OXFORD, Miss. (BVM) – Janeah Stewart knows a little something about weight. That’s because the former Ole Miss track and field star is one of the most decorated throwers in the program’s history, earning the most All-American honors all-time with nine and being named the 2018 NCAA outdoor champion in the hammer throw.
However, on Jan. 20, Stewart didn’t just feel the weight of the weight come off her hands, but also a huge weight off of her shoulders. During the Vanderbilt Invitational track and field meet that day, Stewart tied the indoor national record in the women’s weight throw event with a throw of 25.60 meters or 84 feet.
“I was surprised honestly because coming into the meet I didn’t think I would throw 84, I was thinking 82,” Stewart said. “It’s a big achievement for me. Even when I was in college my coach was like ‘You have a chance to break the world record’ and I would never really see it because 84 is a far achievement. I didn’t really doubt myself but I didn’t see it coming anytime soon.”
Janeah Stewart tied Gwen Berry’s American record and world best weight throw with a massive 25.60m/84’ launch at Vanderbilt! 🤯
*pending verification by the USATF records committee
— USATF (@usatf) January 21, 2023
The throw tied the previous record by Olympian Gwen Berry, who set the mark in 2017. Berry was quick to congratulate the thrower for tying her own indoor mark.
Janeah is an elite athlete who has fought her way back into the sport after giving birth to a beautiful baby girl!! She is truly inspiring!! Go @solodolo96_ !!!! SO PROUD OF YOU!!! ✨✨✨🎊🎊🎊🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾it’s only the beginning!. https://t.co/W3EOx8jdd0
— Gwen Berry OLY (@MzBerryThrows) January 21, 2023
While this may not come as a surprise to a fan who looks back at Stewart’s collegiate heroics, Stewart faced quite the journey to even find herself in the position that she’s in. Following her time at Ole Miss, Stewart decided to take her throwing career to the next level in hopes of landing with the U.S. Olympic team, continuing her training with longtime Rebels coach John Smith.
“I didn’t really have much expectations of myself, of course, I wanted to make the Olympic team and the world team, but being able to throw at an elite level and maintain that level has always been the goal for me,” Stewart said. “Whatever comes with it I’m happy for it.”
Things were thrown for a loop however with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of competing nationally at track and field events, Stewart spent her time training at “the Barn” an old sports complex with a large pavilion and concrete floor that was turned into a throwing ring for Stewart and other nearby throwers.
“My training leading into that was probably the best it has been in my career. I had all-time PRs in practice and it was going to be a good year for me, I knew it and my coach knew it,” Stewart said. “My coach is relentless. When he puts his mind to something, he’s going to get it done. Practicing there was amazing. We were just training and it was just us so we were able to get a lot of stuff done. It was really good.”
Though the training was different, Stewart saw her throws improve and she was well on her way to the 2021 Olympic Trials.
“I was really confident,” Stewart said. “I believed I could make the team. My coach believed it. Everyone else believed it. It was a good year.”
But then she caught COVID-19 and that cost her some time. Shortly after getting through that illness life threw another curveball at Stewart – she was pregnant. While she was ecstatic to become a mother, it ended up costing her all the progress she made as she was unable to even lift a hammer for an entire year.
“It really pushed me back a few steps, but I’ve always been determined to get back to the same level I was at in April, May and June of 2020,” Stewart said.
When she was finally able to come back, Stewart was not the same woman who left the Barn. She was weaker due to her time away from weightlifting. Though she had thrown for most of her adult life, her timing wasn’t quite perfect. This came to a head during the 2022 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships when she scratched on all three of her attempts, failing to qualify.
“I was telling my coach, ‘Yeah I’m going to come back and be right where I was’ and I got a reality check the first year coming back,” Stewart admitted. “When I did come back, it was like I was starting my freshman year of college with the hammer.”
While it was a harsh end to a difficult year, Stewart refused to let that impact her future. Instead, she doubled down. She regained her focus on her throws, even bringing her baby daughter Ja’Myri with her to both practices and events.
“It was just a mental battle, just trying to keep practicing,” Stewart said. “I know I can do this. This is not who I am right now. It’s going to get better. Just keep trying to push myself. It was hard but it’s getting easier now.”
In a post on her Instagram on Jan. 11, Stewart wrote, “Not Where I Wanna Be, But Better Than I Was Last Year.” Little did she know what she was setting herself up for.
“When I posted that video, I probably had the worst practices of the week,” Stewart said with a laugh. “I was having bad practices, so to come two weeks after that and throw 84 I was like, maybe I should shut up and keep practicing.”
Now, the proud “mom athlete” as she calls herself, is not only ready to continue her record-setting season but looking to inspire young women like her now nearly 2-year-old daughter.
“I hope they take away to just not give up. You’re much stronger as a mother now and just keep that determination and you will be where you want to be and accomplish those goals that you want. It’s not the end of the road or the end of your dreams if you have a child, it’s really just the beginning,” Stewart said. “I just hope [Ja’Myri] would think that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Regardless of what sport you’re in or what you decide to do as an adult, if you just stay determined and put in the hard work and understand what it takes to get to that point you can always do it.”
With her eyes set on the 2024 Summer Olympics, Stewart hopes to be able to represent both Ole Miss and Team USA on the world’s grandest stage. For this new mother, perhaps nothing but her own daughter could compare in bringing her that amount of joy.
“It would be the best present,” Stewart said. “It is so hard to make the Olympic team in the USA and just to be able to achieve that goal would be life-changing, especially for me. That’s been the goal that’s been number one on my list.”