When the duo walked into the weight room, heads turned. Even the men’s rugby team shifted to the other side of the room.
Each slid onto a weight bench, one bar holding 215 pounds and the other 150 pounds, and pushed through their reps. Sweaty bystanders couldn’t help but look.
Because the pair of weightlifters were women.
Sophomore Mary Theisen and senior Rebecca Stier are two standout throwers for the Winona State University track and field team, and two of the strongest, most competitive women in WSU history, according to throwing coach Mike Turgeon.
Rebecca is a four-time All-American and conference champion and indoor/outdoor record-holder in the shot put. Mary is a two-time All-American and school record-holder and conference champion in discus. Both are headed to this year's National NSIC Indoor Championships on Friday, Feb. 25 in Bemidji, Minn.
The duo, who have become close friends through the sport, say that being a successful thrower—that is, competing at shot put, discus and weight-throw—requires more than just strength.
Going into their respective high schools, Mary and Rebecca knew they weren’t built like most girls.
Mary picked up throwing to follow in her dad’s footsteps, and Rebecca discovered it after her assistant basketball coach, also a throwing coach, urged her to try it. Both knew much of the encouragement came because of their body type.
“(People) think, ‘Oh, you’re big. You should throw,’” Mary said.
Both became state champion throwers in their respective states (Rebecca in Minnesota, Mary in Wisconsin) and were ready to make even better marks at the collegiate level.
At WSU, the women embraced their bigger builds and grew stronger through heavy lifting, flipping tractor tires and conditioning with the other 10 throwers.
“When you’re young, you’re afraid (of your body),” Mary said. “But when we’re in college, we’re proud of it. Most meets we go to we’re bigger than everyone else.”
Despite that advantage, both embrace the common superstitious personalities of throwers and other athletes.
On meet days, Rebecca sleeps in until 10 minutes before it’s time to go. Mary wakes up early to shower, straighten her hair and put on her Warrior-purple makeup.
“If I wear a certain kind of socks to a meet where I did bad, I’d never wear those (socks) again,” said Rebecca, who also threw out a pair of shoes after a tough junior year of throwing.
And while the two are nearly inseparable in much of their lives, they don’t communicate during competitions, other than sharing an occasional smile.
“As a group, throwers are very routine and mental,” Mary said. “If things go right, you don’t change it.”
The women use each other as motivation, Turgeon said: “They’re the two most competitive people I’ve ever met. They hate losing to each other.”
They also learn from each other’s strengths.
Rebecca’s primary event is shot put, which involves throwing an 8.8-pound ball as far as possible. Rebecca, whose technique involves spinning to improve distance, has a personal best of 15.08 meters. Mary’s primaries are both shot put and discus, a 2.2-pound Frisbee-shaped disc. Mary, who considers herself a “glider,” or someone who works in a straight line, has a discus best of 162 feet and a shot put best of 14.84 meters.
The two athletes also compete in the weight and hammer throws. The weight throw involves turning several times and tossing a 20-pound ball on a short chain. The hammer throw is a shot put on a three-foot wire.
After thorough practice in all areas, the women’s talents and strong builds have paid off.
For them, it’s clear that there’s no shame in the game of throwing.
“It just takes awhile as a girl to be OK with being built like this,” Mary said.