Going the distance: Ja’s hammer thrower Clunis fuelled by family values, hopes of sponsorship to propel career

By August 09, 2023
Jamaica's hammer throw standard bearer Nayoka Clunis Jamaica's hammer throw standard bearer Nayoka Clunis

To throw as far as you can, is a simple concept, but there is something beautiful about the moment when hard work fuelled by stubborn determination, and just the mere need to rise above challenges, combine to create a seemingly effortless mark.

Such is the case of Jamaica’s hammer thrower Nayoka Clunis, who charted and has now completed the first phase of her course towards top level competition, as she not only achieved a personal best mark of 71.18 metres along the way but will be the first –male or female –to represent the island in the discipline at the upcoming World Athletics Championships.

In fact, just making the country’s team to Budapest, is testament of Clunis’s growth and unwavering desire to make it big to honour her now deceased mother Michelle Morgan and Grandmother Letta Black, both of whom serve as the reason why she continues to smile in the face of adversities.

“They are my main motivation. Seeing how these two women made things happen in their lives, despite the difficulties they faced with little help, really gave me the will I need to overcome all the challenges I’ve faced,” Clunis told Sportsmax.tv.

Those challenges the now 27-year-old refers to are those that came with living in a fairly unsafe space, and so she sought solace in sports, netball in particular, which she declared was her first love.

“I got into track and field because my life wasn’t in the greatest place and my netball coach thought it would be a good idea to get me away from home and stay safe even for a few hours. Netball was my first love. I remember my mom playing netball and after she passed away, I did everything I could to follow in her footsteps, but things just didn’t work out where that is concerned,” she shared.

So started her journey in track and field where she tried her hand and feet at various disciplines to include the sprints, before injury forced her to take up javelin, shot put, discus and later heptathlon, before she inevitably finding her niche –hammer throw.

In a discipline which arguably favours power and technique over passion, it wasn’t necessarily easy for Clunis, as her best throw back in 2016 was marked at 50.23m, but she eventually found her footing and now seven years later, she breached 71m, not once, but three times in quick succession.

The first was 71.13m in Idaho, with the second coming on July 14, when she hit her new lifetime best of 71.18m and two days later, Clunis, a four-time National champion, launched the instrument to 71.11m. All marks were achieved at separate meets, mere weeks after Clunis claimed another Jamaica title with a 70.17m throw.

“As everything in life, change is challenging. Specializing is challenging, but I always knew I’m destined for more and even though I am not yet at the point in my life where I want to be, I’m satisfied with where I am at and I remain hungry to see how much more I can give,” Clunis said.

“Making a career, however, has been extremely difficult because throwers don’t get paid compared to other events. So, the journey has been difficult but I’m hoping it will get easier with sponsorship,” she noted.

Still, there remains a willingness to succeed and a sense that the mood, and, by extension, Clunis’s attitude has changed for the better in recent years.

Clunis believes her lifetime best throw was long overdue and was accomplished due to the exact combination of her biomechanics, physical attributes and excellent technique.

“I am pleased and grateful that I’ve gotten to the point of my career where I’m able to throw lifetime bests, but there’s more there and, like I said, I’m hungry. This tells me the consistency is important and a big throw is coming.  This tells me that I’m becoming the athlete I’ve always dreamt of being, and so I am working on myself one day at a time,” she said.

The frightening sense of determination in Clunis’s tone is very much understandable, given the fact that she has improved leaps and bounds over the past year, and it has given her a new-found confidence and perspective on what is possible.

“Qualifying for the Olympic Games would be amazing and not being able to do so yet is my motivation over the season. I believe next year is going to be great, I am just focusing on the little things that I need to do in order to achieve the Automatic Qualifying standard, as it would be honestly amazing to hit 74m.

“I just want to catapult my self-belief in a whole different league. Throwing 71m so consistently this season has been a dream and I want more so I’m patiently working until the marks come,” the bubbly athlete revealed.

“For now, my main goals at this point are to gain sponsorship leading to the Olympic Games because I would like to focus on training…like really get the opportunity to focus on training and see how great I can be with help,” she ended.

Sherdon Cowan

Sherdon Cowan is a five-time award-winning journalist with 10 years' experience covering sports.

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