February 6, 2013

Steve Solloway: Always giving it his best shot

LEWISTON — David Pless settles into the rather small circle that is his launching pad. He throws his 6-foot-5, 275-pound body into a short, almost violent spin, and releases a 16-pound iron ball that was tucked against his massive neck.

When everything goes correctly, the ball will land some 60 feet away.

That's a good throw, says Pless, a Bates College senior and champion shot putter. Maybe twice a week he'll reach that fleeting moment of feeling good after such a throw.

How does he feel after a great throw?

"I'm still looking for that," he says without a ghost of a smile.

His pursuit of that throw sends him back to the weight room and back to the small circle for another spin and release. To the pedestrians among us, it seems so mind-numbing.

For Pless, it's his motivation. He's a two-time NCAA Division III indoor shot put champion. He holds school and meet records. A six-time All-American.

Later this winter he'll go after a third NCAA indoor championship. Some believe he has a chance to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.

"Not yet," says Pless. "I'd need to throw 65 feet or more. I have no clue what will happen. Life is to be lived day by day."

He's a 22-year-old philosophy major from Atlanta.

Once overweight and bullied, he was one of only five cut from his middle school baseball team.

He's played football and basketball. He says he's not aggressive. He speaks of setbacks he's experienced and disappointments.

And then asks how the professional athletes I've interviewed have stayed humble.

He helped the Bates men win last Saturday's 45th State of Maine indoor championships at the University of Southern Maine.

Pless won the shot put and the weight throw, adding to Bates' 207 points. Runner-up Bowdoin scored 139.

Pless threw the shot 62 feet, 11/4 inch, breaking the meet record by 18 inches.

He won the meet's Peter Goodrich Most Valuable Field Athlete Award. Last winter he broke the NCAA Division III indoor record by a whopping nine feet.

Two weeks ago at the Terrier Invitational at Boston University, Pless threw a fraction of an inch over 61 feet and placed second in a mixed field.

A thrower from Division I Cornell won with a 63-4.25.

Careful not to offend, Pless tries to put it into perspective. Americans have lost touch with track and field. We can't put 60 feet into perspective. Who even knows the world indoor record of 74 feet, 4 inches was set by American Randy Barnes way back in 1989?

The shot put wasn't even a Greek idea in the original Olympics.

The event is thought to have originated with soldiers in the Middle Ages tossing cannon balls.

"It isn't a spectator sport," said Pless. "But when you do it perfectly, the 16-pound shot can feel as light as a feather and there's grace in the throw."

His mom is a New England Yankee, born in Portland, Conn. Dad grew up in Georgia.

Mom gave him a certain toughness that came from working in the male-dominated world of finance.

Dad never met a stranger. Everyone became a friend, or certainly an acquaintance. Pless is a middle child; one sister is older, the other sister is younger.

In high school he bicycled across the U.S. with a group. It took 42 days. No support van accompanied the riders. Each carried his or her tent and sleeping bag, spending nights in campgrounds or fields. They were individuals but a community.

Winning the Goodrich Award last Saturday was nice but added nothing to the team score.

The cynic in you will scoff. Don't.

Pless is the big man who will see the distance runner and teammate bending over a bench and perspiring from the exertion of his practice workout. That feeds his motivation.

He remembers his first trip to the NCAA championships.

"I was shaking so hard before my first throw, I nearly dropped the shot."

He still fights his nerves.

Throwing the shot is actually very technical. Not as many movements as the pole vault but enough so that if one or two actions aren't done correctly, the goal of a great or perfect throw is lost.

"I guess if I could always throw the shot perfectly, I'd put it down and walk away." What would be the challenge?

The philosophy major and shot put champion will search for his answers.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

 

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