Schwartz uses mindfulness to focus on throwing

Junior thrower Willie Schwartz holds the second-best hammer throw and weight throw in program history. Photo courtesy of VCU Athletics

Joe Dodson, Contributing Writer

When he was accepted to VCU as a student, junior thrower Willie Schwartz wanted to continue his athletic career at the next level. He talked with Ethan Tussing, the throwing coach, to see if he could walk on.

Schwartz made the team his freshman year, but he wasn’t on scholarship. He had to pay for college himself. 

“The main thing that I’m proud of since I got to VCU is that I came in as a walk-on. I didn’t have money, I just had power,” Schwartz said. “Once I got here, I put in work on top of work. I would make sure no one would outwork me.” 

He did put in work, and although his coach tried not to get his hopes up, Schwartz was committed to earning a scholarship. 

After posting the second-best weight throw and hammer throw during his sophomore season, Schwartz was rewarded. At the track and field end-of-season meeting, Schwartz accomplished his goal: he was put on scholarship. 

‘No room for error’

Schwartz has always been strong, and he relied on his power over technique in middle and high school. That changed when he came to VCU.

“Once I got to VCU, I noticed how behind I was,” Schwartz said. “I almost got kicked off the team once because I wasn’t taking it seriously enough. That was a blessing.” 

He has always had a chip on his shoulder. Making the state tournament six times and never winning — and having to deal with all the stresses of being a student-athlete while worrying about how he would pay for four years of college — was frustrating.  

“It was really daunting,” Schwartz said. “I was rooming with two other people on scholarship, and they had a little more room to give if they messed up. I needed to be on my guard, I really needed to try. There was no room for error.” 

Schwartz played football from age five until his last football game, the VHSCA all-star game of his senior year. He said his strength in field sports comes primarily from the athleticism he gained from football.

Tussing was impressed with his thrower’s commitment to getting better. Schwartz spent his summer driving from his home in Powhatan to Richmond to do optional throwing work with Tussing.  

“He was driving an hour and a half to come train and throw,” Tussing said. “Where people that are here on campus wouldn’t come to throw, he is putting in that extra effort, and that’s the stuff I’m proud of.” 

Mindfulness

When Schwartz isn’t at the track or in the gym, he spends his time trying to be more mindful. He does this by studying Eastern philosophy and religion. 

“The pseudo-scientific sphere of intelligence is what I’m more interested in than the grounded sciences,” Schwartz said. 

Schwartz struggled with anxiety when he arrived at VCU but found help by studying mindfulness. 

“I was stuck in my head,” said Schwartz. “That’s why I migrated to Eastern philosophies. They were all about mindfulness. Being here, not in the past or the future, because if you’re not here you miss out.” 

His mindfulness has helped him in his athletic career as well — the hammer and weight throws have taught him patience. He views the events like a dance, balancing weight and counterweight. Schwartz credits Tussing for not only teaching him skills in the field but life skills, too.

“Coach Tussing has been one of the most influential people in my life,” Schwartz said. “We talk about things like Eastern philosophy and how that correlates to regular life.” 

Tussing describes his coaching style as “Yoda-esque.” He frequently quotes movies like “The Matrix” during practice. Tussing and Schwartz found many things in common. 

“We have this bond not just as coach and thrower,” Tussing said, “but also a philosophical growth, sort of Socrates and Plato sort of situation.”  

Schwartz says his overarching goal is to be the best he can be, and make sure everyone who has had a positive impact on him is happy. Schwartz understands that his interest in things like philosophy and religion aren’t typical for a collegiate student-athlete. 

“I’m weird,” Schwartz said. “I have really odd interests compared to the normal 21-year-old athlete.” 

Tussing and Schwartz’s similarities have formed a friendship unlike many coach and player bonds.  

“We’re both individuals,” Tussing said. “I want to be a little different, that’s part of who I am. And Will’s very much that way too.” 

Close to home

Schwartz’s parents grew up in Richmond, and his hometown of Powhatan is 45 minutes away. He said his parents became more interested in sports as a result of his love for competing.

“We weren’t a really sporty family, I just liked it because I had fun,” Schwartz said. “My dad always told me I could do as I pleased as long as I put in the effort, I just took that and ran with it.”

Schwartz decided to pursue VCU despite several D-II and D-III football offers because he wanted to be close to home. 

“The thing that brought me here was the campus,” Schwartz said. “I looked around and it felt homey. It’s near my parents. I had my doubts going in but once I got here, it was just a beautiful place.” 

Schwartz has found a close connection with his teammates that has helped him feel comfortable being himself. 

“They’ve always been there for me,” Schwartz said. “We joke around, and we’ve really gotten to know each other like family. It’s an insult to call them just teammates.”

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