To many professional athletes, winning is everything. Hammer thrower Anna Mahon UVM class of 1996 alumna, however, is no such athlete.
“I do it because it’s fun,” she said, “not because it’s a means to an end.”
Enjoying herself all the way, she said, Mahon, 30, achieved the most coveted status an athlete can: Olympian. On August 23 and 25 she will compete at the Olympic Games in Athens.
“I make no predictions as to where I’ll place,” she said. “I want to perform well and not sit down after three throws,” Mahon said. “But as long as I throw well, like I know I can, I’ll be satisfied.”
The hammer throw, a track and field event that requires athletes to throw an 8.8-pound ball attached to a three-foot chain, first appealed to Mahon while she attended the University of Vermont.
When she joined the track and field team, she did so to be among friends. “I had a lot of friends on the track team,” she said. “I wasn’t super serious about it.”
Prior to high school, Mahon was never serious about any sport because she never played one competitively. “Growing up, I never did organized sports, but we ran around the yard, rode bikes and skied, and I rode horses to strengthen a knee I injured in sixth grade.”
In high school, Mahon became a competitive swimmer, but she had no intention of pursuing the sport at college.
“It didn’t seem nice to get up at 5 a.m. and jump into a freezing pool,” she said.
To practice for the hammer throw, however, Mahon is uncompromising, practicing almost every day in all conditions. Her regimen varies daily and consists of everything from throwing to sprinting to lifting.
Intense athletic training is not Mahon’s only pursuit. She teaches English at Amity Regional High School. While others are often astounded by the staggering amount of activity in her day, Mahon said her routine seems perfectly ordinary to her.
“It’s something you get used to,” she said, “because I’ve never taught without also training. And everyone has something going on besides work, like kids or another job.”
In 2002, Mahon won the U.S. National Championship to qualify for the World Championship. In the same year she shattered the American hammer throw record when she threw 72.01 meters. On July 15 of this year, Mahon clinched a spot on the Olympic team when she finished second at the 2004 U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials in Sacramento, Calif. Proud though she is of earning a place on the Olympic team, Mahon said she expected to do so.
“I’m excited and I’m honored because the Olympics is the pinnacle of track and field, but I wasn’t surprised to make it,” she said. “My goal was to make every team I possibly could. I’ve been on the national team four times, and I’ve made world champion, so I would’ve made the Olympic team this time barring any unforeseen catastrophes.”
Mahon will arrive in Greece Aug. 9 and then compete in the games two weeks later. In the days leading up to her competition, she’ll be training rather than sightseeing, but said she’s still awed to be in Athens.
“I’ve been there before on vacation and it’s cool to be in a place where all those myths come from,” she said, “and it will be a pretty neat thing for my family because they’ll get to see the country.”
Many of her family members will be in attendance at the games, including her father, who recently became what she calls a true athlete parent.
“When I was 20 my father barely came to any of my competitions, but I’ve gotten better as I’ve gotten older, so he’s become more interested and now attends almost every event,” she said.
At 30 years old, Mahon is at the peak of her career, and articles about her are not shy when conveying her award-winning status by listing both her age and specifics about her physical stature (5’11” and 175 pounds).
“I guess coming from a high school girl’s perspective it would be shocking to see my weight in print,” she said, “but I don’t really worry too much about it, which means I’m pretty comfortable with myself, and I’m surrounded by athletes among whom I’m a pretty average-sized person.”
Mahon, however, isn’t a person of average performance. Her advice to people who are, as well as to athletes of every other skill level, remains the same: Enjoy yourself.
“Get out of it whatever the sport offers you,” she said, “and remember that whatever level you’re at, do it not because it’s life or death but because it’s fun.”