March 31, 2023 5 min read 7 Comments
Photo courtesy Rob Jerome.
*She uses her passion, throwing sports, to enrich the lives of girls in St. Louis.
*Older Americans, like Myrle, are giving back all over this country.
*More pictures at the end of the story.
By Ray Glier
Myrle Mensey’s track & field achievements are all about upward trajectory. She is ranked No. 1 in the world in the weight throw indoors (W70-74) and finished 2022 outdoors No. 1 in the world in various throwing events.
Mensey holds the world record in the weight throw for women 65-69 and 70-74, and the world record in throws pentathlon (W70-74).
The trajectory of her throws is not all that consumes Mensey, 74. She is trying to change the trajectory of girls in under-served communities in St. Louis, who are surrounded by too much societal despair.
Mensey’s mission is to reorder the lives of as many girls aged 8-18 as she can through her foundation Throwing & Growing. It is a rescue plan, for instance, for the “chubby little girls” who are pulled out of line for the throwing events on their school track team, their heft having stereotyped them as discus throwers or shot putters.
And, of course, that’s not the worst stereotype pinned on these girls, many Black, some white. When people struggle too many times we lose compassion and say, “It’s their fault.” Mensey doesn’t consider where fault lies.
“These girls have been left out of all sorts of opportunities,” Myrle said. “So we introduce them to sewing and gardening and have them meet female entrepreneurs. Throwing and Growing is not just about throwing the shot or the discus. It’s about all kinds of enrichment activities.”
Mentors like Mensey are vital for these girls because opportunity is braced with accountability. She estimates about 100 girls participate in Throwing and Growing programs every year and she tasks them every week.
There is obvious need to put these girls on solid footing, in life, not just in track & field. The marriage rate of Americans aged 25-54 has declined since the early 60s across all groups, but especially for Black women for whom it has halved to less than 40%. Around one-third of Black women aged 25-54 are single with children in the household. Among Black mothers, more than 80% are breadwinners compared to 50% of white mothers, according to a study by Goldman Sachs, an investment bank.
These girls need to provide for their eventual children and, as they succeed, the payoff for society will be immense. From the Goldman Sachs report, “We estimate that confronting the earnings gap for Black women could create 1.2-1.7 million US jobs, and raise the level of annual US GDP by 1.4-2.1% each year, or $300-450 billion in current dollars.”
That is huge change, epic change. Mensey’s generation of Geezer Jocks—white and Black—has been willing to pour themselves into being mentors and doing something about socio-economic stalemate. Every day there are stories about older Americans not sitting idly by with a fatalistic outlook. Your neighbors, my neighbors, age 65 and above, many retired, are not leaving needy white, Black, and Hispanic children to fate. We confront fate.
Mensey’s part in all this is trying to break that unending loop of urban despair by providing a ladder that kids can climb one rung at a time.
In St. Louis, Throwing and Growing has its modest headquarters in two 40-foot containers and uses a professional throwing cage. One container is for storage, the other for exercise equipment and course-work. One container is signed by Olympic Hammer and world-record weight thrower DeAnna Price and upcoming Olympian Javelin thrower Sophia Rivera.
There is room on the property for a garden where the girls learn about growing their own food and healthy eating habits.
In cultivating vegetables in their garden, Myrle is trying to cultivate young minds and make them better prepared for society. She also sees the 8-9-10 year olds as emissaries.
“Their parents can be young, too, and they need some of this knowledge about healthy eating,” Mensey said.
Myrle is an example of what healthy eating can do for someone. The children in her program do not believe her when she tells them she is almost 75. She looks much younger and she can work out alongside them and has the bonafides to back it up.
Once upon a time, she was a sprinter before an Achilles injury pushed her into throwing. Mensey has six World Masters Athletics championships records, 64 U.S. records, and has been a champion in various USA Track & Field throwing events 72 times (with competition).
Myrle does not offer up disquieting stories of young girls caught in the grinder of urban strife. She is more positive than that and talks instead of the uplifting stability of her own family and a caring mom.
Her mom was the remarkable Daisy Edwards.
“She was always telling us ‘You can be anything you want to be’,” Myrle said.
And to prove it, Ms. Edwards entered the Missouri Senior Games one year…at 87.
She went to cheer on her daughter at the 2013 event and ended up as a competitor, one of the great things about state senior games and same-day registration.
“I told her ‘Momma, the record in the shot put is nine feet. I know you can do better than that’,” Mensey recalls telling her mom.
Daisy’s first throw went eight feet. Myrle said, “Momma, you can do better. All you have to do is grunt.”
The next throw went 10 feet.
“I was all over the place excited,” Myrle said. “People said to me ‘We've never seen you so excited’.
“That’s my mother!,” Myrle said.
Daisy Edwards also threw the discus, hammer, weight, and javelin. She competed for five years. Ms. Edwards passed in 2018 at 93. Myrle immortalizes her by wearing a tee shirt to events bearing the cover photo of the newspaper in Columbia, Mo., which shows Daisy competing.
Ms. Edwards still holds the record for W90-94 in shot, discus, javelin, weight, hammer at the Missouri State Senior Games.
Her mother is not the only success story. Mensey estimates between 30-40 girls who have been touched by Throwing and Growing have gone to college for full scholarships in either athletics or academics. Many more are leading productive lives.
Myrle is a lesson for the rest of us. Take your passion, your skills, and project them out into the community. Launch a crusade.... because you can.
Myrle wearing the shirt that honors her mother.
The bright artwork on one of the Throwing & Growing containers.
This is professional. Look at that throwing cage!
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