ISU grad Erin Reese eyeing 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials, Summer Olympics

Mar. 15—Entering 2024, Indiana State graduate Erin Reese was already well-known among track and field fans who follow the top female weight-throwers in the nation.

But unless you knew her, she may not have been the first name mentioned in a conversation about this subject.

That may change this year, however.

On Feb. 17 at Albuquerque, N.M., Reese won the women's weight throw during the 2024 USA indoor track and field championships with a toss of 84-5 (25.73 meters), which came on her second of six attempts. Not only was that the best throw of the meet, it was the second-best in the world by a female ever.

Still living in Terre Haute with her husband — former ISU thrower and current professional powerlifter Joseph Barnes — and working at Hamilton Center as a mental-health case manager and at ISU as a volunteer throws assistant coach after graduating from ISU with a degree in psychology, Reese credits a variety of reasons for her improvement.

But one stands out.

Picture in your mind a ballet dancer altering the steps in her routine after performing it a certain way for several years. That's kinda what Reese did, but she can explain it better than anyone else.

"My first year professionally [2020] was the COVID[-19] year and we weren't allowed to use the [ISU] facilities at all, so I threw off a little pad of concrete in an abandoned junk yard," Reese told the Tribune-Star.

"It worked out OK, except for the fact that a couple months into it, I tripped over something in the junk yard and broke my foot. So it took a little while to heal from that.

"The following year [2021] was the postponed Olympic Trials. Before that, I took third at the U.S. indoor championships, then we went outdoors for the Olympic Trials. I obviously didn't advance to the Olympics that year. They took the top three [in the outdoor throwing events]."

Yes, in June 2021 at Eugene, Ore., Reese placed seventh in the finals of the women's hammer throw (67.88 meters or more than 222 feet).

"That kind of lit some fuel to my fire because I was close [to the top three] in the prelim round," she mentioned, "but not in the final round."

In February 2022, Reese placed second in the women's weight throw during the USA indoor track and field championships at Spokane, Wash. Her best throw of 77-10 was just behind winner Janee Kassanavoid's best of 79-8.

Then Reese made an important decision.

During the 2022 outdoor season, she learned how to execute the "four-turn" technique in the hammer throw after she previously had performed three turns. That's where the ballet-dancing analogy comes in.

"When you go four turns, generally you can throw further," Reese assessed. "So I decided to learn how to do that. Generally, all of the professionals do four turns. So I felt like I needed to add that. And it wasn't an Olympic year, so it was a good year to do it."

But make no mistake about it. There were growing pains.

"My marks went down significantly," she admitted. "I only threw 69 meters that year. That was pretty disappointing. Then going into the next year [2023], I ended up kinda figuring it out more and ended up with a new p.r. [personal record] in 2023 with 73 meters."

Reese has felt even more confident using the four-turn technique in 2024 and that could spell trouble for her top-tier opponents.

"Erin is a tremendous athlete and a great mentor for our student-athletes," ISU track and field program director and head coach Angie Martin said.

"She is one of the hardest workers I have seen in my coaching career and it is amazing how she balances a full-time job, trains and helps coach our throwers. We are very fortunate to have her as a part of our program and so proud of her accomplishments. She has huge goals for this summer and we want to support her as she chases her dreams."

Now here's the big question: How will Reese's recent indoor success transition to the hammer throw outdoors at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for track and field June 21-23 in Eugene? Remember, she needs to place in the top three to make the U.S. team.

"I'm hopeful that it transitions pretty well," she replied. "With the change to the four turns, I feel more confident in what I'm doing. I feel like I have enough reps now that it's coming more naturally. I'm pretty excited about what will happen this year."

Sure, Reese is excited. But she's also cautious about being overconfident.

"The women's hammer in the U.S. is very, very tough right now," she emphasized. "It's extremely tough. There will be a lot of really good girls there this year. ... Last year, the U.S. women's hammer had the top eight of 20 marks in the world. But with this indoor season I just had, I've given myself a new set of confidence that, like, I can compete with them."

Reese, who competes for the Velaasa Track Club, is guided by ISU throws coach Brandan Bettenhausen.

"He's incredibly helpful," she stressed. "We kinda joke about how he is the brains — he does all the programming and the math behind the scenes — and I kinda just throw and don't overthink it. We have a really good relationship where I can tell him what I'm feeling and he can tell me what he expects and what he wants to see. I think it balances itself really well."

Reese also praised Martin for her continued encouragement over the years.

"Coach Angie is a huge supporter of me," Reese said. "She's always checking in to see how things are going and always wanting to be there and be supportive. It's awesome having her support."

Interacting with Martin reminds Reese of how grateful she is for choosing Indiana State as her college several years ago.

For those who may have forgotten, Reese was a three-time All-American for the Blue and White, earning first-team honors in the women's weight throw at the 2019 NCAA indoor championships and in the hammer throw at the 2019 NCAA outdoor championships, where she finished second in the nation. Reese also earned second-team All-America honors in the discus throw at the 2019 NCAA outdoor championships. She was a five-time NCAA East Region qualifier in her two seasons in Terre Haute and earned the Missouri Valley Conference's Most Outstanding Female Field Athlete in both of her seasons with the Sycamores.

"Indiana State has been awesome for me because they're always so supportive of track and field," Reese reflected recently. "Beyond the track team, I mean the university is supportive of track and field. They've been helping me throughout my college career. Once I graduated, they allowed me to be a volunteer coach and I can continue to pursue opportunities for my professional track career through Indiana State. So it's been very helpful and I'm very appreciative of them."

ISU is how Reese met her future husband as well.

"We just got married in October," she noted. "I haven't really legally changed my name. But socially I'm kinda like Reese-Barnes, just for now, until I'm done with competing."

Most likely, she'll still be competing for a while.

For those who can't resist looking ahead, the 2024 Summer Olympics will take place from July 26 to Aug. 11 in Paris.

France, not Illinois.

Meanwhile, Reese will keep working at Hamilton Center with middle school- and high school-age youngsters on developing different coping skills.

"It's a huge part of what I do because not only am I dealing with other people's emotions and having to help them cope with those," she said, "but I also can take what I'm teaching them and use that on myself as I'm going through stressful situations or preparing for the big meets.

"I love what I do."