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Tuesday, July 05, 2022 — Houston, TX

Simpson-Sullivan discusses unlikely journey to stardom

Photo courtesy Rice Athletics

By Reed Myers     2/1/22 11:18pm

Tara Simpson-Sullivan is a star by any standard. Last June, she earned a gold medal in the women’s hammer throw at the British Championships and placed fourth in the same event at the NCAA championships. Given her recent successes, it might surprise you to learn that she didn’t even know what the hammer throw was until one fateful meet when she happened to stumble upon it. 

“I first started back in 2014,” Simpson-Sullivan said. “I remember having just finished a sprint hurdles race when the team manager asked if I could throw the hammer to get extra points for the team. I said yes, although at the time I had never heard of the hammer and didn’t have a clue how to go about throwing it. One of the dad’s of another athlete showed me the basics of what to do and in my first ever competition that day I threw 18.75 meters.”

Following this meet, Simpson-Sullivan realized that she enjoyed competing in this event and was intrigued to learn more about it. According to Simpson-Sullivan, her love for the sport became apparent in the following years.

“After going to a coach, I quickly progressed within the event,” Simpson-Sullivan said. “I knew within that first season that I really enjoyed the hammer. But it was probably the next couple of seasons where I decided that the hammer was what I wanted to do as I stopped playing other sports like rugby so that I wouldn’t get injured.”

As Simpson-Sullivan traveled further along her hammer throwing journey, which started in Penrith, England, she did so with her family accompanying her along the way. According to Simpson-Sullivan, her family are her biggest supporters, and have been influential in her career. 

“Penrith is a quaint little town near the Lake District, so the outdoors and nature was pretty much all around you,” Simpson-Sullivan said. “My family have always been my biggest supporters, especially my mum. She carted me and my sister up and down the country by herself for multiple years and for various different sports, and I would never have been in the position I am today without her dedication to us.”

When the time came for Simpson-Sullivan to decide her next move for her academic and athletic careers, she evaluated her options. According to Simpson-Sullivan, she wanted to go to a place which understood that she was relatively new to the event, while also finding the right group of people to call her next team. 

“I knew that I wanted to be coached by someone who understood how little training I was doing before I came to college and to be in a group that was close and supportive,” Simpson-Sullivan said. “When I spoke to [throwing coach Brek Christensen] during recruiting, I really liked his plans for our training, and when I came to visit, the girls who hosted me are now some of my best friends.”

Simpson-Sullivan’s visit to Rice included not only meeting her future teammates and coaches, but it also allowed her the opportunity to see Houston and Rice’s campus. According to Simpson-Sullivan, when she first got to Rice’s campus, it reminded her of Penrith.

“I remember thinking on my visit that the school’s campus was so beautiful and was a nice contrast to the busy life of Houston,” Simpson-Sullivan said. “Coming from Penrith, there was always so much nature, so I think the campus was a nice balance of the city life of Houston. Plus, coming from the U.K., I knew I wanted to be somewhere warm, so Houston was a tick in that box too.”

At Rice, Simpson-Sullivan has enjoyed much athletic success, winning the 2020 Conference USA indoor weight throw and 2021 C-USA outdoor hammer throw while setting school records in both events. Her fourth place finish at the NCAA championships earned her first team All-American honors. In addition to her collegiate success, Simpson-Sullivan her winning throw of 67.38 meters at the British Championships helped her reach the No. 50 spot of the world hammer throw rankings. According to Simpson-Sullivan, being able to come away on top at an elite competition was a surreal moment.

“It was a solidifying moment for me that I can continue to compete at a championship level and still be able to compete well and throw far,” Simpson-Sullivan said. “It’s these kinds of competitions that you see Olympic athletes winning, so to win it myself at 20 years old was a surreal moment, but one that I knew I could do by focusing on what I do best, which is competing.” 

As Simpson-Sullivan gets deeper into her career, she has identified a few clear goals. According to Simpson-Sullivan, there are many championships that she hopes to compete in in before including the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. 

“The 2024 Olympics, in Paris, is a big goal for me,” Simpson-Sullivan said. “But there are a lot of championships before then, such as this year there’s three major championships that I hope to be

[selected] for. Especially the  Commonwealth Games as it is [in England this year].”

Until then, Simpson-Sullivan continues to perfect her craft on Rice’s campus, where she is also working towards a double major in psychology and sport management. With the rest of her time, Simpson-Sullivan said she enjoys taking in the outdoors doing her childhood hobby. 

“I love walking around Hermann Park or sitting on the hill outside the outdoor theatre and reading my current book,” Simpson-Sullivan said. “I love reading. Fiction books more so than anything but it was always something I enjoyed growing up and I just got back into it last year. My goal this year is to read 22 books in the year 2022.”

That 2014 meet when she unknowingly entered the ring to compete in a new event would eventually take Simpson-Sullivan on a journey from Penrith to Houston. According to Simpson-Sullivan, she still has a lot to learn, and she’s excited to see where it takes her next. 

“I love learning and I love competing,” Simpson-Sullivan said. “Having so much still to learn within the event is great and is what pushes me to continue to be the best possible athlete I can be, [and] I know I am nowhere near my ceiling.”

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