Jordan McClendon looked out into the crowd at Dwight T. Reed Stadium in Jefferson City and was overjoyed. There, in front of thousands of people, the freshman from John Burroughs was announced as the state champion in the Class 3 shot put.
Sporting spectacles and bright orange shoes, the 5-foot-10, 15-year-old just tried to take it all in. Shy by nature, the very notion of being saluted by the enormous crowd could have made the newly crowned champ wilt. “I’m kind of shy about these things,” McClendon says. “It was pretty exciting. It was really good to see everyone in the stands. It was a lot of fun.”
Never did she imagine she’d be atop the podium in this position when she joined the track team at the start of the spring season. It was her first year competing on the track and throwing wasn’t on her agenda. Her mom, who ran track, brought McClendon to local meets as a youngster. McClendon always loved the speed and grace of the runners. That’s what she wanted to do. “I always wanted to run,” she says.
She trained with the hurdles for awhile, but the coaching staff kept pointing her to the throwing circle, saying that’s where she could do the best work. “I wasn’t horrible at hurdling,” she says. “My coaches could tell I had potential (as a thrower). I didn’t know a lot about throwing. It’s not a glamour sport.”
McClendon relented and began training with the throwers. It wasn’t love at first toss. Or second. Or third. Instead, it was a gradual progression that turned her into a believer. As the season moved along, McClendon kept getting better. As her technique and footwork improved, so did she. At some point, her competitive nature took over and McClendon was fully invested. She had come to love throwing. “I didn’t immediately like it,” she says. “Toward the end of the season I started to like it more. I was getting better at it.”
She would take second at the district meet and then win the sectional meet to qualify for state. Like every competitor who gets their ticket punched to the state meet, McClendon allowed herself to dream about what it felt like to stand atop the podium and be crowned the winner. But those thoughts were just that— thoughts. She used them to push herself. It’s why she threw the shot put 40-feet, 4.75 inches to win the title by an inch and a half over the runner-up. It’s one thing to hope and dream of winning. Actually bringing home a state title as a freshman? That’s a dream few turn into a reality. “I’m a really competitive person. The idea of winning state helped with my motivation,” McClendon says. “It was surreal when I got there (to the top of the podium).”
But being paraded in front of the stadium and receiving a championship medal and all-state certificate were just the beginning. When she checked her cell phone, it was littered with all kinds of messages and notifications congratulating her on a job well done. McClendon prefers to deflect attention when it comes to her achievements. The spotlight isn’t where she feels comfortable. “I’m not the type of person that enjoys the attention,” she says. “I appreciated (all the love and support) a lot.”
She’d better get used to it. McClendon is set to throw for a club team this summer and is only starting to scratch the surface of her track potential. With her skill set, competitive nature and calm demeanor, McClendon will remain atop the podium for years to come.