Don't Judge The Book...
By Glenn Thompson
<Image from Bob Ramsak (may not be used without permission)>
John McEwen is a not someone to judge at face value. Many facets of the defending USATF 35-pound weight champions life suggest a multi-leveled paradox. To spot him from a distance at a meet, you cant help but envision one of those guys kicking Joe Namaths behind in EasyRider. Theres the 63", 268 pound frame, resplendent with two strategically placed tattoos, including one around his bicep that would take Michael Johnson a good 45 seconds to cover. This serious looking visage is capped by a Fu-Manchu that perfectly caps the chiseled facial features.
I was first introduced to John at the 2001 Penn Relays by his coach and mentor, Jud Logan. I knew of his accomplishments and had watched him perform drills in Juds hammer video. Instantly the paradox began to show itself as he spoke in moderate tones, addressed me as Mr. Thompson and took more time than most would during a simple "nice to meet ya."
When I mentioned doing a story about him, he was not the least bit arrogant as so many elite athletes with half his accomplishments are. He actually thanked me for the opportunity. An interesting fellow, this McEwen.
John was born on March 5, 1974 in Los Angeles to Duane and Winona McEwen. He moved with his family to Medford, Oregon at an early age. The now hulking McEwen showed athletic ability of another sort as a youth. He won state and national titles in BMX (bicycle motorcross) racing. Much of those years was spent forging a bond with little brother Seth, who just completed his junior year at the University Oregon as a three year starter, most recently at defensive end. Seth has risen to 66", 265 lbs. and could find himself playing on Sundays in a couple years.
McEwens path to the ball and chain was a lengthy and late one as is typical for most Americans. As a high schooler he was an All-Conference performer playing middle linebacker and fullback for North Medford High School in Oregon. He also wrestled (Im envisioning opponents retiring to the restroom due to pre-match loss of bladder control) and threw the shot and discus in track (58"1 for the shot and 174"4 with the discus).
McEwen matriculated to Eureka Junior College in CA in 1993. There he was introduced to the hammer and hit 1688" as a freshman. He returned as a sophomore with and outstanding improvement to 2040". McEwen was a three-turner at the time.
He accepted a football scholarship and transferred to Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa for his junior year. McEwen played football and competed in track and field there. A linebacker on the gridiron, he earned first team all-conference laurels in the North Central Conference, one of the best NCAA Division II football leagues in the country. As a thrower he threw the weight 627" and the hammer 205 to sweep both Division II National Championships.
McEwen improved to 655" and 2138" his senior year. Having used up his eligibility, McEwens post-collegiate career took a fortunate turn when he spoke with Logan at the DII Championships in 1998. Knowing that he had more room for improvement, McEwen asked if he could train with Logan in an effort to reach his potential. A couple thousand miles and 48 hours later, McEwen and his worldly assets had made the cross-continental trek from Medford to Ashland, Ohio.
Improved strength and technique during his first year in Ohio lead to 734" (3rd at 1999 USATF Indoor Championships) and 2308" (12th at USATF Outdoors) PRs, outstanding improvements of 8 and 17 respectively. Although the improvements have not been as dramatic as that first year, they continue to come. McEwen finished 8th at the 2000 Olympic Trials (2336") and was 4th at USATF Indoors while making the switching to four turns.
"My indoor season last year was great!" says McEwen. "I went to four turns in the weight and it made a big difference." He consistently threw in the 73 range before PRing at the 2001 USATF Indoors with a 744" effort. Coming up big at big meets is expected, not hoped for. He threw 2351" last June at the USATF Outdoor Championships.
McEwen is a big movie fan, typically taking in two a week, with Logan often sharing the popcorn. Amongst his favorites from 2001 are Oceans Eleven, OBrother Where Art Thou?, and Momento. Right along with you, Im guessing the last two must have come with subtitles. On his dont bother to rent list are A.I., Final Fantasy and Go Tigers.
McEwen has his share of competition eccentricities and superstitions, reminiscent of baseballs Wade Boggs who insisted on chicken and particular routes to the ballpark each day. "Before I compete, I have to put on all of the left side things first such as left sock, then right sock, then left shoe then right shoe," he says. "My socks never match and one might be inside out or both, I dont care."
When asked which he prefers, the hammer or weight, he says the hammer because it flies so much farther. Regarding the future, McEwen hopes to make Olympic teams and become a fireman.
McEwens primary income comes from working the drive-thru at a local company. He thanks his boss for being supportive of his athletic career and providing the work schedule flexibility necessary to pursue elite athletics.
McEwens approach to body ink is not that of a drunken sailor on shore leave. "I like tattoos because the ones I have mean something to me and represent the people I love and things that I am proud of," he say. "I have one on my left arm that is a band all the way around on my biceps. It is the American flag and represents my love for my country and that I was a five-time All-American. The other one is on my upper back in the middle, a design with the letters C, O, D, B, Each letter represents a word for myself and three others who have the same tat, and means something special to us."
McEwen has two more tattoos on the drawing board. "My next two tattoos are in the works, one of which has to do with my family that will cover my back," he says. My brother and I are getting that one. The other is for myself, and someone that is special to me, and we will get the same one as well. That one will be located over my heart."
McEwen credits his big performances at USATF Championships to (1) improved technique, (2) proper peaking from weight training, and (3) great focus and confidence. "Jud has taught me there is a purpose for every drill and every throw you take," McEwen says. "Its not just going out and throwing. Its understanding the throw and feeling what good technique is. Ive also learned how to compete. Once you go into a competition, you focus on one or two things that make you throw far. If you think too much, you are done. Training is for technique, competition is for throwing far!!!"
The respect is mutual between McEwen and Logan. "John was a integral part of me making my fourth Olympic team at age 41," says Jud. "Although I was coaching him, I relied on him a great deal for personal feedback and formed a bond and trust that I will never forget."
Logan sees a great future for McEwen in coaching as well as competition. "He has a positive attitude about training that he demands you share," continues Logan. "When he works out with the college kids and they know they are held to a higher standard of intensity and focus, everyone gets better. When he decides to coach he will have immediate success. He has a gift that will someday enable him to become a great teacher."
McEwen sees the current U.S. hammer and weight scene and being very close with the exception of 2001 USATF Hammer champ Kevin McMahon. "With the rest of us, it is just about how bad you want to be the best," he says. "The one thing that we all share is not getting the help we need financially like the runners and sprinters get. We have to work as well as throw. We dont have shoe deals or money stipends or appearance money to live on. That makes it very difficult. If I was the number one sprinter in the U.S.,. I wouldnt have to live from paycheck to paycheck. Dont get me wrong, I love my life. I just think we deserve more for our efforts. In 2004 at the Olympic Trials, people should check out the hammer. We will all be throwing far and putting on a show."
McEwen has weight room bests of a 705-pound back squat, 405-pound power clean, 500-pound front squat, and 319-pound in the snatch. As a footballer he benched 500. That power coupled with the enough fast twitch to streak a 4.52 40-yard dash.
At 63" and close to 270 pounds, one would expect a gravity challenged bowling ball. Not the case. McEwen has some serious ups, posting a 38" standing vertical jump after returning from his USATF Indoor win. Although he was never a baller, he knows what to do with the rock. "Sometimes I will walk into the gym and ask for a ball," he says. "People look at me and think, Yeah right, fat white boys cant jump, let alone dunk! But once I start throwing down two-handed reverse dunks people start leaving the building."
"When I used to bounce at a club in Cleveland I would bet people I could do a standing jump onto the bar," he continues. "The bar was maybe 40-45 inches high. The standard bet was twenty bucks and I could make $40 to $80 a night." McEwen feigns guilt about hustling drunks, but quickly reasons it away, saying "I needed to buy throwing shoes."
Despite his modest description as "fat", McEwens carriage is a very efficient machine. That efficiency is augmented by his hair maintenance routine. He shaves his entire body, head, legs, arms, chest, underarms, etc. My zeal for the total truth was tested by the "etc." and since I am writing for LSTJ and not The Enquirer, Ill pass on that detail.
When asked whether anyone gives him a hard time about the body hair, he replies, "Not many people give me any harassment about that. At least not to my face." Based on appearance thats a wise choice. But then again, they wouldnt understand the paradox, would they? *LSTJ*