By Lenny Coltrane
CORAL GABLES, Fla. - Athletes encounter obstacles daily.
These obstacles typically separate the average athlete from the truly great. Athletes possessing the necessary fortitude and perseverance to move past these inevitable hardships usually end up at the top of their respective sport.
Isaiah Simmons, who recently broke Miami's indoor shot put record, has overcome several obstacles to get where he is today. But none has been more daunting than the injury he suffered in practice, just days before his collegiate career was set to begin.
"It was actually two days before our first meet against Kentucky," Simmons said. "It was a pretty good throw, but I got stuck against the toe board and my body turned against it, and I heard a loud pop. I thought it was a sprain, but I tried walking with it and I knew it was something worse than that."
Simmons tore his MCL and meniscus and was forced to miss the entire 2012 track and field season. The injury took a toll on Simmons physically and mentally.
"Getting injured was probably one of the toughest moments of my athletic career," Simmons said. "From playing baseball when I was in kindergarten to now, it was the toughest injury because I have never been hurt like that. It was kind of degrading. I was almost ready to give up. I just wanted to go home at one point."
Strong support from Simmons' coaches and teammates, as well as working with Miami's training staff, helped keep the talented thrower upbeat during an intense six-month rehab process.
"I have good people around that keep me motivated," Simmons said. "So I was able to come back from the injury able to compete."
While Simmons was coming back from injury, he turned his focus elsewhere. The 20-year-old learned to appreciate things outside of track and field and spent extra time on his studies.
"I think the injuries were good for me because I was able to focus on my grades more, get a little bit bigger and stronger and sit down and just appreciate everything," Simmons said.
The redshirt freshman believes the injury he suffered a year ago was the most difficult obstacle he has ever encountered. Ironically, it was a different injury that jumpstarted Simmons' track and field career.
"I played football up until my junior year of high school, but I had a pretty bad neck injury that ended my football career," Simmons said. "After that I became 100 percent focused on track and field. I gained weight, went to camps and I taught myself a little bit more about the sport. That lifted me to the next level and really got me focused on track."
Once the Woodbridge, Va., native concentrated on track, he found immediate success. Simmons received interest from several of the country's top college programs, including LSU, Florida State and Indiana. But several other marquee programs, such as Florida, Texas and Texas A&M, deemed the 5-foot-11, 260lb. Simmons too small to compete in shot put at the college level.
"In high school I was undersized," Simmons said. "A lot of people would tell me I was going to be too small. A lot of schools passed up over me because of my size. I think me being successful like I am right now-it feels good for me because I know I'm overcoming a lot of the doubts, so I definitely feel like my hard work has paid off."
Looking at Simmons, one of the last words that come to mind is "small." But in the world of shot put, Simmons stands out as much for his lack of prototypical size as he does for his incredible achievements.
"I'm very undersized compared to the rest of them." Simmons said. "Everyone else averages about 6-foot-3 and 280 lbs. An ideal size is probably 6-foot-5 and over 300 lbs. I'm very undersized for my sport."
With many of the nation's most prestigious programs ignoring him, Simmons turned his attention to a program that he felt was a perfect fit - Miami.
"I recognized that Miami's track program had not had much success in the past," Simmons explained. "So I told myself, 'I can go to a powerhouse and just be another number or I can come here and help create a dynasty.'"
And Simmons has done just that.
The talented thrower has been outstanding for the University of Miami track and field team this season. Simmons made history in his first collegiate meet, breaking Miami's nearly 12-year-old indoor shot put record. His throw of 17.87m surpassed current New England Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork's mark of 17.05m, set on Feb. 18, 2001.
Continuing his record-setting pace, Simmons broke his own record a week later at the Auburn Invitational with a throw of 18.17m. In his third meet, Simmons notched his first career victory, throwing the shot put 17.88m to finish atop the leaderboard at the New Mexico Classic.
"I'm really proud of Isaiah," said Amy Deem, Miami's Director of Track and Field and Cross Country. "He's performing really well and it was a good win for him. We look for him to do really good things in the coming weeks."
But the freshman's goals go beyond a win and a couple of record-setting throws. Simmons envisions a much brighter future for himself.
"When all is said and done, I want to hopefully set the ACC record," Simmons said. "I want to extend my school record, be an All-American and it would be nice to win a National Championship. But I definitely want a couple of All-Americans under my belt, a couple of ACC Championships and some more records."