Before she was a junior, Jackson senior Lillian Gibbs never once threw a javelin, discus or shot put, but now she will be doing so at the Division-I level this time next school year.
Gibbs, who is a two-time state qualifier in both javelin and discus, was discovered for her talents as a thrower by her former basketball coach Adam Stoneking in practice one day when she was a sophomore. Lillian was told to pass one of her teammates the ball down the court, and she did more than just that.
“My job was to literally just inbound the ball and get it to the other end of the court as fast as I could because we had to score a 3-pointer in three seconds,” Gibbs recalled. “I took the ball and just chucked it, and I hit the backboard on the other side. I was like, ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to throw it that far.’”
This led Stoneking to talk with Jackson’s track and field coaching staff about Gibbs’ abilities as a thrower, which led the staff to try and recruit her that school year. However, at the time, Lillian had aspirations to be the soccer team’s goalkeeper.
Even though Gibbs didn’t do track that season, one year later she made the decision right before the spring season to indeed join the team. Lillian said it felt like she wasn’t getting the playing time she desired with the soccer team, so she decided to see how throwing would go.
In her very first meet at the Notre Dame Frozen Invitational, Gibbs recorded a throw of 30 meters in the javelin. Luckily for her, a javelin thrower from the Southeast Missouri State track and field team, Josiah Kilgore (Poplar Bluff alumni), was there and asked Lillian if she had ever thrown before.
Kilgore informed Gibbs that he did training for throwers as a side hustle, so she decided to take him up on the offer, which was when she, of course, started focusing on her technique and drastically improved.
“Before that I’d just be like, ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing,’” Gibbs laughed. “I would watch YouTube videos, so then I’d just go out and throw the javelin. It wasn’t good form or anything, but Josiah really helped me, and he was always so encouraging. I’m really thankful for him because he really helped me a lot.”
Gibbs’ current personal record in the javelin throw is now 45.02 meters, while her PR in discus is 36.07. Lillian won the individual Class 5 Sectional 1 Championship in both events, which makes her a two-time sectional champion in discus.
Javelin is her main event, though, and the one that led colleges from all across the Midwest to recruit her. Normally athletes from Southeast Missouri who end up at the Division-I level like Kilgore go to SEMO, but a school that’s nearly four hours away in Terre Haute, Indiana, was able to recruit and land a thrower like Gibbs.
“It was the best opportunity for me, and it was a good distance away from home,” she said. “I didn’t want to stay right at home — I wanted to be a little bit away but close enough to where I could come back home. Indiana State was that perfect in-between range.
“I’m super excited to be a part of the team up there — everyone that I’ve met up there is so nice,” she said. “The coach is great and super encouraging, and he was so helpful through the whole signing process and everything because I didn’t know what I was doing. He was there to walk me along with what I was supposed to do.”
Upon her visit of Indiana State’s campus, Lillian described that the program’s facilities were “so nice and looked really good.” Gibbs also noted that Indiana State has a very good nursing program, which she is pursuing because it was the same field her mother Amy was in.
Not only is Gibbs one of the top javelin throwers in the state of Missouri, but she’s also ranked in the top 10 amongst all high school throwers across the nation. Arguably the biggest factor in Lillian’s success would have to be her personal drive to be great as she’s always aspired to be a college athlete.
While Gibbs will mainly focus on javelin in college, she will also compete in events like shot put and the hammer throw while at Indiana State, especially during the indoor track season. Lillian, of course, enjoys doing these other events, but she will also compete in them because athletes simply can’t throw the javelin every day.
“It’s too hard on your body to throw it every day, so these other events give me a way to have a break from throwing the javelin every day,” Gibbs said. “In practice, I usually just throw discus. I only throw javelin like once a week.”
Outside of soccer and basketball, Lillian also played softball, which was actually when she discovered she had quite an arm. Gibbs did so during recreational league softball “tryouts” when coaches would hit her the ball in the outfield, where they would test how far players could throw the ball in.
To no one’s surprise now, of course, Lillian recalled, ‘Hey, I can kind of throw that far!’ Gibbs said she didn’t think anything of it, though, as she never thought about being a thrower or it being a sport she wanted to pursue.
What Gibbs enjoys the most about track and field is that she is able to actually track her performance of how well she’s improving because her throws are measured. For example, Lillian said in a sport like basketball she “can feel like she’s shooting better than I did last year,” but she actually sees how much further she’s throwing in javelin or discus for track by the numbers.
“Last year, I was throwing 35 [meter] — this year I’m throwing 40,” Gibbs said. “You can see the difference, and it’s so satisfying to be able to see the growth. That’s what I really love about it because there’s so much you can look at and improve.”
In preparation for being a college athlete, Lillian said she has been working out a lot more than usual. Gibbs follows several of her future teammates on Instagram, where she’ll see videos of them working out or doing events and see how strong each of them are.
“They’re really strong, and I’m currently not that strong,” she laughed. “It’s a little nerve wracking because I’m going to get there, and I don’t know what I’m doing. Compared to these athletes, I am like really, really weak. They’re over here squatting hundreds of pounds, and I’m like, ‘Uhm, I can do like half of that.’”
Another reason why Gibbs has pushed herself over the past two years is because of the competition level in Southeast Missouri as she described it as a track-heavy area. Lillian said fellow area athletes indeed motivate her even though one is usually competing against themselves as a thrower.
“Sometimes that’s not always easy to do because I’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah, I want to beat my throw from last weekend,’” she explained. “It’s easier being like, ‘Oh yeah, I want to beat the person who was top at the meet,’ or if we’re closely ranked, ‘I want to throw further than this person.’
“It also helps that we can be friendly with each other. Whenever we’re about to throw, I’ll be talking with another girl, and she’s my competition. It doesn’t feel like we’re in competition — we’re just out there throwing and doing what we love.”