Hagan Landry prepares to throw a shot put at the IPC World Para Athletics Championships 2019 Dubai on Nov. 10, 2019 in Dubai, Arab Emirates.
Part of Para track and field athlete Hagan Landry’s pre-competition routine usually includes polishing off an energy drink for a little extra kick before stepping on the field.
He didn’t drink one before his Parapan American Games debut last year in Lima, Peru, however, and that’s a good thing.
“I finished the competition and went up to my coach and said, ‘If I had any caffeine my heart would have exploded,’” said Landry, 25, who competes in F41, the short stature class. “That was the craziest rush I’ve ever felt. Welcome to the big stage.”
It is a stage Landry hopes to own next year when the Paralympic Games are held in Tokyo. It may be a year later than he hoped, but the shot put specialist is determined that in 2021 he will make the U.S. Paralympic Team and be even better after an extra year of both physical and mental preparation.
Landry was competing in cross-country and javelin in high school when he first learned about the Paralympic Games. He competed in Para track and field for the first time in 2013 and a year later attended a training camp at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center in California. That time spent around other elite athletes was enough to show him everything he needed to know about the work required to reach the top level of the sport, and Landry buckled down. By 2015 he was living and training year-round in Chula Vista.
Things weren’t always easy for Landry. He missed out on the 2016 Paralympic team and a few other world and top-level teams over the years, and he says the training group at Chula Vista, including 2016 Olympic shot put gold medalist Ryan Crouser, 2016 Olympian and fellow shot putter Darrell Hill and four-time Paralympic long jump silver medalist Lex Gillette have played big roles in mentoring and helping him during his journey.
So did his closest friends and family, especially his grandmother.
“She was funding a lot of my trips to nationals and keeping me going even when I wanted to stop,” she said. “She made me keep going because she knew I still had a chance to make another team and that I shouldn’t give up. I haven’t told her this yet, but I made a pact with myself that I was going to win a medal at the Paralympic Games for her.”
Landry made the Parapan Am team in 2019, and it was his first time competing in an international event of that scale.
Hence the adrenaline.
Landry handled it just fine. Better than fine, to be exact.
He won the gold medal with a throw of 12.58 meters.
But the adrenaline rush was something he knew he’d need to get under control moving forward. Two months later, he made his World Para Athletics Championships debut in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
“I was warming up and I definitely threw something over the world record on the warmup,” he said. “I was calm as can be. I don’t know what changed in the next 45 minutes but as soon as I got on the track and they introduced us to start the competition I could feel my heart just beating. It wasn’t a bad experience; I was where I wanted to be. The shot put on my neck felt like a feather, as light as can be, but if you’re not patient when the shot put feels that light, you’re going to do everything wrong and blow through all your positioning and just muscle the throw. That’s where it affected me. I became impatient, so patience will definitely be a virtue.”
Despite that, Landry finished fourth overall with a best throw of 13.62 meters. Bobirjon Omonov of Uzbekistan won gold with a throw of 14.03 meters, followed by Germany’s Niko Kapel’s 13.87 and Great Britain’s Kyron Duke’s 13.82-meter throw. It was close to a medal in a tight competition but it’s also his proudest moment of last season, thanks to a conversation with two-time Olympic long jump medalist Brittney Reese.
“I had a talk with her and she said even she’s fallen short and left the Olympics and world championships without a medal, and she pointed out my biggest lesson which was that I was on the biggest stage I’ve ever been on at the world championships, and instead of folding under the pressure I still capitalized, regardless of how I felt,” he said. “I was the best me I could be on that day and threw a personal best that day. She said, ‘If you can do that, you still had a great meet, medal or not.’ That was my biggest victory of 2019 right there.”
With his increased visibility on the world stage, Landry is learning to embrace his position and his platform. When people from his past started reaching out last year and telling him how much his success and positivity inspired them he realized he had the opportunity to motivate others and to do good in the world. He hopes to one day soon start a foundation that will help build schools and educate children in Ghana, which he said would be the greatest accomplishment of his life, Paralympic medal or not.
That Paralympic medal would certainly be nice, though, and it’s a goal toward which Landry plans to work harder than ever over the next 16 months.
“The way I look at it is it’s more time to get stronger and better,” he said. “I want everyone I compete against to be at their very best. Niko Kappel and the rivalry we have, and British competitor Kyron Duke, I want us to be at our best shape possible going into these Games because without a doubt it could be the best shot put competition of all time in our category. With the extra year, once quarantine is lifted and everything’s back to normal it will definitely give us a lot more time to be at that point.”