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Aug 30 2017 - Athlete Profile: Naomie Maltais: On Harnessing Focus

Naomie Maltais is as focused as they come. As a medical student who just returned from the World Francophone Games, she balances her full-time studies with training for high-level hammer throwing. And the key to doing it all, she says, lies in the mindset. 


Despite qualifying for this year’s World Francophone Games team, Naomie didn’t seriously train for track until university. In high school, she kept herself busy playing everything from hockey, to soccer, to volleyball. Though she was interested in the individual sport of athletics, the rural area where she grew up, Val d’Amour, didn’t have the facilities.


To make up for this, her parents bought her a discus and a hammer. In grade ten, she practiced launching them on the lawn outside her house.


Unhampered by her lack of training, she qualified to represent New Brunswick at the 2013 Canada Summer Games, just a few years into the sport. “There was no club, no coach, and no one to train me when I was younger,” she says. Finally, when she attended the University of Moncton, the knowledgeable coaching staff made her a training program, and she could focus on getting better at the hammer throw.


“It was amazing going from no coach to having a program,” Naomie says. “Though I was not used to training every day, I was used to doing sports every day.” Her previous experience in sports had taught her to work hard; however, the steep demands of competition took some adjusting.


In athletics, field events are funny beasts. They’re unlike running events, where athletes have a single effort to manage. Instead, field athletes must throw or jump their first of three to six attempts, and, before they can go again, they must wait for the rest of the field to compete.


This kind of competitive format leaves more than enough room for distractions. As a result, one of the most important parts to being a strong athlete is learning to manage energy and focus. Whether from it’s from nerves or self-doubt, field events athletes have plenty of time to get stuck in their head.


While she has always been able to buckle down and work towards long-term goals – medical school case and point -- for her first few years as a competitive hammer thrower, Naomie struggled with this new kind of focus. “I would get stressed out when I watched other athletes compete,” she says. “I’d end up thinking too much, and would throw into the net.”


“I had to learn to keep the focus on myself, to beat myself instead.”


“Throwing taught me how to clear my head. Right after the throw you have to think about what you just did, to process it. Now, I do that for a few minutes. Then, I let it go. I think about the next throw, and I don’t think about everything going on around me.” Naomie has a few key words, and a few routines, to help with this process.


The mental challenges of sport, though, didn’t end there. In the summer of 2016 she threw the qualification standard, but the team only offered a certain amount of seats. Team Canada-Nouveau Brunswick would be decided by a ranking system, where all athletes would be considered based off their performance’s percentage away from the given standard. Long story short, Naomie knew that even though she had achieved standard, she might not be selected for the team.


To make matters worse, most athletes had until April to qualify. Hammer, on the other hand, is only an outdoor, summertime sport; to qualify for the 2017 team, she would depend on her best distance from the previous year.


From August to April, Naomie regularly checked the results, knowing there was nothing she could do to change her predicament. If someone came out of left field, she could lose her place on the team. “I had to learn to not think about that, too,” she says. “I had done my best and couldn’t do any more.”


“It was been a huge sacrifice to get here,” she says. “I do school and training and not much else.”


In the end, her throw was enough to punch her ticket to the games. Once in Abidjan , when she stood up to compete against some of the best in the world, her mantra stayed the same. “At the games, I enjoyed the experience. The new place, all the people. But when it came time to compete, I focused only on my throws, about what I’m about to do, one part at a time.” Naomie finished tenth at the games, with a throw of 42.56m.

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