One year ago, the global hammer throw community lost its greatest advocate. For the past 60 years, nearly every great american hammer thrower knew and was influenced by Harold Connolly. Some, like Kevin McMahon, were coached by him. Others didn’t even agree with him, but couldn’t avoid his impact. While his stubbornness made many hostile, he forced even those people to look hard at their values before deciding they were correct.
I could immediately sense this when I met Harold. This led me to learn my most valuable lesson from him: every moment is a chance to teach and learn.Over the past year I have been thinking of this lesson more and more. The hammer is rarely welcome at training facilities and I used to find myself always jumping over fences to train during my travels. Harold told me stories of when he used to hop a fence to train near the airport in Los Angeles and I always joke that the ability to hop fences is the only athletic prerequisite to throwing the hammer.
But I’ve changed. Through Hal’s influence I now use my travels as a chance to meet people and help them learn about the hammer. When I travelled to Mt. Shasta, California for my wedding last week I got in touch with the coach at the local junior college. While he has produced some good javelin throwers, his knowledge of the hammer is limited. He gladly let me use their ring and weight room, and I gladly worked with his throwers and offered to provide more advice during the season. Slowly these actions help the hammer community grow. As I departed, the coach asked me if I had known Harold. It turns out he met Hal at the Olympic Training Center less than a month before his death. Like I said, he’d impacted everyone.
Just as you can teach in every moment, Harold also taught me you can learn during the most unexpected times. I visited Harold’s cabin outside Radford, Virginia before Christmas in 2003. We had the whole week to ourselves since his wife was spending her time in California coaching a young Allyson Felix. One night after we failed in our attempt to cook venison, he told me to sit down on the sofa while he queued up a movie that would show me some of the secrets of hammer throwing. I asked for more information, but he remained mysterious as he searched for the VHS tape. Soon enough, I was surprised as a ballet documentary took over the screen. It was a profile of some of the best modern male dancers. “You can learn a lot about rhythm, balance, and power from these men” he said. I patiently watched and was quickly impressed.
I’m sure I’ll write more about the film in the future, but what I remember most about the night was what Harold said as it finished. “If I had told you what it was, you would have never agreed to watch it.” He was right. As a 20-year-old male, I would have been too stubborn to agree to ballet as the evening’s entertainment. After all, what could I learn about hammer throwing from the ballet? But he would never have to surprise me again since I learned afterwards that almost anything could teach me.
It’s amazing how much he shaped my life. He is deeply missed by many people, but his impact was so deep that it will outlive many generations of throwers.