Annie Alexander owns the SEC's top shot put mark this season at 58-1.
Feb. 20, 2012
By Mark Maloney
SEC Digital Network
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Good connections brought A.T. & T. to the University of Tennessee.
A.T. & T., as in "Alexander, Trinidad & Tobago."
Lady Vols shot-putter Annie Alexander, whose home town is Port-of-Spain, has become the unofficial long-distance provider of Southeastern Conference track and field.
John Frazier, associate head coach who oversees Tennessee's throwing events, began recruiting Alexander after being tipped off by her coach at San Juan Secondary School.
That connection was established in 2000, when Frazier, then an assistant coach at Florida, signed Candice Scott from the same school. Scott went on to win four conference indoor titles in the weight throw.
Alexander, a 5-foot-9 senior who became Frazier's first recruit at Tennessee, comes into this weekend's Southeastern Conference Indoor Championships at Kentucky ranked No. 1 in the shot put.
Her toss of 58-1, Jan. 21 in the Auburn Invitational, broke her indoor school record by 11 inches. The mark made her an automatic qualifier for the NCAA Championships, and is a reflection of just how far she has come.
Knoxville is a different world from Trinidad and Tobago.
"Growing up in Port-of-Spain, it had its ups and its downs," Alexander said. "I come from a single-parent home. My mom raising all of us (Annie has six siblings) to be the best that we can; going to school.
"My P.E. teacher saw my potential to throw. Because I used to run, and that was not working out after a while."
Alexander ran distances from 100 meters to 800, "whatever would give my school points."
Once focused on the throws, though, weight training came into the picture.
In this case, necessity became the mother of training invention.
"Where I grew up, you have to pay for water connections to the house," Alexander said. "Being from a single-parent home, there is stuff that you just didn't have the luxury of. After school and training, we would go to the ... pipe, which is like a tap on the side of the road like a water reservoir, and we'd fill buckets of water and we'd carry it to the house. That's how we got our drinking water."
Although an unconventional method of training, Alexander saw dividends from toting buckets that she describes as the size of large paint cans.
"It is (unusual), but it worked," she said, laughing as she added, "I got a little buff from it."
Alexander placed 10th in the 2004 and 2006 World Junior Championships shot. In the 2006 meet, at Beijing, she set a national junior record put of 52-0 ¾. Alexander swept the shot and discus titles in the national and Caribbean junior championships, and set a national junior record of 153-1 in the discus.
Her talent eventually led her away from the islands.
"I had the support of my siblings. It took a while for my mom to come around," Alexander said. "Basically, to me, it was about something different that I could do to get away from the everyday hassles. I didn't understand the sport, but then I grew a passion for it and just continued doing it.
"After graduating high school, I was not ready to come to school, so I took a year to try to figure out what I really wanted to do. I kept talking to Coach Frazier after my graduation and I took my visit. The only visit I took was to the University of Tennessee. Here I am, about to graduate in less than 140 days."
A journalism and electronic media major, Alexander had hurdles in Knoxville, too, en route to four All-America honors (three in the shot, one in discus) and five SEC titles (three shot, two discus).
The first female freshman to sweep SEC titles indoors and outdoors in the shot, plus the discus, she set a national record of 187-6 in the latter event. Her best in the shot was a 57-3.
She did so with the traditional "glide" technique, although early on Frazier had intended to convert her to the discus-style "spin" release.
"The very first week of training ... she's throwing PR throws," Frazier said. "I'm like, `oh, maybe there might be something to just keeping it where she is.'
"Ironically, the first meet of her collegiate career was in Lexington, where she went out and hit a PR throw. After the meet we were just kind of talking in general - `we're going to stick with this glide technique and improve it' - and she became very good quick. I think more of it had to do with her desire to throw far."
The next year, 2009, Alexander slipped to second indoors and third outdoors in the SEC shot, second in the discus. However, she earned All-America honors with third-place finishes in the shot, indoors and outdoors. With a season-best of 57-2, she also represented her country in the World Championships shot at Berlin.
In 2010, Alexander was the shot runner-up at the SEC Indoor meet, but her distance was down (55-1). Something was wrong.
"We went to a track meet at Kentucky and my legs just went numb," she said. "After six months of testing and different doctors, I was diagnosed with popliteal artery entrapment."
Essentially, a small blood vessel in the back of her knee had become "entrapped" by surrounding muscles and tissue. Alexander redshirted outdoors and, late in 2010, underwent two surgical procedures to repair the condition in her knee.
She also redshirted the 2011 indoor season. Outdoors, Alexander swept the SEC shot and discus, then placed third in both events at the NCAA Championships. She increased her school record in the shot to 57-11 ¼, and her national record in the discus to 192-2. She says she can't choose which event is her favorite.
This is her first full year of training since surgery.
Frazier says last month's school-record toss at Auburn was the culmination of Alexander's work in the weight room, fitness drills, good nutrition and refined technique.
All make for a confident thrower.
Alexander hopes to cap the year in London, competing for Trinidad and Tobago in the Summer Olympic Games.
Frazier is pointing for the Olympic "A" (automatic) qualifying standards in both shot and discus, enabling Alexander to then pick one. He thinks the discus may be easier on Alexander's body type in the long run, but shot is where she has the higher world ranking (No. 39 in 2011).
First, though, there is the matter of this week's SEC Championships.
"I feel pretty good. I've been having really good practices," Alexander said. "I'm just excited to go out there and compete for the University of Tennessee one more time."