CARBONDALE — Peer pressure isn't always bad. Just ask SIU Hall of Famer Gwen Berry.
The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Florissant, Missouri, native came to SIU as a triple jumper. She tried the hammer throw when her jumps coach, former Saluki assistant Andre Scott, former throws coach John Smith and Berry's high school coach, Phil Wollbrink, all boxed her in.
"Coach Scott tried to talk me into it. So then they called my high school coach. It was basically all of them ganging up on me to tell me to just try it," Berry said. "One thing that resonated with me was that one of them said if I could be an All-American in an event, would I try it?"
Three times a year, at least, between 2008-09, she thought about quitting throwing and only focusing on jumping. It took about a year and a half to get really good at the hammer, she said, and if it wasn't for her family and friends, she wouldn't have made it. Berry became an All-American in not one, but three throwing events, the hammer throw, indoor weight throw, and shot put.
She won four Missouri Valley Conference championships, finished fourth in the hammer throw in 2010, and made Team USA last summer for the Rio Olympics. A three-time indoor national champion in the weight throw, she had one of the top outdoor hammer throws in the world for a few months last year.
"I would think about all the hammer throwers in the world, and how long they've been throwing, and, maybe five to six years to get good. More to be world class," Berry said. "It was probably one of the things that made me more patient than ever."
Berry, 27, had to be very patient before the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer. She broke the American record in the outdoor hammer throw with a throw of 76.31 meters at a meet in Tucson, Arizona, last May. In June, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) removed the record and slapped her with a three-month sanction for using an inhaler with a prohibited substance. Berry, an asthmatic, argued she used the inhaler as a prescribed medication and not in order to enhance her performance.
The USADA, which could have suspended her longer, allowed her to compete at the U.S. Trials in July. Berry finished second, ahead of fellow Saluki alum DeAnna Price and behind Amber Campbell, to reach Rio.
She met Kevin Durant and spoke with Kyrie Irving at the opening ceremonies.
"I wouldn't trade it for the world," Berry said. "Sometimes I wish it wasn't in Rio, because of the conditions, but the overall experience was great. Kevin Durant, No. 1, I got to talk to him, so that was amazing. I met him at the opening ceremonies. All of the basketball players were really nice, surprisingly. Kyrie Irving was the nicest, most talkative out of everyone."
Berry is now aiming for the IAAF world championships in London in August, and hopes to break the American record, again, with a different medication.
Not bad for someone who had to be talked into throwing in the first place. Her father and uncle played basketball, which she took to in high school. Before taking her to the Olympics, and the SIU Hall of Fame, track was just something to keep her in shape for basketball season.
"It's funny because I didn't do track my freshman year in high school, as well," Berry said. "The track coach, Wollbrink, that was his way of bribing me in doing track. I just got good at it, so I stuck with it, because I wasn't interested in track at all. It was a good way to stay in shape. I guess you could say I've been bribed my whole athletic career."