throwing outside of that environment. We like to see each other do well and push each other to new limits in every way.”
(Shelby Ashe, Photo left by Don Rich, PennTrackXC.com)
In addition to the expertise that they receive from Judge and his staff, Ashe and Levy compete for Throw I Deep due to the fact that the 20-pound weight throw is not a high school event in Georgia as well as numerous other states in the country.
But it’s not the only event that the two rivals shine in and are listed near the top in the U.S. Levy owns a best of 45-9 for the
, 155-0 for the discus and 195-0 for the hammer. Ashe, an indoor titlist in the weight at last year’s now-defunct National Scholastic Indoor Championships (NSIC), has thrown the shot 46-9 and uncorked a national outdoor record in the hammer of 214-4 last year at the USATF Junior Olympics.
Ashe competed in that event at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore Aug. 14-26.
“I had a decent showing in the prelims. I threw 58.01 meters (190 feet), which put me as a third seed going into the medal round. The other throwers and I ran into bad weather on the night of the finals and I only threw 48 or 49 meters. I can’t say I’m happy with the end result, but I look back on the experience and appreciate that a year ago I barely knew what a hammer was and to be at such a big meet is unbelievable.”
Levy, whose has Canadian and Jamaican parents, also competed overseas when she took part in the 2009 IAAF World Youth Championship. She represented Canada in the meet, held in Bressanone, Italy. The then-sophomore, who had just three months of experience with the hammer, finished 15th in her qualifying group with a throw of 44.81 meters (147 feet). She was 42nd out of 47 competitors.
(Daina Levy, photo right by Don Rich, PennTrackXC.com)
“I had the time of my life,” Levy said. “More specifically, my time in Italy was very intimidating. I have never been one to truly be intimidated, however, I felt very inexperienced, which indeed I was. I distinctly remember my practices and throwing with other international athletes. I was so amazed by how far their implements were going, how controlled they were and how seasoned they seemed. The experience was mentally strengthening and pulled out the determination I never knew I had. From that point, I was motivated to be one of the best. That drive is forever growing.”
Ashe and Levy, who both utilize the three-spin technique, are presently far ahead of the field in the rankings in the 20-pound weight with Throw I Deep teammates Jianna Williams third at 59-0 and Taylor Dupont fourth at 56-3 ¼. Aleide Fernandes of Central Falls High in R.I. is fifth at 53-11.
Judge says the work ethic of his two star throwers is unmatched.
“Both girls have given up a lot of personal time to this sport,” he said. “I spend around 18 hours per week with each girl training. They spend time outside the time I spend with them. They do not lead the normal life of high school girls. They are training very hard each day and are in bed by 9:30 each night.”
The two throwers have several important dates on their schedule in the next few months, beginning with the Millrose Games on Friday. Other big-time meets that Ashe and Levy will be traveling to is the prestigious Simplot Games in Pocatello, Idaho (Feb. 17-19) and the New Balance Indoor Nationals at the Armory in New York City (March 11-13) where Ashe will be looking to win another national title.
The New Balance-sponsored meet replaces the Nike Indoor Nationals this year and will be held at the same site as the former NSIC. At the 2010 NSIC, Ashe set a national indoor mark of 65-4 ¼.
Right now, Ashe and Levy are focused on throwing well at Millrose. The two teammates are entered in the open event where they’ll compete against top collegians and former Olympians at the Armory.
“I am excited about throwing is such a big event,” Ashe said. “There will be a lot of energy and I am looking forward to the competitive atmosphere. It’s a great honor to be part of such a big event with other top athletes. I also like throwing in the Armory and look forward to being back.”
“Millrose is a phenomenal opportunity to compete on a level that most never (have a chance),” Levy said. “Being a high school student, I never would have fathomed competing against adult Olympians who have thrown for years. It’s an honor to compete against the people that I study…I am truly excited to be afforded the opportunity to throw with professionals, who are living the dream I am working towards. I am hoping for a PR and to glean all the experience I possibly can.”
Not surprisingly, the two throwers have high expectations in the coming months and beyond. That includes an attempt at a berth in the 2012 Olympics in London.
“My first goal is to earn the national record in the weight and to win the shot put at the indoor nationals,” Levy said. “After that, I plan to train in the hammer and the discus for the Pan American Championships and the World Championships this upcoming summer. I am a citizen of Canada and Jamaica and plan to compete for Jamaica this year. I am really focusing on one thing at a time. I plan to compete in the 2012 Olympics in the hammer and the discus. Wherever the Lord takes me after that, is where I will go.”
“I am very excited for this year,” Ashe said. “I want to continue to build onto my recent weight PR and I want to be over 50 (feet) in the shot put indoors. In the outdoor season, I want to be over 70 meters in the hammer and continue to improve in the shot. I want to improve my discus number as well. I also hope to be sporting more U.S.A. gear this year at the Junior Pan Ams and Senior World Championship, and next year in the 2012 Olympic Games.”