BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Two or three times each week this summer, Jill Shippee hops into her black Jeep Wrangler, turns on the music and gets going from her home in Waterford.
A little more than 90 minutes later, Shippee arrives in New Paltz at the throwing compound of Paddy McGrath, who competed in the hammer throw at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney for his native Ireland.
Anywhere from a handful of people to a couple dozen, ranging in age from 10 to 50 years old, meet up to train at McGrath’s complex, which consists of a slab of concrete and a few acres of nothing around it.
“It’s really just a plot of land,” Shippee said, “so it’s a thrower’s dream.”
And, with few exceptions, that’s where Shippee gets to practice her craft this summer in an offseason following her winning her second consecutive New Balance Nationals Outdoor championship in the weight throw and preceding her enrolling at the University of North Carolina to compete for the school’s women’s track and field program.
It’s a different type of offseason from most other elite athletes, who often are able to find like-minded competitors without needing to take a solitary ride for nearly two hours. But after years of throwing, the recent Shenendehowa High School graduate — who also won an indoor national title this past winter in the weight throw — is used to traveling and keeping a unique schedule in her pursuit of improvement.
After all, Shippee, 18, offered her career-best hammer throw during a competition in Rhode Island and won her outdoor national titles in North Carolina. Meanwhile, she often used her lunch period during the school year to work on her throwing, and now wakes up early several days a week to get to the gym at her alma mater for 6 a.m. workouts.
“I like to have the whole gym to myself,” said Shippee, who squats 300 pounds and benches more than 200.
Shippee’s next solo trip comes today, when she will compete in the hammer at the 2017 USATF Region 1 Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. With a top-five finish at that competition, Shippee would advance to the USATF national championships later this month in Kansas.
“But I’ve got to get through [Friday’s] meet first,” Shippee said.
During her senior outdoor season, Shippee recorded a personal-best mark of 201-4 to break her own state record. She said she’d like to use this summer’s competitions to seek a throw in the 210 range — and perhaps flirt with taking down the high school national record of 214-4.
“I want to take my last shot at it,” Shippee said.
This summer represents her best shot, too, as her body is ready for such a throw. Shippee said she’s “very proud” to have finally reached 200 pounds, a weight she views as ideal for her 5-foot-10 frame at the next level and one that was difficult for her to hit as a high school student because of her role on Shenendehowa’s girls’ soccer team as a goalie.
“During soccer season, I’d lose so much weight from all the running,” said Shippee, who is on the smaller side for an elite thrower, anyway.
Her experience with soccer, though, helped Shippee value the camaraderie that can be more difficult to find in a solo, niche sport. That’s a major reason why she makes her treks to New Paltz every couple days to see her “hammer throw family,” a group Shippee said helps to energize herself for the big events still ahead this summer.
“That way,” Shippee said, “it feels like you have a team, even if you’re not competing as one.”