Hammer time with Rachel Lee Wilson

The senior thrower is a standout performer on the women’s track and field team, and the holder of multiple school records.

Rachel Lee Wilson poses with the hammer at the throwing field.

On April 6, senior Rachel Lee Wilson of the women’s track and field team set a new school record in the outdoor hammer throw, tossing 63.89 meters at the Sam Howell Invitation at Princeton. She broke her own program record of 63.21 meters, which she set at the Penn Challenge at Franklin Field on March 23.

Wilson, from Homewood, Illinois, is also the school record-holder in the indoor weight throw. At the Ivy League Indoor Track & Field Heptagonal Championships on Feb. 23, her toss of 20.53 meters set a new Penn record, earned her a second straight indoor conference championship, and was the second-farthest weight throw in Ivy League history.

Introduced to throwing events in her youth by her father—a former thrower himself—Wilson also occasionally throws the discus.

In high school, her main events were the discus and the shot put, and she and her father would practice the hammer throw over the summer (the hammer throw is outlawed in Illinois high schools).

“That, along with YouTube, was kind of how I got used to the technique of hammer,” Wilson says. “Eventually, when I came to college, that became my primary event since the distances really started taking off for me.”

Penn Today caught up with Wilson at Franklin Field to converse about the dangers of throwing, what she enjoys about the sport, her interest in engineering, and her plans after graduation.

Rachel Lee Wilson competes in the hammer throw during a meet.
Photo: Penn Athletics


Why can’t you do the hammer throw in Illinois high schools? Is it dangerous?

Yes, I’d say it’s pretty dangerous. I think any throwing event is very dangerous. If you get hit with one, it’s either a severe injury or possibly dying. There have been instances where that’s happened before, collegiately and in high school. One of the priorities is safety when you are throwing and when you are retrieving during competitions and practice. [Editor’s note: According to The New York Times, Rhode Island is the only state that offers the hammer throw as a high school sport].

What do you enjoy about throwing?

Definitely the competition aspect. I’d say one of my best qualities as a thrower is being a really good competitor. It’s a lot fun competing and going to different meets, seeing different competition. That usually brings out the best in me. Another thing is just having an outlet here other than school. School is very hard, so having a place or just something where I don’t have to think about school for a certain amount of time of the day has definitely helped me deal with school, and then also with time management and certain aspects of school that are typically really stressful. Track definitely gives me an outlet for that. Also, seeing how far you can throw is another exciting thing. There’s a quote that says, ‘Throwers don’t have finish lines.’ When it comes to throwing, you can just keep throwing farther and farther. We really don’t know how far people can throw yet. That’s really the exciting part, setting pretty high goals and then beating them, and then making new ones.

What’s your training schedule?

During the offseason, we practice typically five days a week. We practice throwing five days a week, and then we lift in the weight room three days a week. When we’re not competing, I’d say I spend probably 15-17 hours a week with track. And then while we’re in season, we don’t lift as much but we still practice when we’re not competing. I’d definitely say most of my spring is spent on track. Usually if I’m not [at the throwing field], I’m studying or in class.

Thrower Rachel Lee Wilson does the hammer throw at a meet.
Photo: Penn Athletics


Is weightlifting an important aspect of being a thrower?

Yes. You definitely want to make sure that when you’re not competing, you’re getting as strong as possible so that during the season you can work on maintaining your strength, not trying to gain more strength. We do different conditioning aspects of throwing. We’ll do different conditioning activities before we actually start throwing practice, and then a lot of drills to work on certain things, a lot of special strength activities to help you build up to certain aspects of the throw, like being explosive and overcoming inertia. Those are definitely important training components. 

You are a chemical and biomolecular engineering major. What interests you about engineering?

When I was deciding what major I wanted to do during high school, originally I was thinking something in the sciences because I really like science and math. During my sophomore year, one of my chemistry teacher’s old students came back to talk to us and he was majoring in chemical engineering at the University of Illinois. He was talking about the classes that he took and the different fields you can go into with chemical engineering, so that made me really interested in it. It’s a good combination of math and chemistry. There are a very diverse amount of things you can do with your degree.

Have you ever used any engineering concepts when throwing?

The nerdy part of me always relates physics to throwing, like the biomechanics and the physics of it, which is fun. But I’ve never actually applied an engineering concept when I’m throwing.

Do you know what you want to do when you graduate?

I’m actually moving to Michigan after graduation to work as a process engineer. It’s like a three-hour drive from where my hometown is. I’m happy that I’m closer to home.

Rachel Lee Wilson poses with a hammer ball next to a Penn P painted on the wall.