May 16, 2012
By Bill Ford
CARBONDALE,Ill. - Kim Fortney is lucky Southern Illinois throws coach John Smith listened to his high school friend.
The friend, Troy Sweeney, wouldn't leave Smith alone about a girl playing for a summer softball team Sweeney helped coach.
"He sent me e-mails about Kim for about three years," Smith said. "He kept saying, `You could make a good thrower out of her.'"
Truth be told, Fortney hadn't thought much about being a collegiate thrower. A four-sport athlete at Arcola High School, Fortney considered softball to be her top sport.
"I had played softball ever since I can remember," Fortney said. "Track was kind of just a side thing. Discus was my main event, but I don't think I threw it more than once a week."
Fortney received minimal interest from schools to play softball and she briefly considered attending Eastern Illinois to play rugby before Smith began to recruit her. Although her high school track marks weren't overly impressive, Smith took a chance and offered Fortney a walk-on spot at SIU.
"I didn't really know what I wanted to do," Fortney said. "Coach Smith told me all the things SIU throwers had accomplished and all of the championships they had won. He told me all that stuff, and I fell in love with it."
A gamble by both Smith and Fortney has paid off. Fortney has blossomed into a key member of the SIU women's throws contingent. She routinely scores points for the Salukis in conference meets and is the only athlete in school history to rank in the top 10 in the shot put, hammer throw, discus and javelin.
"I told her father, `If she works hard and scores conference points, I'll reward her with scholarship money," Smith said. "She is darn-near a full-ride athlete now.'"
Fortney, who only threw the shot put farther than 30 feet once in high school, has thrived in the collegiate throwing environment. Whereas she split her time between several sports in high school, she has improved by leaps and bounds now that she is focused on track and field alone.
Smith Said Fortney's work ethic is a by-product of her upbringing on a dairy farm.
"She's not afraid to work," Smith said. "Doing my training is a heck of a lot easier than working on the farm."
The junior recorded a personal-best in the shot put of 52-00.50 at the Drake Relays this season, an astounding 22-foot improvement on her best high school mark.
Although she hasn't had many opportunities to pick up wins because of having such talented teammates, Smith said Fortney's time is coming.