Never Let Go

In the call room before the European championships qualifying round last week an official was trying to find out if he needed to change the cage setup for anyone and asked “Are any of you left handed or is everyone normal?” Szymon Ziolkowski responded “I’m not left handed, but I don’t know if I’m normal either. This season I decided to continue to train after 26 years of throwing the hammer.”

At 38, Ziolkowski wasn’t the oldest man in the field, but he is up there. He won Olympic gold 14 years ago and has kept with the sport through some ups and downs ever since. But something keeps bringing him back. It’s what brings all of us back. As he said that in the call room, I couldn’t help but think about my mentor Harold Connolly who passed away four years ago today.

→ Related Content: We write an annual remembrance of Harold Connolly and his contributions to our sport. Read our previous posts hereherehere, and here.

connolly_centerHarold only began the hammer in his twenties, but he never let go of the sport. He qualified for four Olympic teams and nearly made a fifth at age 41. He took a break from throwing after that, but coached, ran a training center, and could never imagine actually leaving the sport. When he took a job in the 1990s leading the Special Olympics he moved across the country and was busier than ever. But soon after he arrived he was back in the sport after he volunteered to coach Kevin McMahon and the Georgetown throwers.

The whole time he still wanted back in the ring himself. In an interview with the Washington Post about coaching he said “It’s perfect. It enables me to get out of the office. I’ve got a hip replacement and after I get a knee replacement I’m taking up the sport again. I’m going to be a masters hammer thrower with replacement parts.”

By the time I met him a few years later his doctor’s recommendation kept him out of the ring as it was not listed as a suitable activity for his new knee. But he kept citing studies that showed the benefits of rotational movements for the balance of elderly people. The hammer throw, he said, might be a cure for old-age clumsiness.

A year or two before he died he couldn’t resist and got back in the ring against his doctor’s, and likely his wife’s, orders. He reported back that he was quite dizzy but it was a blast. You just couldn’t keep him away from the sport.

I have this same feeling. So does Ziolkowski. As he said in the call room, it is not normal but every hammer thrower has it. And who cares if it’s normal; it’s love. It’s that love of the sport that holds us together despite the lack of outside support from federations and governing bodies. It’s love that keeps us from letting go of this sport. And it’s what keeps me from letting go of his memory. To keep his legacy alive go take a few throws today and try and bring someone new with you to spread the love.

2 replies
  1. Mark Connolly
    Mark Connolly says:

    Hi Martin Bingisser,

    You hit the nail on the head about Harold Connolly, the greatest hammer thrower who ever lived.
    There are two things I hope to state on this communication.

    1) Estimations of how far Dad would have thrown had he had TWO fully functional arms, is a spurious speculation at best.
    If that was the case, he would have not ever been embodied by the romancing of “a perfect heave”. The necessity of reaching royalty, in such an obscure American sport, would have never surfaced. His competitive tenacity and blessed bio-genetics, would have found expression in a more mainstream way. The USA would have been denied a glimpse of raw determination and dedication overcoming disability, and I the entire experience of life altogether.

    2) 4 years ago today, Dad died. The circumstances causing his death remain unclear. Varying even fairly classified as contradictory, leading reports and obituaries, are still available for perusal online and I am just as uncomfortable with them now, as I was then. I regret not being more proactive about disclosure at the time of traveling to his funeral. Please allow me to state the following…

    1) Exercise was not a cause of Harold’s death.
    2) Anybody would be hard pressed to find a heart stronger or larger, than the one beating in Harold’s chest.
    3) As Harold found out when tested during his life, he had a chin of iron capable of shrugging off the hardest of shots.

    So it only remains as suitable closure the following hypothesis…

    Dad felt good enough to go work out. That means he was able to breathe that day.
    While on the bike, doing his ordinary repertoire of getting his heart rate way up and then measuring the time it took to come back to resting rate, the fucken’ bike somehow broke and toppled. It dumped Dad face first onto a cement floor, which of course is another cardinal no-no.
    I have never seen, in the past couple decades at least, a stationary bicycle at a health club that wasn’t on a rubber mat. So while Harold instinctively gripped hard on the handles trying to right it while it dropped, that would have occupied both his hands. Had the bike actually simply tipped, he still would have had time to tuck his head behind his shoulder, even his left one. I’ve seen him do countless shrugs, tying the dumbbell or barbell to his left hand, so can vouch for his deltoids first hand. No the gold damned piece of shit bike broke and gave Dad no time to do jack shit, but kiss the hard ground beneath him. And at a velocity that was criminal for any human to endure.
    I never found out much detail. What is the most likely thing to have happened? An extremely unfortunate accident is an understatement. Harold Connolly was an experienced stationary bicyclist and world class athlete. He had no known heart or other serious medical impediments, rather was in incredible shape for his, actually any age. He was not on any drugs, that I know of and had not been denied sleep for a week. Was there a police report done, or was it just another fatality at the gym? Come on family! I blame myself for not raising a ruck-ass four years ago.
    If he had been run over in the street, would you just say it was his time and be done with it? Why did his first and oldest child never get a detail of investigation into possible negligence, hazard and provable cause of death? This was the day Harold V. Connolly decided to check out, participating in his bi-weekly if not daily, activity and customary routines? An unannounced physical health issue struck without warning?
    You’ve got to be shitting me!
    Dad may have died doing what he stood for most. Overcoming challenge by hard work and determination. It wasn’t the things he believed in and demonstrated throughout his life that killed him. It wasn’t the effort and lifestyle. It wasn’t the headphones I was told he was wearing, sounding out Chinese words so he could communicate with his bilingual Grandchildren in both languages. No! it was the support system that he justifiably took for granted as being there, that was pulled out from under him. As well as the standard precautionary measures, that need be in place in case of an emergency, like a suitable cushioned place to fall.
    Harold Connolly never looked for special treatment, in fact he didn’t care for it at all. He just wanted to be accepted and respected as normal. Is it standard to have a family member go to the gym to work out, and then leave in a ambulance being pronounced DOA, and his first born never hears of any formal investigation into it?
    Let me add here that I also was never privy to his will either. That seems par for the course we’re playing here. Which also explains a bit about my life with Dad beginning around ’73-’74.
    Mr. Bingisser I am delighted to read your commitment of remembrance of the Greatest Hammer Thrower who ever lived.
    Dad was an admirer of the present world record holder. We met with him in London or Ireland circa 1985, about the time the great thrower set today’s, almost 30 year standing, record. Nonetheless, as great as that mark has proved to be, Harold Connolly gets my vote as not only the greatest American, but the #1 Hammer Thrower all time.


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