Latter-day Saint college distance runners have snagged a sizable share of the track and field honors in recent years.
But the early headline at the ongoing 2022 NCAA track and field championships in Eugene, Oregon, was claimed by a Church member who happens to throw things really, really far.
On Thursday, June 9, Brigham Young University’s Ashton Riner took home the Church-sponsored school’s first javelin national title. Her championship-winning throw sailed 58.24 meters — almost a full meter longer than the mark of her nearest rival. The last time a BYU woman won a national field title was when Anna Mosdell claimed the discus event in 1992.
When Riner spoke to the Church News, she was still settling into her new title: “national champ.” “I just feel really good and really blessed,” she said.
A junior from Connell, Washington, Riner went into Thursday’s NCAA final as one of the favorites. She knew she was a target for her fellow competitors. But she managed the pressures and high expectations by practicing “mental self-talk” with her Cougar teammates.
“I knew everyone was chasing me — but I also knew that if I stayed confident I could win.”
Riner said her title-winning javelin throw “actually felt a little off.” But it was more than enough to secure a top spot on the podium — and add her name to the long history of Latter-day Saint track and field athletes.
“I’m super proud of Ashton,” said BYU throws coach Niklas Arrhenius in a BYU release. “I always felt that she had this capacity, so it’s amazing that she’s been able to have this great year, stay healthy and be able to win this championship.”
Becoming an elite javelin thrower requires an equal measure of natural athleticism and disciplined, time-honed technique. So in many ways, the 5-foot-9-inch Riner seems made for the event.
Riner grew up in a large family. Her mother and father, Janae and Wayne Riner, are the parents of eight active children, so there was always some sort of sport or game going on. “We pretty much lived in the gym,” she said.
And her dad, Wayne, was a track and field coach. “So when I was 8 years old, he told me, ‘Ashton, you’re going to throw the javelin.’
“I didn’t know what the javelin was,” she said, laughing, “but I said, ’OK, Dad, sure.’”
A lifelong Latter-day Saint, Riner said she’s blessed to enjoy the support of “Team Riner.” Besides her parents, all of her siblings and plenty of nieces and nephews drove to Eugene, Oregon, to watch Thursday’s final.
Also watching from the stands was her husband, Lane Lunt, who plays tight end for the BYU football team.
Representing BYU — and by extension, the Church — is both a blessing and an honor, said Riner. “As a team, we always pray before we throw — and we’ve asked other teams to come pray with us. Knowing that you are representing your school and your Church is super special.”
A communications disorders major, Riner plans to return to BYU for her senior year and defend her national javelin title. Afterwards, she will be eyeing a spot on a future Olympic team.
“My ultimate goal in life,” she added, “is to one day be the best mom that I can be.”