Thrown toward success

The first time Vikings track and field star Caressa Sims competed in the weight throw, she hurled the 20-pound ball just 26 feet.

The first time Vikings track and field star Caressa Sims competed in the weight throw, she hurled the 20-pound ball just 26 feet.

Four years later, Sims is headed to Boston this weekend for the USA Track and Field Indoor National Championship Feb. 23, where she will compete against some of the nation’s best throwers, after qualifying with a school record 62′ 10.75″ mark at the University of Washington Preview Jan 19.

“I am really excited for the competition, to throw against a lot of people that are really good and are in the same margin I’m in,” Sims, 21, said. “Just the atmosphere, being in Boston, being at the track, being at USA nationals-it’s huge.”

A sprinter throughout her career at local Jefferson High School, Sims was asked to convert to throwing events by Portland State head coach Kebba Tolbert, even though Tolbert had recruited Sims as a sprinter.

Tolbert said his group of sprinters was stacked with talent when Sims first arrived in the South Park Blocks, and he feared she might not be able to crack into the elite group.

“I could see she was very explosive and very dynamic, and with her body type, we thought she might be a good thrower,” Tolbert said. “I think she was more nervous than she wanted us to know. She had never thrown anything in her life, but she did it willingly.”

Sims, who had never played another sport, struggled mightily at first, even though Tolbert said she maintained a great attitude. During practice, coaches and other players would ignore her because she was not contributing to anything, Sims said.

“It sucked. It was really hard to convert,” she said. “It was really difficult to learn right off the bat. I was really bad, throwing really low. I really wanted to contribute to our team points.”

To hone her skills in the weight throw, hammer throw and shot put, Sims watched hours and hours of video, and put in arduous days on the practice field.

“She’s a very hard worker and very diligent. Sometimes you have to tell her to back off, as opposed to a lot of athletes over the years, you have to tell them to work harder,” Tolbert said. “She’s motivated and task oriented. She has really high goals for herself.”

While Sims has an athletic scholarship, she said that even if she did not, she would still play on the team.

“If I had to do it for a scholarship, I think it would take the fun out of it,” she said. “Track takes care of me, but if I didn’t get anything at all, I’d still be here. I love track, and this is the environment I want to be in.”

Despite her dedication, it is not all about track and field for Sims. She is double majoring in accounting and supply and logistics, spending as much time in the library cracking books as she does on the field destroying Portland State records.

“She’s really a diligent person. She’s really into her studies. She lives on campus-her home is like the library,” said Sims’ teammate and fellow captain Westin Morrill. “If we could have a few more Caressas, this would be a really good program. She tries to pull kids up. She’s really aware how the cohesiveness of a team makes it great.”

Morrill, a junior thrower, said Sims’ trip to the Indoor Championship means a lot, especially for an athlete many look to as a team leader.

“She’s made a lot of leaps and bounds over the last two years you wouldn’t see in a normal athlete, but with her, her determination, her strive for excellence, her work ethic is contagious. I really hope it rubs off in the years to come,” Morrill said. “When she leaves, she’s going to leave an image behind with us. I think it’s a really big boost for us that she’s going to nationals. It’s a big step in the right direction.”

Tolbert echoed Morrill, calling the achievement a “tremendous compliment for her.”

“For our program, it tells potential recruits and even kids on our team that if you’re willing to come in and work hard and be diligent, you can get to a very high level,” Tolbert said.

Going into the weekend competition, Sims said her body is feeling fine, with no major problems. Her coach is excited and predicted she would make the finals.

“And if you make the finals, anything can happen,” Tolbert said.

As for Sims, she hopes her teammates take a simple message from her most recent accomplishment.

“What I hope it can tell my team members and people I work out with every day is, we do the same workout every single day. They can definitely do it and be at this level,” Sims said. “If you work a little harder at what we’re doing and put a little more time into it, they can be here with me.”