The pride and joy a mother feels for her children begins immediately after birth. Add to that a stint as ‘Little Mr. Wal-Mart’, two world championship shot put titles, three U.S. indoor championships and now a U.S. Olympian and the smile on the face of Jackie Cantwell is never-ending.
Christian Cantwell, a 1999 Eldon High School graduate, will travel to Beijing, China, this month to represent the United States in the 2008 Summer Olympics throwing the shot put.
This will be the first appearance in the Olympics for Cantwell, but he has been at center stage from a very early age. Christian is the youngest of nine children, including two brothers and twin sisters 16 years his senior.
When Christian was 2, he won the Eldon Pageant title of ‘Little Mr. Wal-Mart’ and when he was 8, he snatched top honors in the junior high school spelling bee. These ‘spotlight’ appearances helped prime him as he continued into the sports venue and made his mark. The Cantwells were not a sports-oriented family, and when Christian brought home a permission slip for his parents to sign allowing him to play football, his mother was adamantly against the idea.
“I told Christian, ‘I am not going to sign that slip and allow you to go out there and get beat on. No way, I’m not signing.’ ”
After further consideration, young Christian’s mother signed the permission slip. “I finally signed it for him, thinking in the back of my mind, he’ll never stick with it, he will quit.”
While moms are not often wrong, this time Jackie Cantwell was. Christian sunk his teeth into the sport and continued on to play in high school as well. “From the time he started playing football, he would say ‘Mom I’m going to play in the NFL someday’ and I would tell him ‘Oh no you’re not.’ He would come right back and say ‘Oh yes I am!’ ”
The passion didn’t end with football. Christian also excelled in basketball and track as well.
“Christian didn’t excel in athletics because of us, he made it in spite of us,” Jacie said. “Neither of us had an interest in any sport, I certainly didn’t know anything about track.”
“When playing football in college didn’t pan out, I told him well just go get a track scholarship. He said ‘Mom, I’m not good enough in track’ and I told him well then get out there and get good enough, because if you want to go to MU, that’s how you’re going to have to go,” Cantwell’s mom recalled.
Track soon became the sport that brought out the fervor in Cantwell. “He was determined to throw, so that’s what he did.” Jackie said. Christian purchased tapes of then prominent John Godina, an Olympic level shot put thrower. “He studied Godina’s technique and form, he would watch those tapes for hours,” Jackie said.
Page 2 of 2 - Christian later became friends with Godina and competed against him on several occasions.
The hard work paid off and it was his abilities in the shot put and discus that got the attention of the University of Missouri track and field program Cantwell accepted a scholarship and a relationship was formed with the Mizzou program that continues today.
During his years at MU, Christian earned seven All-American titles, tying for the most in Mizzou history and was inducted into the Missouri Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007.
“When Christian was in college, he was never satisfied with just winning, he always wanted to break a record. That’s his nature, he is very competitive. He could turn eating popcorn into a competition; let’s see who can eat the most, that’s just the way he is,” the proud mother added. “He gets his competitiveness from me, no matter what, it could be Yahtzee or any board game, I played to win.”
While the honors mounted, Cantwell also had his share of heartaches.
“The NCAA National Championship was something he never won during his college career. He wanted to win one of those in the worst way, and he never won a one.” Jackie explained, “It wasn’t that he didn’t have the ability, I think he just wanted it so bad that his nerves got the best of him. He says no, but I think that was it.”
The Big 12 Championship was the one competition his grandmother, Margaret Cantwell, now 91, was able to attend. His mother and father, Bob also attended as Christian finished in the top three each of his six appearances.
“One of the proudest moments for me was when he took second place in the Big 12 Championship, because just two weeks before he had pulled several ligaments in his throwing hand. It made me proud because he was hurting and he went ahead and threw anyway, it showed great character,” Jackie said. “I told all my kids, be thankful for those moments of disappointment, it builds character.”
After his career at MU, Cantwell continued to throw in the professional arena and by the end of his first year in 2004, he was ranked No. 1 in the world by Track and Field News. That year also brought Christian the biggest disappointment of his career, as he fell just inches shy of seizing a spot on the 2004 Olympic Team bound for Sydney, Australia.
“It was really rough for Christian. If anything could come close to killing his spirit, that was it. I wasn’t sure how he was going to get over that, but he did. It took a good three years, but he did it. It hurt me to see something hurt him so deeply,” Jackie said.
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