TAKE NOTE: TEAMMATES -
THE USA NATIONAL MASTERS INDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS IS COMING TO THE ARMORY TRACK CENTER IN N.Y.C. NEXT YEAR AND ANYONE AGE 25 OR OVER IS ELIGIBLE TO ENTER AND TAKE PART. THE MEET HAS OFTEN BEEN HELD IN DISTANT PARTS OF THE NATION, BUT ON MARCH 18-19-20, 2022, IT TAKES PLACE IN OUR OWN BACKYARD!!!! THUS, WE URGE ALL OF YOU TO:(A) TRAIN HARD, GET IN SUPER SHAPE.(B) MAKE PLANS TO BE AT MASTERS INDOOR NATIONALS MARCH 18-19-20 AT THE ARMORY. ENTRIES CLOSE QUITE EARLY AND USATF-NJ MEMBERSHIP IS REQUIRED TO REPRESENT SHORE AC....SO GET THIS DONE, SIGN UP EARLY, AND GET READY FOR A TRULY TREMENDOUS EVENT...THE PROMOTIONAL CAMPAIGN IS ALREADY UNDERWAY AND HERE IS A TERRIFIC ARMORYTRACK.COM STORY FEATURING OUR OWN ILLUSTRIOUS TEAMMATE, ONEITHEA "NENI" LEWIS.
(Reprinted courtesy of Track.Com) STORY BELOW
By Owen Mittenthal, Armorytrack.com
Resilience is one of the most important qualities that an athlete can possess. No matter how much talent one has, there will inevitably be setbacks on the path to greatness, and it takes mental grit and tenacity to overcome these obstacles. One such challenge would be overcoming a major injury and returning to one’s previous level of performance. Not hard enough? Try beating a dozen or so major injuries.
That would describe Neni Lewis, a diminutive figure who has beaten the odds over and over to become arguably the world’s top thrower at the Masters level. The 61-year-old New York native holds eleven age group world records in the weight throw, hammer throw, and throws pentathlon, despite suffering serious injuries to her neck, shoulder, knees, and hand over the course of her career, to list just a few. She will look to add to her world record haul when she competes at next year’s USATF Masters Indoor Track & Field Championships. This meet, scheduled for March 18th-20th, 2022, will take place at the New Balance Track & Field Center at The Armory.
“I just bounce back all the time. I’m a glutton for punishment,” said Lewis. “In 2012, I hurt my neck and had cervical spine surgery. I have 19 pins and screws and a plate in my neck, they told me I would never throw again. This past summer [at the USATF Masters Championships in Ames], I broke the age group world record in the hammer throw and the American record in the weight throw. I was told I would never ever do this again, so I think that’s a highlight for me.”
Lewis began her athletic career in middle school, playing volleyball and basketball, and competing as a sprinter on the track & field team. Fittingly, it took an injury to recognize her innate throwing talent. Lewis broke her leg while playing soccer in high school gym class, and she began lifting weights while in recovery. Her track coach suggested that she try the shot put, and before long she was placing second in New York State and fourth in the country.
Lewis went on to attend St. John’s University, where she would earn All-American honors in the shot put. She competed at the Olympic Trials in 1980 and 1984, before qualifying for a third Trials in 1988. Lewis had thrown nearly 60 feet that season, putting her in a great position to make the Olympic team. However, her bid was cut short when a car accident injured her hip and back.
While she was unable to achieve her Olympic dream, Lewis got her first taste of big-time international competition at the 1981 World University Games in Bucharest, Romania. Going up against the formidable women of the Eastern Bloc nations, many of whom have been implicated in state-sponsored doping programs, was an intimidating experience for Lewis, but she held her own.
“Just seeing the sheer size of those women was scary,” said Lewis, who stands at just 5’3. “I mean they were hairy, they were twice the size of me. One day in training I was practicing with a little ball that looked like a shot because I had an injury to my hand, and I'm throwing this thing really far. They all came over to see what I was throwing, and they were relieved because they thought I was going to beat them really badly. Even with the real shot, they were surprised I could throw as far as I did.”
Despite her already impressive resume, it was not until Lewis graduated to the Masters ranks that she truly hit her stride. She began focusing more on the weight throw and hammer throw, setting world records in the 40-45, 45-50, and 50-55 year-old age groups in the weight, and the 45-50, 50-55, and 60-65 year-old age groups in the hammer. She also started competing in the throws pentathlon, a grueling event that combines the hammer, shot, discus, javelin, and weight throw. Demonstrating her versatility as a thrower, Lewis has set world records in the 40-45, 45-50, and 50-55 year-old age groups in this event as well. She also holds two indoor age group world records in the weight throw, and too many age group American records to list.
Lewis has accomplished all of this in spite of her staggering injury history. Multiple car accidents, falling off a ladder, torn hand ligaments, bulging spine discs, knee issues, a bad shoulder, a thyroid problem, she has been through it all. A lesser athlete would have quit long ago, but for Lewis, the obstacles only make her more determined.
“My mom was asking me why I keep doing this,” she said. “And I said ‘because I enjoy it.’ Especially if someone tells me that I can’t do something, then I’m really motivated to prove them wrong. You have to do things while you can, because you never know when you won’t be able to. I’m going to keep going until the end. I met this 90-year-old woman who set all sorts of records in Ames, and I told her that I hope to live long enough to break her records.”
Outside of structured training, Lewis enjoys lifting weights recreationally, recently squatting 700 pounds and bench pressing 315 pounds. She lives with her husband in New York City, and works as an administrative assistant. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and driving one of her husband’s Corvettes.
Heading into next year’s USATF Masters Indoor Championships at The Armory, Lewis says that she has her eyes on the age group world record in the weight throw, and the American record in the super weight, a rarely-contested event that features a larger throwing implement. She plans to also compete in the shot put, where she hopes to throw beyond 11 meters (36 feet, 1 inch).
For the first time, any athlete ages 25 and over can compete at the USATF Masters Indoor Championships. For more information about this meet that will feature Lewis and many other inspiring athletes, please visit https://www.armorytrack.com/gprofile.php?do=view_event&event_id=14267&mgroup_id=45586&year=2022