As she nervously watched some of the nation’s best shot putters practice their throws at the NCAA Indoor Championships, April Phillips had a queasy feeling in her stomach and noticed that her hands were shaking. It wasn’t that she was scared. She just wanted to make the best of her final indoor performance as a Wolverine.
Last year, at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Baton Rouge, La., Phillips made a disappointing exit in the preliminaries after faulting in three consecutive throws. With that in mind, she stood in the back of the shot putter’s circle hoping to redeem herself. Without any further hesitation, Phillips launched the shot put beyond her previous year’s best throw. She bettered this mark by even more in her second attempt and secured a spot in the event finals. Finally, with one throw left, Phillips cleared her head, took in a deep breath and exhaled with a mighty thrust, catapulting the shot put to a school record-breaking distance of 55 ft.
“As soon as the shot put left my hands, I thought I would have a good mark,” Phillips said. “When I saw where it actually landed, I was excited. I knew I had set a new record.”
This indoor triumph was just another milestone in the senior’s illustrious career at Michigan. In her four years as a member of the track and field program, Phillips has broken numerous school records in three different events (weight throw, shot put and hammer throw), received an All-America honor in the hammer throw, earned All-Big Ten honors three times and won two individual Big Ten championships. She has also helped the team bring home an outdoor and two consecutive indoor Big Ten titles. All of this coming from an athlete who was forced to walk-on.
“I just wanted to find a place on the team,” Phillips said. “I didn’t know what to expect of myself. Every year, I’ve reset my goals and I’ve met them.”
Phillips recalls having always been highly competitive. As a youngster, she would often cry out of dissatisfaction with herself for not winning spelling bees or performing well in a gymnastics routine. Phillips developed her competitiveness through a passion for dancing, which she trained for until adolescence.
“April is very self-motivated,” Phillips’ mother Diana said. “Whatever she did, she had to work at it until she did her best.”
Phillips didn’t get involved with track and field until her brother – a state qualifying discus thrower – persuaded her to shot put and high jump in high school. Under his encouragement, April became a state champion shot putter.
“This (sport) is my relaxation,” Phillips said. “It’s a good way to (use) energy and exert frustration. Anything that I do, I try to do the best that I can. I just feel that there is no point in doing something if you’re not going to try as hard as you can to maximize your potential.”
Phillips, a tri-captain on the team, attributes her success to the support of her parents. Before the aforementioned NCAA Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Ark. last March, she told her parents not to travel to the meet because she was afraid that they would make her nervous. She didn’t want them to drive hundreds of miles to disappoint them. The family agreed, but later surprised her by making the trip anyways. Perhaps this support motivated Phillips to set a new school record that day.
Phillips’ coaches have also helped her mature as an athlete. Their efforts have made her one of the top field athletes in the nation.
“She’s the backbone of our throwing events,” Michigan coach James Henry said. “Even though April’s one of the best members of our team, she’s very modest and the other athletes respect her because she sets an example as to what a good student-athlete should be like. I don’t think we would have been Big Ten champs the last couple of seasons without April’s athleticism.”