Observer & Eccentric
By Tim Smith
It’s probably tough to outdo shot putter Robert Barrett when it comes to multitasking.
Imagine balancing a 16-pound steel ball against the side of your neck, simultaneously propelling yourself forward several feet with enough speed, power and torque to launch the heavy object some 50 feet out into the distance.
Now think about doing that over and over again, for the sheer love of it and that’s the 6-2, 215-pound Barrett in a nutshell.
Of course, the Canton resident also loves to win. He’ll be pushing — literally — for gold, silver or bronze later this month at the Olympic-style Meijer State Games of Michigan near Grand Rapids.
“It’s (having) patience, being explosive and nimble,” said Barrett when asked about the keys to success as a shot putter. “I liken it to an overweight ballerina. You got to be light on your feet. You got to be explosive. You don’t necessarily have to be strong or big,
“… When I’m in the back of the ring I have to cover seven feet like that (he snaps his fingers). But I also have to move a 16-pound ball with me at the same time. And that thing doesn’t want to move.”
He also smiled when talking about why throwers must follow proper technique and not try to do a Justin Verlander with it.
“You can’t throw the shot, it has to be in contact with your neck when you release it,” Barrett explained. “If you overhand this thing you’re going to shred your whole shoulder.”
Barrett, 25, discussed his favorite athletic activity during a training session last week at Plymouth-Canton Educational Park.
Dabbling in high-stakes competition is another of his favorite pastimes since graduating from Western Oregon University, where he threw the shot a personal-best distance (for a 16-pounder) of 47 feet, six inches. (In high school, where 12-pounders are used, Barrett reached the 53-6 mark.)
Getting it done at Western Oregon wasn’t quite enough for Barrett’s competitive juices. He signed up for the 2008 and 2009 Oregon State Games and won the shot put event in his age group each time.
After moving in July 2011 to suburban Detroit (he is a strength and conditioning trainer at Dynamic Athlete Performance located at Arctic Edge Arena in Canton), he wanted to find out if Michigan held a similar event.
“One of the first things I did after I moved here was find out when the Michigan state games were,” Barrett stressed. “I just went straight in for that.”
Barrett said he just relishes the “whole ‘State Games of America’ concept, it’s like a miniature Olympics. You get to compete with so many different people.
“I’ve competed in Oregon against national record holders in the Masters ranks. You get to talk to them, find out what they’re doing at 50-60 years old.”
The top three finishers per age group will qualify for the 2013 State Games of America, the national meet held in Pennsylvania.
“I’ve always used the state games, even when I was in Oregon, as my last meet of the season, the last hurrah,” he said. “So I just plan my whole workout from August to peak for this meet.”
There will be 31 sports (pickleball anyone?) and more than 5,000 athletes performing at various venues in and around Grand Rapids June 22-24 at the Olympic-style games.
Sponsoring the festival is the West Michigan Sports Commission.
“It is not a formal connection to the USOC (United States Olympics Committee) or theOlympics,” said event spokesman Kurt Kosmowski. “But obviously the sports are largely Olympic sports. There are some that aren’t, like pickleball.
“But a lot of the participants train in Olympic sports and have goals of pursuing other competition levels.”
Not about power
According to Barrett, the Meijer State Games of Michigan scenario is a win-win opportunity on several fronts.
“I’m not an elite athlete, I’m never going to go to the Olympic trials,” he noted. “So it’s getting to go to a meet where there’s a lot of people there, it’s highly publicized, you hear about it or you can read about it in newspapers.
“… It’s a great way to keep doing what you enjoy, and in a very competitive atmosphere.”
Whether Barrett had such an event to compete in or not, he’d still be training hard and spinning on his hard-rubber-soled shoes to propel the shot long distances.
But as a student of the sport, he also enjoys the challenge of tweaking his skill set, fine-tuning his approach.
“I liken it to golf, it’s a very complicated activity,” Barrett continued. “You can be as strong as you want. But if you’re not flexible, if you’re not quick, if you don’t have technique it’s not going to go anywhere.
“… There’s still things I’m working on. This is my 11th year and I’m still working on things, every year, so it’s a challenge. I like the ability to come up to an obstacle and overcome it.”
Meanwhile, his choice of favorite physical activity is something he intends to stick with for decades. The melding of health and happiness drives his passion.
“I just love the sport, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything different,” he summed up. “But even if I couldn’t go compete in the (state) games I’d still be out here throwing. It’s just something I do.”
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