It is nearly impossible to know where a change of circumstances may lead. For instance, how could you know that an unexpectedly lengthy injury would be the impetus for a freshman sprinter at Merrimack to try out the hammer throw and three years later be placing her name on the all-time leaderboard at Baylor?
Canton grad Hannah Link had a frustrating start to her collegiate career, but tried something different almost on a whim, found a new event that she loved, and it has carried her all the way to the Big XII and competing against some of the country’s best athletes.
“If you told me my freshman year of college at Merrimack this is where I’d be, I would literally tell you to shut up,” Link said when asked to reflect on the journey that took her from North Andover to Waco. “When I first walked on Baylor’s campus, I was like why am I here right now, this is so crazy. I am still kind of shocked that it ended up this way but I couldn’t be happier.”
She added, “It shows that literally everything happens for a reason. It’s crazy. Life throws you curveballs and in the moment you don’t know why it happened but then a couple years later you’re like I’m literally the happiest I’ve ever been and now it makes sense.”
Link is not only a part of the Baylor team, but she stepped up in her first meet of the indoor season and set a personal best in the weight, the indoor equivalent of the hammer throw. In her first appearance for the Bears, at the Corky Classic, Link recorded a throw of 56-6, which was good for fifth place and put her in fourth place all-time among weight throwers at Baylor.
& that’s a 56-6 PR for Hannah Link! #SicEm ? pic.twitter.com/5PUwtZTFwL
— Baylor Track & Field (@BaylorTrack) January 15, 2022
Link explained, “I was honestly just a little bit terrified because I was around all these incredible throwers who have been doing this for years and years and here I am, kind of still new to the sport, and I’m trying to compete with them. But then on my last throw, I popped one.
“It was a pretty cool moment and it showed me, ‘Hey, you can do this.’”
At Canton, Link was all about speed. She was a forward on the soccer team and a sprinter in indoor and outdoor track. She was recruited to Merrimack to run the 200 and 400 meters, but before her career really got going, she suffered a foot injury that left her in a boot for far longer than she anticipated. Even after the boot was removed, Link struggled to get back to her top sprinting shape.
For fun and to stay active during her recovery, Link decided to give throwing a shot. “I explored a couple of throwing events,” she said, “and it really was for fun more than anything because I always thought I was going to get back into sprinting.” What started as fun became a passion and, after a season was wiped out because of COVID, Link started training more seriously, meeting with friends that she knew on Long Island and working on her form every day. After graduating a year early from Merrimack and with an extra year of eligibility from the COVID season, she explored new places to compete.
With help from Merrimack coach Mark Connolly, Link got in contact with the coaches at Baylor. Not only was Baylor a top track program, but it also had a strong business school for Link to get her MBA (with the exact concentration, entrepreneurship, that she was looking for), and also, Link admitted with a laugh, avoided the New England winters.
“It just kind of checked all the boxes, which is why it was the only place I applied to,” Link said. She also thanked her coaches at Merrimack for helping make this opportunity a reality. “They were super helpful and they always check up on me just to see how things are going,” she said. “We definitely stay in touch. I still have this Merrimack bumper sticker on my car because I can’t forget where I came from.”
From the outside, it doesn’t appear that there would be a lot of transferable skills from sprinting to throwing, and that may be true in some events, but Link found that her speed was an asset in the hammer. The small, technical adjustments that throwers make to find that extra couple of inches also appealed to her.
“I’m definitely a little smaller and shorter than what you’re used to seeing most throwers look like,” Link admitted, “but I think the speed that I have from being a sprinter and soccer is why I’m in a good spot for throwing hammer and throwing weight.”
She continued, “When you see these incredible throwers at the Olympics or wherever, just any high-level thrower, they make it look so easy. So, it’s easy for people who aren’t really familiar with the sport to just be like, ‘Oh, they’re just throwing a ball on a wire, it’s easy.’ It’s so fun to see, ‘I’m going to turn my foot this way or I’m going to put a little more weight on my left side rather than my right side’ and it’s going to improve my throw that much more because I made a small little change.”
After setting a new personal best in the weight, Link was frustrated that she didn’t build off that first meet, but last weekend she set a new PR with a throw of 56-11-1/2 and finished in sixth. She considers the hammer her best event, so weight is setting a foundation for the outdoor season and Link is trying to keep it in perspective. “It’s actually been going a lot better than my coach and I anticipated really,” she said.
Link continued, “That first meet, I was honestly freaking out and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in this new, really big conference, this is terrifying.’ It was kind of overwhelming but the second and third meet I learned to be a little more composed and confident and ready to go. So, even though the results don’t show it and the numbers don’t show it, there have been a lot of wins and a lot of good takeaways.”
She has been in Waco since the summer, so it is starting to feel more like home and it is clear that she is enjoying the work, her team, and the overall experience. While Link is comfortable at Baylor and looking forward to more success as she develops as a thrower, she never stops being amazed at how far she has come and how she got there.
“If I hadn’t gotten hurt freshman year, I want to say there’s a zero percent chance I would’ve gotten into throwing because that’s the only thing that pushed me into it,” Link said. “It’s just so wild because it was my first semester at this new school and I’m hurt and it was probably the lowest point I could’ve been in that situation.
“I was so bummed, I was so frustrated, because all I wanted to do was compete and I couldn’t. But it was definitely supposed to happen like that because here I am.”
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