By Gabriel Stovall
FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. — Noelle Parker gladly it admits it. She was a big of a “girly-girl” growing up.
So much so that when she was first introduced to track and field as a competitive sport, she wasn’t sure if it was the thing for her to do.
Then, around Noelle’s fifth grade year, her brothers Joshua and Jonathan Ridikas-Parker — both Whitewater and Georgia College and State University graduates — gave her a big, iron ball and told her to toss it around.
“My brothers were throwing in the high school level, and it was at a point where my brothers, my mom, just all of us, we all liked the sport,” Parker said. “So I started, and then my brothers told me ‘You’re going to be good at this sport, so here’s a shot put.”‘
She almost dropped it immediately, but not because it was too heavy.
“At first, I hated the shot, really,” she said. “I was a girl who didn’t like getting dirty and getting dirt on my hands.”
That all changed around the seventh grade, though. that’s when Parker found out that there was something addictive to the energy of competing in the shot put at a high level.
“I’d say the turning point would have had to be around seventh grade,” she said. “That’s when I competed in my first big invitational. We were still in our middle school years, so we weren’t throwing for major numbers yet. But I saw the intensity of other throwers for the first time, and when I really got into it, I mean, I knew it was a team sport, but I saw the individual aspect of it too.”
That’s the part that hooked her. And you can count Whitewater High School and Jacksonville University at the top of the list of those happy she didn’t let the dirt stop her.
All Parker has done since enrolling into Whitewater is win three straight state championships in the shot, including this year — her senior year where her final throw in the state semis, a mark of 46 feet, 9 inches, made her a new state record holder.
She signed with Jacksonville University, a 10-time Atlantic Sun Conference track and field champion, choosing the Florida school over Indiana State, Air Force, Georgia State and Georgia Southern because she said she fell in love with the campus, and the way the program’s coaches put equal emphasis on field and running events — something that means a ton to Parker.
“Everybody that hears me say I’m going to college for track and field, they ask me what event I run,” she said. “I tell them, no. I’m a thrower. It’s just one of those things where people don’t associate events like throwing the shot put and discuss and the hammer to college. They think Olympics, but they never tie it in to the college level.”
Parker said she wants to be one of those who helps changes the tendency of focusing more on the “track” part of track and field.
“Oh, I absolutely see myself as being an advocate of the field events,” she said. “Not only the throws, but the pole vaults, the jumps, all of it. I love the running events just as much as anyone else, but we’ve got to advocate for the importance of these events as well.
“It’s interesting, when you do a points break down on the teams that win meets, you’ll see that its often the field events that make the difference between winning and losing a meet.”
As sweet as her third state crown and record holder status is, the Whitewater senior says it’s not her highlight moment. That would be her very first state title during her sophomore year.
“I wasn’t even spoken about coming into that state meet,” she said. “They were saying I was like third or fourth, but I ended up coming out of nowhere and just won it. That was just pure joy and happiness for me. I’ll never forget it.”
Although this most recent triumph in Albany this past weekend is not a distant runner up.
Parker said she had no idea that the state record was anywhere near her grasp, and even as it was being sorted out, she still didn’t quite grasp what was happening.
“It took them 10 minutes to mark the spot, and I didn’t really no what was going on,” she said. “It was weird because I’d never seen anything like the way they were doing it, so I was wondering did they measure it wrong or did something happen? I had no idea what the procedure was.”
That procedure called for getting a state meet official over to verify Parker’s throw and that it had bested a state record. Once it was confirmed, Parker said the emotions took over.
“My mom was crying,” she said. “I was crying. I didn’t know what the record was coming in, so the whole thing was just, wow. Just amazing.”
She had to get it together to throw in the finals. And when it was all said and done, she had a third consecutive state crown.
But when you talk with Parker, she strikes you as one who is among the rare ilk of athletes that gets the lessons of the sport that go beyond wins and losses and state championships. Perhaps its one of the reasons why she’s excelled in and outside of the throwing ring.
“I’ve found that the sport is not only about athletic achievement, but it’s about building mental stamina,” she said. “It’s about building character. Throwing has taught me that though I might not have a great competition, or it may be the worst week, but the way I react to it shows other people who I am as a person. Things may not come out like you expect in life, but I’ve learned through throwing to take the good and bad and run with it and keep it all in perspective.”
Parker has a 3.7 grade point average at Whitewater, and will major Kinesiology with aspirations to be an athletic trainer for college or professional athletes.
But that’s down the line. For now, she wants to keep her gaze squarely on becoming the thrower she can be — not just for herself and her new school, but for the sport in general.
“I’m hoping that my success is going to give future track athletes more support from their schools that these athletes are important too,” Parker said. “Track and field athletes need good, uninterrupted practice areas just like athletes in other sports, in order for them to reach their full potential. Maybe after winning a third state championship and moving on to Jacksonville I’ll be in an even better position to shed that kind of positive light on what we do.”