It was love at first sight, Darbi Dobson says now.
Back in middle school, when the East Valley junior first picked up a 6-pound steel ball and tried the shot put, Dobson knew she wanted to put her energy into mastering the track and field event.
“It felt to me the way a great shot in golf must feel,” she said. “It just felt so right. I loved it and knew I wanted to keep doing it.”
The one-time volleyball player decided to focus on the shot put and discus. Thus far, it’s been an ideal fit with her passion for her work in 4H.
“I do a lot of field work with the 4H program and that keeps me strong in the upper body,” she said. “I do that over the summer and I think it helps me prepare for the season.”
In middle school, Dobson regularly threw the 6-pound shot more than 30 feet and the lighter discus 130.
As a sophomore last spring, Dobson placed fifth at the state Class 2A championships, throwing an 8-pound shot a quarter inch beyond 37 feet. And she placed 12th in the discus with a throw of 104-1.
As a junior, she’s already thrown the shot 36 feet – the best mark in her classification in Eastern Washington and the fourth-best overall in the state.
Of the top 10 throws in Class 2A this season, nine are from Western Washington, including the state’s pace-setter, a 41-8½ effort by last year’s state runner-up, Gina Flint of Squalicum High in Bellingham.
“I look at the way (Dobson is) throwing the shot right now and I get excited about what she can do once it warms up and things start to really click for her,” East Valley girls track and field coach Shane Toy said. “She’s right there with the best throwers in the area in any classification.
“I would say the kids from the other side of the state are ahead right now because I think they’ve had better weather to train in. They haven’t had to deal with snow and cold the way we have.”
Dobson, however, doesn’t feel held back by the cold.
“It doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I think I’ve always done pretty well competing in the cold.”
Dobson has thrown exceptionally well in practice and Toy expects her to substantially improve on her career best from a year ago and lead a sizeable East Valley contingent through the Eastern Regional meet and on to state.
Jessica Brady is throwing 34 feet in practice, he said – a mark that would be second only to Dobson once she does it in a meet.
In the discus, East Valley’s Elisha Allred, a sophomore, has thrown 116-5, the second-best mark in the state this season. Dobson’s 105-5 is sixth-best and the only other mark in the top 10 from east of the Cascades. Seniors Hayley Garrahan and Ashley Reynolds have thrown 97-4 and 90-2, respectively.
In the javelin, first-year thrower Jennifer Merrell already has posted a mark of 102-5.
“We have a great group of throwers this year and our throws coach, Chuck Dunning, has done a great job with them,” Toy said. “We’re going to be tough to beat in the shot and the discus and I think we’ll be competitive in the javelin, even though Jamie Weisner from Clarkston is far and away the best in the league in that event.”
In the shot put and the discus, it’s common for competitors to make big jumps in their personal best marks.
“Last year I was throwing in the 34-feet area until the Mooberry meet,” Dobson said. “Then I threw 37 feet. It goes like that. It just all comes together and you have a great throw and then you know, mentally, that you can keep doing it.”
Dobson expects to see a similar jump this year and has her eyes set on throwing more than 40 feet in the shot put and breaking out in the discus with a throw of at least 130.
“It’s funny,” Dobson laughs. “For the longest time the discus was my weakest event. But I kept working at it and working at it and now, it may be my best event.”
But Dobson doesn’t have her sights set on just breaking through with those marks this year. She’s thinking in much longer terms.
“My goal is to throw well enough that I can get a college scholarship,” she said. “It used to be that I wanted to go to school to become a veterinarian, but I’ve kind of changed my mind on that one. Right now, I just know that I want to study to go into the medical field in some capacity. I can see going into nursing, but I’m just not sure yet.”
Toy likes to compare coaching track to putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
“You work with one piece and you figure out where it goes, and then you add another piece,” he explains. “Pretty soon, you get a good picture of what you’re trying to do.”
“I agree with that completely,” Dobson said. “And I think we have a pretty good picture of what we can accomplish.”