Back to back NCAA Big East gold for Rebecca Chouinard at DePaul University
first winning in 2019 and returning after COVID cancelled the 2020 season
Friday, June 4, 2021
By Rob J. Ross
CHICAGO, Illinois. - Given a second opportunity Rebecca Chouinard capitalized by ending her collegiate career with a second conference gold medal.
The St. Thomas native won the women's hammer throw with a personal best distance of 60.80 metres, for the University of DePaul Demons, at the NCAA Division 1 Big East Conference outdoor track and field championships, May 14.
In 2019 at the Big East meet, Chouinard captured her first conference crown winning the hammer in her junior year at the Chicago, Illinois school.
Last year the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the 2020 outdoor season leaving the St. Joseph's high school alumnus wondering if she would ever step in to the throwing circle again.
Standing atop the podium as the hammer champion this spring, not only had Chouinard beaming over her accomplishment of reaching a long time goal of throwing over 60 metres, but also a renewed motivation to continue in the sport.
"I've had that expectation for myself since doing it the last time. I really wanted to come back and reclaim that and finish my career with that same success," said Chouinard. "It has been two years so it was really good to be back at a conference meet. It took a lot of hard work and determination from me and all of my teammates."
There was the unusual setting of no spectators in the venue, but Chouinard had her teammates by her side cheering and her family on her mind.
"My family lives in Canada and they can't cross the border right now. Last time I won they were able to be there and it was such an awesome moment. It was the first time I'd won a competition like that in my college career. They've been my biggest supporters," Chouinard said. "Not having them there, it didn't feel quite as exciting and triumphant. I knew they would have liked to have been there. I know they are equally as happy for me even though they couldn't be there to watch me."
An empty venue with no fans cheering on athletes didn't affect Chouinard once her event commenced.
"As an athlete, you have to be able to focus on what you are doing, focus on your goals, compete with yourself," Chouinard explained. "Make the most of the environment you're in."
The senior did have her fellow throwers from DePaul and teammates from other events cheering her on. As well, even though DePaul are conference rivals with the Marquette University Golden Eagles, Chouinard said there is also a camaraderie between the athletes.
Chouinard unleashed her winning distance on her second attempt, a much improved throw over her opening distance that rattled off the cage.
"On my first throw I hit the cage but still managed to get out in the field. My coach told me to keep the distance. That throw was 48 metres which is by far the lowest I've marked as a throw in a long time," said Chouinard, recounting her time in the circle.
"My second throw was the 60.80 throw. A PR (personal record or best) by 40 centimetres. I was sitting in first place and the girl who was in second was consistently throwing 58 and 59 metres. It felt really good to get a personal best. My coach then said, you have a personal best so now go in and go crazy, throw as hard as you possibly can. A couple of my throws after that were fouls because I turned too far and stepped out of the ring for a foot foul or I threw out of the sector. One of my foot fouls was further than my 60.8. It was a little frustrating but nice to see I had another great throw."
Chouinard had follow-up distances of 58.8 and 57.25 metres and won by 1.64 metres over Chanell Botsis, of the University of Connecticut, who threw a 60.16 on her final attempt.
"My goal has always been to hit 60 metres in the hammer throw. That was the number I've had in my mind since I started college," Chouinard said. "I hit it (at the Marquette Invitational, May 1, 60.40m for first place), but to do it at conference is really special. To hit a PR and win the competition I got everything I could possibly want that day."
This year's gold may be the pinnacle of Chouinard's career and perhaps the tougher one to win compared to 2019.
"They were both challenging in their own ways. It terms of the mental game, it was the first one," said Chouinard. "In 2019, I went in ranked third or fourth and although I threw a less distance that year I was less confident going in to that competition. A teammate was ranked higher than me. She didn't have a great competition and I was able to step up. This year I threw a farther distance. The girl who finished second was ranked ahead of me. It was more head to head. I would say this year because it took a farther (or further) distance to do so."
At meets earlier this season at Louisville and Indiana State, Chouinard placed third in the hammer throw both times.
For discus throw this year, Chouinard had a best result of sixth place (36.98m), at the Marquette Invitational, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Chouinard placed 13th at the Big East championships throwing the discus 35.5 metres. Her personal best distance is 37.38 metres set in 2019.
While at DePaul, Chouinard occasionally threw the javelin and competed in the weight throw and shot put.
It was her Grade nine year at St. Joseph's in 2013, when Chouinard was first introduced to throwing events discus and shot put.
"I ended up having a really good season in discus," said Chouinard, who finished the year placing fifth in the midget women's event at OFSAA, the high school provincial championships, with a best throw of 27.4 metres.
St. Joe's senior Charles Nyguyen assisted Chouinard that first season and suggested joining the St. Thomas Legion track and field club, where she met throws coach Josh Archer.
"I grew up a competitive dancer. He (Archer) told me I wasn't tall enough to be amazing at discus. But he said I was built really well to throw the hammer. I started throwing the hammer and really, really loved it. I decided I wanted to pursue that sport instead of dance."
Chouinard fared well in both discus and shot put throughout high school, placing 12th at OFSAA in shot as a junior and 13th at OFSAA in discus in her Grade 12 senior year.
It was with the hammer though during the summers with St. Thomas Legion, Chouinard truly shined.
"The four years flew by. I had good results throwing the hammer competing for St. Thomas," said Chouinard, recalling a highlight at a meet at York University in Toronto.
While looking at shoes in one of the vendor tents, several people were congratulating Chouinard on her performance. Later Chouinard learned she set a provincial U14 girls' record in the hammer throw.
During that time period, Chouinard met throws coach Randy Miller, whose son, Brad, was competing in throwing events at DePaul.
"(Miller) understood me as an athlete and gave me some really good pointers. He said I should look into different schools and do hammer at the collegiate level," said Chouinard. "I wanted to study communications and journalism and DePaul has really reputable program."
Chouinard did debate whether to attend school south of the border or stay close to home and go to Western University in London or the University of Windsor, both top track and field programs in Canada.
In her making a final decision, "a change of scenery" and how DePaul coach Brandon Murer approached students-athletes were big factors.
"I ultimately decided if I didn't go, I'd probably go what if," Chouinard said. "I felt the best connection with (Murer). He has a coaching philosophy I'm very fond of. He values you as a person and a student as much or if not more than he does as an athlete. I didn't want to go to a school where sports would become my life. I had really big goals for my education, career and just to experience life. I got the sense he would support me in all of that as well as make me the best athlete he possibly could."
Murer is one of several people who have been influential on Chouinard's career.
At the top is Archer.
"Without him, none of this would have been possible," Chouinard said. "Harry Stantsos and his wife Sylvia have been so, so supportive of me."
Stantsos, the St. Thomas Club head coach, continues having Chouinard back at the club's youth camp every summer. Chouinard also thanks Miller, along with London and Western track and field club throws coaches John Allen and Sylvia Kontra and appreciates contact from several of her former teachers at St. Joe's.
Winning the Big East qualified the DePaul star for the NCAA Division 1 West Preliminary championships, at Texas A&M University, May 26th.
It wasn't her day at prelims as Chouinard, ranked 29th, the highest in her career, coming into the event, placed 42nd. Her first two attempts were fouls before having a throw of 55.42 metres, but she missed the cut for the next round of three attempts.
That doesn't take the shine off a year Chouinard will always treasure.
"This fifth year has been such a blessing and something I didn't expect, but it has been my most successful season," said Chouinard.
In March 2020, the COVID pandemic wiped out all sports, including the Big East outdoor track and field season. Chouinard returned to St. Thomas and continued school with online classes.
"I didn't want to leave my track career on that note, just cut off," said Chouinard. "Within a few weeks, the NCAA announced they were granting a red shirt season to any athlete who missed out on their spring season. That meant I would be able to come back. The coaches offered me the opportunity to come back and compete. I was lucky that they saw the potential in me."
Already planning to return for her Masters, being able to continue to compete in the hammer was a pleasant surprise.
In June 2020 Chouinard graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Media Studies, minoring in both Professional Writing and Legal and Public Affairs Communication. This year Chouinard will complete her Master of Arts in Communication and Media. Chouinard has been a 4.0 GPA student and on the Dean's List.
This year's success has affected her plans about continuing to compete in the hammer.
"Up until this year I've always told myself that once my collegiate career is over my athletic career is over," said Chouinard. "Maybe I'll coach. This was going to be it for me. But because of the success that I've had this year, I'm starting to question that because I feel I'm kind of peaking at this point. I don't know if it's time for me to stop yet. I've been talking with my teammates here. I don't know. It's in the back of my mind that I will continue training because I want to see how far I can take this. This year has been so great and I feel there is potential for me to keep building."
Chouinard will take a break from competing to focus on the beginning of her career that she wants to start in Chicago. She also wants to explore the Windy City its diversity, history and culture without the demands of school.
"In those weeks off I'll put things into perspective and see how I feel about it," said Chouinard, on continuing in her sport. "This year has been so transformational for me. It has made me realize how resilient I am and how motivated I am."
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