That Tumwater High School’s Ty Gilliland is a versatile athlete is obvious just from a scan of the school’s team rosters.
He has played basketball. He was the Olympian’s All-Area punter during football season, also listed on the T-Bird’s roster as a rare combination of defensive lineman and quarterback.
But track and field is where the 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior truly shows his do-anything ability. He’s one of Washington’s best in the shot put, discus and javelin and is nationally-ranked in the hammer throw.
It seems simple.
“He’s a hard worker and he wants to throw far,” says Tumwater throws coach Jordan Stray, a former hammer All-America at the University of Oregon.
But there’s more to it. Shot putters traditionally do resemble football lineman, but javelin throwers tend to be long and lean. The spin required of a hammer thrower isn’t the same as what discus competitors use.
“I love doing all of them,” Gilliland said. “My goal is to place in the top three at state in all four events.”
The hammer isn’t offered by the WIAA, but USATF clubs stage a high school hammer championship at season’s end.
Thus far, Gilliland ranks in the top 10 across all classifications in the shot put (53-6.5) and the discus (164-5). He’s fifth among Class 2A javelin throwers (171-11). His 170-2 PR in the hammer will vault him into the top 10 nationally in the event.
Not bad for a guy who only took up the sport a few years ago after encouragement from his middle school football coach and was far from expert when Stray first got a look at him as a freshman.
“He didn’t know what he was doing,” Stray said with a laugh. “He was releasing the discus backward. But he took all my coaching to heart and make quick progress. Throwing became his thing. Last year, he tried the hammer for the first time and wound up in the top 10 nationally.”
Gilliland echoes his coach’s simple take on his approach to the sport.
“I like to throw stuff far. Coach Stray saw talent in me,” he said. “I’ve got a constant work ethic. I set goals and work to beat them.”
Once he mastered the basics, Gilliland wasted little time reaching some of his goals.
He stood on the podium at 2A state as a freshman, finishing fifth in the discus, saving his best throw of the season, 148-5, for the championship meet.
As a sophomore, he improved upon that, throwing 156-10 and grabbing third place. After a fourth place finish at districts kept him out of the state shot put, Gilliland set aside his disappointment to throw a huge PR of 180-11 in the javelin to reach state, where he finished eighth.
The accomplishment is all the more remarkable given everything that goes into throwing the javelin.
“There’s so much rhythm involved. It’s difficult to master it without getting hurt in the process,” Stray said.
Another challenge to doing all three throwing events in a typical high school meet, beyond juggling different sets of footwork, is the simple logistical fact that the schedule isn’t set up for athletes to try it. The boys shot put and javelin are often scheduled for the same time slot.
A thrower can ask to do two or three attempts out of order in one event, then rush off to the other, or do their three preliminary throws on schedule and hope one of the them holds up for a high placing as they leave to compete in the other without coming back for the finals of the first event.
“Ty seems to enjoy that challenge,” Stray said. “He’s just go-go-go.”
“Time management is key,” Gilliland said. “But, usually the people running the meet are good about cooperating so I can get my throws in.”
Gilliland is being recruited by a number of NCAA Division I universities and has a short list of schools that seem likely to offer a scholarship when the time comes.
Tumwater head coach Tracy Johnson can only think of one former T-Bird who surpassed Gilliland’s ability across a variety of events: Brooke Feldmeier, who competed as a heptathlete and holds every girls school record from 200 through 800 meters, both hurdle races and the high jump.
Feldmeier went on to run middle distance for Ole Miss and Oregon before turning pro.
“Unless he gets injured, Ty will place in all three of his events at state,” said Tumwater head coach Tracy Johnson. “He’s only going to get stronger and faster. His ceiling is way up there.”