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USATF Masters Athlete Spotlight: Oneithea Lewis

7/28/2018
 

USATF is highlighting Masters competitors (athletes ages 30-100+) as they compete at the 2018 USATF Masters Outdoor Championships in Spokane, Washington.  


Today’s Q&A focuses on 58-year-old Oneithea “Neni” Lewis of Oakland Gardens, New York. Lewis is a champion field athlete who has set eight world records across multiple age groups in the hammer throw, weight throw, throws pentathlon. In addition, she has American indoor records in the weight throw and shot put as well as American outdoor records in the weight throw, superweight throw, hammer throw, and ultraweight pentathlon. She is also a member of the USATF Masters Hall of Fame and 2010 USATF Masters Athlete of the Year.


How did you first get involved in USATF Masters competitions?

“I had Epstein Barr virus, and the doctor said the best thing you can do to combat it is to exercise. So I was trying to do my regular exercises, and then I got a flyer from my college, St. John University, they had a meet there. And I’m like, ‘Maybe I’ll try throwing again.’


I picked up the shot, started practicing it, went to that meet and I met my training partner Roslyn Katz - she’s a Masters thrower. She goes, ‘Do you throw for any club?’ and I’m like, ‘I’m just doing this just to get exercise’. So she says ‘Well, there’s Masters track and field’ and I’m like, ‘Really?’ She says ‘Yeah, why don’t you come workout with me and my coach.’


So I started working out with them, and I’d never done the hammer or the weight and he showed me how to do it. And wow, this is great. I wish I knew about it a lot sooner.”


You were a sprinter in high school and college - what factors played a role in switching to the throwing events?

“Actually, when I was in high school playing soccer, my best friend kicked me in the ankle, broke my ankle, so then I spent a lot of time in the weight room and I got really big and strong.


My coach said, ‘You’re getting so big you could be a shot putter.’ So then that’s what I pursued. I said, ‘Let me try the shot,’ and I was second best in the country after throwing for four months, and then as I got older I was in the top ten in the country in the shot. So, I started enjoying the throwing events.”


I understand a car accident and the injuries you received from it ended your training efforts for the 1988 Olympic team. How did you mentally rebound from that?

“That was hard. I had my coach who was saying that I could either give up throwing all together or go ahead and and try to see what I could do. I was like, I’m a tough person and nothing really keeps me down. Initially people told me I was too small, I was like 5’2”½ and 125-135 pounds, so they said ‘You’re too small to throw.’


I was like, ‘You know what, I’m gonna prove you wrong’ and I ended up top in the country and everything so when I had those injuries I was like, I’m gonna come back and I’m gonna come back strong and good and nothing’s gonna stop me. I wanted to continue. That’s my mindset.”


What is your favorite throwing event and why?

“It’s between the hammer and weight and the ultraweight pentathlon. That’s a hard one. I think I would say the ultraweight pentathlon because I’ve been breaking records. I just broke the record a couple weeks ago, and it involves all the different weights, so I tend to be strong so the heavier the weights, the better I do.”


What is the craziest thing that has happened to you at a track meet thus far?

“One of the craziest things was me throwing after my neck surgery. My surgeon told me, ‘You will never ever throw again.’ He said ‘You’ve got 19 pins and screws and a plate in there.’ Don’t ever tell me I can never do anything.


I was working with my training partner and retrieving the weights for her and she goes, ‘You know what, you can probably throw.’ And in my crazy head, ‘Yeah, you know what, I’m gonna throw.’


Next thing I know, I’m breaking records and everything else and still throwing well, so I told the surgeon ‘Guess what I’m doing.’ He says to just be careful, so that’s why I wear the neck brace and the back brace sometimes.”


What is your favorite meal to eat the night before a competition?

“Usually steak and potatoes. Loaded mashed potatoes and good steak, some vegetables, and a lot of fluids.”


Who or what is your greatest source of inspiration while training and competing?

“I started thinking of Michelle Carter, especially when she won the Olympics in Rio because I was on the World University Team with her father [Michael Carter] on the East Team for the National Sports Festival and the Olympic Festival. And so, when looking at her style, it reminds me of her father and the good old days and she has health issues that she is addressing and dealing with. I’m like, if she can do it I can do it. She came back and won the Olympics, and I can do it too so she inspires me.”


What does it mean to you to compete in USATF Masters events?

“It means a lot. I was told I would never ever do throwing again, and it means a lot that I’m able to do what I’m doing. Despite injuries, I came in second today in the discus. I won the hammer and the weight yesterday, so it means a lot that despite being injured, being considered disabled because of my neck and my hands, I think that’s top on my list.”


What are some goals you have set for yourself for the next few years?

“I want to break the world record in the hammer and break the world record in the weight throw. Those are my two goals right now. Once I hit those, I’m happy. When I turn 60, I want to destroy all those records when I can.”


Fans can follow Neni at the 2018 USATF Masters Outdoor Championships via USATF.TV+. Learn more about becoming a Masters athlete at www.usatfmasters.org.  


Alexia Beecher

USATF Marketing Intern




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