BY ETHAN LILLARD
HOBBS, New Mexico – Elijah Barnes knows how to save his best for last.
Friday at the National Junior College Division I outdoor championships, the Fort Madison High School graduate became an All-American, but he did it on his final discuss throw of the finals in Hobbs, New Mexico.
Coming into the contest ranked eighth in the country, Barnes was on the outside looking in after his second throw of 144-02 was still short of the distance required to make it to the final round.
The third time was the charm for Barnes, as his third toss came in over 30 feet further than his second toss, qualifying him for three more throws in the finals.
Barnes distance started to regress in the finals. His first toss of 169-05 was around seven feet shorter than his finals qualifying throw. Barnes followed up his first finals toss with another throw in the 170’s, but still came in at 174-09, a little less than two feet under his qualifying throw.
Finally, on his final attempt of the day, Barnes left it all on the field. Winding up, he knew he had to put everything he had into the throw to crack the top five. When the measurement was recorded, even Barnes was shocked, as his throw was launched 180-06, a new personal best by 20 feet.
“Good question. Wish I knew to be honest,” Barnes said about how he pulled out a season-best throw in his final heave. “My last throw I just said, ‘Let’s go all out and what happens, happens.’ I just trusted God and my training.”
The trust worked as Barnes’ 180-06 was good for fourth place overall, making him an all-American.
He also competed in the shotput field event on Saturday where he took fifth overall with a 16.58 meter throw, which surpassed his personal best by half a meter.
“This is my second year throwing the disc also so I wasn’t expecting a lot this season,” Barnes said. “I threw shot from seventh-grade until now and picked up the disc last year in high school just because my high school coach made me.”
Barnes is glad he was ‘forced’ into the event, as he now has two all-American medals in just his freshman season (he also collected a medal in the shot put at indoor state, taking sixth place overall.) Things are going well for Barnes now, but had it not been for Andrew Troxel pushing him to that next level at Fort Madison High School, he might not be where he is today.
After getting second to last place in the shot put at state his junior year, Barnes finally got a taste of what it would take to make the leap to the next level and come back for a medal his senior season. That’s where his coach’s came in.
“I hit the weights hard and just trained all summer,” Barnes said about what he did to prepare for his senior season. “I added a bunch of weight to my maxes too. I give credit to that to Coach (Derek) Doherty and Coach Troxel.”
After the near bottom finish his junior year, the offseason worked paid off for Barnes as he placed fourth in the shot put and ninth in the discus his senior season.
Despite the strong finish at state and also getting recruited by college coaches for football and baseball as well, Barnes still didn’t see college as something he wanted to pursue upon graduation.
Yet again, his coach’s guiding hand helped him to make the right decision.
“Troxel was the one who convinced me to throw in college,” Barnes said. “I did get recruited. I got recruited for football, baseball, and track but I was just going to go into the workforce.
“He told me to take some visits and just entertain it. He just always encouraged me and by the time I got to the end of track last year he said he believed I could go D1 in track.”
And that’s exactly what Barnes did, signing with the division one junior college of Indian Hills. But why Indian Hills? And why did Troxel’s words carry so much weight with Barnes?
“He’s just always been an incredible influence in my life,” Barnes said about Troxel. “Him and my grandpa have always been my father figures so I hold his word very high.
“Indian hills had a really good thrower last year and I wanted that same success … I picked Juco because of what Troxel said. Thinking I can go division one.”
Troxel had a major influence on Barnes and his progression as a man and an athlete, but he wasn’t the only one.
“I would never be where I am without my family,” Barnes said. “They are the best support group anyone could have. They’ve helped me with everything from little league baseball till’ now. I know how much they wanted to come down to watch me. They have always had my best interest in mind.
“Also, my mom has done a fantastic job raising me by herself.”
Barnes has an opportunity to add a third medal to his college collection Saturday, as he will head back to New Mexico Junior College to compete in the shot put where he is ranked 10th coming in.