This week, we spoke to Sean Donnelly, professional hammer thrower and jerky fan. Sean was a finalist at the latest US Olympic Trials and he is an excellent ambassador for his sport on social media. Check him out on YouTube and Twitter.
Lawless Jerky: How did you first get into throwing the hammer?
Sean Donnelly: I used to play a lot of Xbox. I was a huge gamer. What got me, first, big into lifting was that my Xbox broke sophomore year of high school. If my Xbox hadn’t broken, I wouldn’t be the athlete I am today. I didn’t start throwing until my senior year of high school to impress a girl.
When I got to college, I decided I would give the sport 4 years to see where it takes me. Now here I am 6 years later and it’s taking me all sorts of interesting places.
LJ: In what way did you think throwing the hammer would impress the girl? Like as a primal feat of strength, or just being successful at something athletic?
SD: Well … high school kids are dumb. Her ex-boyfriend was a thrower from a different school. So I thought, if I do this and I’m better than him, I’m in. It actually kinda worked out, believe it or not.
LJ: Unlike Gymnastics or Basketball it seems that athletes in the throwing events don’t hit their prime until they’re a little older.
SD: Most people would say anywhere from 27 to 32, you could say 30 on average. It takes some time to develop. I’m 24, so I’m just getting started. Hammer throwing’s been in a bit of a slump but it’s working its way back up. A lot of young guys coming up, like myself, filling in the gaps left by some of the guys who just retired.
LJ: You hear about athletes in training eating a lot of calories. What number do you shoot for in training day?
SD: In season, I have to fuel my body just to maintain my body weight. I’m not trying to gain weight, I’m not really trying to lose weight. On my heavy training days I’ll probably hit close to 5,000 calories, 250 grams of protein and all sorts of carbs and fats to fill in the rest.
LJ: In one of your YouTube videos, it looked like you have four refrigerators in your house.
SD: Yeah, I live with seven other throwers [near the University of Minnesota campus] so we need a lot space for food.
LJ: What are your favorite flavors of Lawless Jerky to get a protein boost on the fly.
LJ: Can you tell us a little more about your training regiment?
SD: I’ll lift 3 days a week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I throw 5 days a week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday. That’s been, more or less, my practice schedule since freshman year of college.
LJ: How many competitions will you participate in over the course of the year?
SD: There’s the Indoor and the Outdoor season. During the indoor season, I keep it really low key—only 2-3 competitions. In college, I would do 7-9 but I’ve scaled that back.
Outdoor is more intense. I’m planning on 10-12 competitions Outdoors. That includes the [IAAF] World Championships team in August, which is like the Olympics without all the other sports. Same level of competition. Same big names competing. Just not as much publicity.
LJ: I’ve seen you say a lot of things can go wrong on any given throw.
SD: That’s true. Of 30 training days, I’ll have 3 of those 30 that I throw very well. The other 27 are either average training days, or crappy. At competition, it’s just about having faith in the training that you put in.
For the most part, I’ve had success throwing far at competitions. I get really excited when people are watching me. If my technique is feeling good, I’m automatically going to be feeling better physically than I ever would in practice. When I compete, I throw 5-6 meters farther.
LJ: When you release the hammer, and it’s in the air, what you do want to see to know it’s a good throw?
SD: When it’s in the air, it’s just flying. They say 37 or 38 degrees is the optimal release angle but if you get caught up in that you’ll forget the main things you need to do to make it go far. I focus on the feeling. If you get the feeling right, the release angle will be close, the release velocity will be fast, and it’s going far.
My best throws are the ones where I “black out”. I don’t think about anything. The throw starts and everything shut off. My body does everything it needs to. I’ll release and “wake up” a couple seconds later like: Damn, I threw that far.
LJ: For a sport that’s not covered as much as others, you’ve taken it into your own hands with your vlog videos to draw some attention.
SD: I started vlogging not only to promote myself but to promote the sport. I wasn’t the first vlogger-thrower combo (I believe Cullen Aubski was) but since I started doing it, I’ve seen 7 or 8 others start. I’m on the front end of, not a revolution, but the track and field world is definitely changing and this whole self-promotion thing might make a difference.
LJ: When people discover that you’re a thrower, do they ever ask you to throw things?
SD: Every now and then. Usually it happens around someone’s family. A little cousin will come running along and their mom or dad will say, “He’ll throw you 30 yards over there”. Something like that. People don’t really say, “Take this chair and see how far you can throw it.” But I would definitely accept that challenge.
LJ: When this interview gets out, you’re going to hear it much more.