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UNCONVENTIONAL PATH: Moniteau Graduate Qualifies for the Olympic Trials in the Discus at Age 26

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (EYT/D9) — When Maura Kimmel was just 11 and sitting in her sixth-grade classroom, she didn’t know what a discus was.

Her teacher back then was Moniteau boys track and field coach Mark Kosick, who often weaved fascinating stories about his athletes. 

What they had accomplished. What they had overcome.

That’s when Kimmel knew it. That’s when she realized she wanted to be a track and field star when she reached high school.

“Mr. Kosick kind of developed a passion for the sport in me before I even knew what it was,” Kimmel said. “It just sounded so amazing.”

(Pictured above, Maura Kimmel, seen here during her days at the University of Pennsylvania, has qualified for the Olympic Trials in the discus at the age of 26./Photo courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania)

Kimmel did become a track and field star for Moniteau. During her senior year in 2016, she won the PIAA Class 2A championship in the discus.

Kimmel moved on to the University of Pennsylvania and excelled there for the better part of three years before COVID wiped out her senior campaign in 2020.

With one year of eligibility remaining, she transferred to Notre Dame to finish out her career and performed well for the Irish.

Then, it was suddenly all over.

But Kimmel is back at the age of 26, unattached and throwing the discus again. Definitely taking the road less traveled.

That road will take her all the way to Eugene, Ore., and the Olympic Trials at Hayward field at the University of Oregon.

She can trace that long and winding journey back to that classroom in the sixth grade.

“I’m absolutely pumped (to compete in the Olympic Trials),” Kimmel said. “I think it’s something that I had wanted in the past and also wanted for so long. I’ve been throwing since freshman year of high school. It’s also been something I’ve wanted to do since even before that, since Mr. Kosick’s class.”

Kimmel missed out on qualifying for the Olympic Trials in 2021 by just a few spots.

After her last meet at the NCAA championships that year at Notre Dame, she figured her throwing days were over.

Turns out she was very wrong.

Kimmel didn’t touch a disc for nine months after nationals, but caught the itch to throw again and realized she still could as an unaffiliated athlete at certain meets around the country.

“Throwing is one of those things where it is really hard to know when you are done,” she said. “You feel like you can always just do a little bit better. In 2021, I felt like I had more in the tank.

“I missed it,” Kimmel added. “But I re-injured my back — I’ve battled a back injury all the way back to high school. Last year I competed in a handful of meets, but I wasn’t really training consistently and then this year things really aligned.”

Serendipity struck when her former throws coach at Notre Dame, Cathrine Erickson, offered her a spot as a volunteer assistant coach for the Irish as part of the university’s fellowship program.

It offered Kimmel access to the training facilities she had lacked.

“(Notre Dame) can’t sponsor me, but they gave me a training platform that I needed in order to really find success this year,” Kimmel said. “Before that, I had not done that well, even when I was giving it some effort last year. I kind of just decided that I wanted to at least do better than I had in the past, and I wanted to dedicate time to it. I decided if I was going to try, I was gonna give it my all.”

Kimmel did, traveling with Notre Dame to compete in events that allowed open competitions to unaffiliated athletes.

There are more than one would think.

(Kimmel poses in front of a sign in Ramona, Oklahoma, after a meet this year.)

Kimmel competed eight times — at Michigan State, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and four times in Ramona, Oklahoma, which is known as Throw Town USA because of its strong, sweeping winds, which aid throwers.

Kimmel’s best throw this season came there in her last competition when she threw 58.02 meters. The qualifying standard for the Olympic Trials is 58.50, but an athlete can also make it there if she is ranked in the top 24 in the nation.

At the end of the season, Kimmel was ranked No. 25.

“Thankfully, someone decided they didn’t want to throw, or could not throw,” Kimmel said. “So I became that 24th spot.”

Fulfilling a dream she had since she can remember.

“This has definitely been unconventional,” Kimmel said. “I’ve had ups and downs, battling old injuries and then just trying to find time to train while working, which has been its own challenge.”

Kimmel works full time as an electrical engineer in South Bend. Juggling job, coaching and throwing has been tricky.

But so worth it.

“I’ve had a pretty full plate, especially during the actual competition season, which was long and brutal,” Kimmel said. “I was really proud of what I’ve done this year. Either way, breaking 58 meters has been a goal of mine for some time. I probably didn’t think I could do it.”

Kimmel has had a lot of help along the way.

Erickson has been solidly in her corner. So has her former throws coach at Moniteau, Ryan Protzman, who is now the throws coach at Bucknell University.

He has helped guide another District 9 product to the Olympic Trials, Evie Bliss from Union/A-C Valley. Bliss will throw the javelin in the Trials next week.

“He has been a great help to me these last few years,” Kimmel said. “When I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep up with it, he helped coach me remotely and wrote me workouts to ease me into a return to throwing after my time off. So even if he didn’t coach me this year, he still has been a large part of my story and journey to get here.”

Kimmel isn’t sure if she will continue to compete beyond this year.

She hasn’t committed either way. Probably won’t. The longer she can delay, the better.

“I think leaving the door open makes it a lot easier to go do because there’s not the pressure of it being the end of the story,” Kimmel said. “I feel like I’ve caught the bug again.

“I’m 26 now,” she added. “I was probably 14 or 15 when I started doing this. It’s hard to quit.”

Kimmel will enter the competition on Monday unsaddled by expectations. If she finishes in the top 12, she will move on to the finals, which will take place on June 27.

But her goal is to enjoy the experience of throwing against some of the best in the nation, hoping to prove she belongs.

Kimmel has already shown that in her atypical journey.

“I have nothing to lose,” she said. “There are plenty of great throwers and I’m glad I’m amongst them. I know if I have a good day, I have a chance of moving my position up and potentially knocking on the door of the finals. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to go. I’m hoping I can make the most of it.”