by Scott Kindberg
To Battle, it’s worth the “weight.”
As Battle talks on his cell phone to a reporter from his hometown, he interrupts the conversation briefly to greet an acquaintance.
Avery Johnson, the Crimson Tide’s men’s basketball coach and former NBA point guard.
“He’s the nicest guy in the world,” Battle said.
For the 32-year-old, life in his new home in Tuscaloosa is good. He’s been in the south since last August, trading a banking career in Buffalo for another opportunity to pursue his athletic dreams, which is to find his way back to the top of the United States shot put world. Two dates are circled on his calendar. One this year — the Olympic Trials — is in July. The other is the 2017 World Championships, which will be held in London. Whether he can do one, or both, remains to be seen, but one thing is clear:
To Battle, it’s worth the “weight.”
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A 2001 Jamestown High School graduate, Battle parlayed an outstanding tenure with the Red Raiders and the Chautauqua Striders into a three-time All-American career at Kansas University. From his years in Lawrence, he emerged as one of the premier shot putters in the nation and he made a legitimate bid to earn a spot on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team.
The fact that his bid for his Olympic opportunity fell short of expectations that year — he did not make the finals at the Trials — and finished fifth at the 2009 Outdoor Track and Field Championships, led him to pursue a career outside of athletics, namely at M&T Bank in Buffalo. After six years at the bank, including serving most recently as a retail incentive coordinator, Battle decided that he didn’t want to sit at a desk anymore.
“I just knew, deep down, that this wasn’t what I was put here for,’’ he said.
So, late last summer he moved to Tuscaloosa where he was reunited with Doug Reynolds, the throws coach for the Crimson Tide, who formerly coached at Kansas and recruited Battle to the Lawrence campus more than 10 years before.
“He left me before my senior year (at KU), which we still argue about to this day,’’ Battle said with a laugh.
There’s little debate, though, that Battle is happy about his decision to return to a sport he loves.
“You know, I still feel good,’’ he said. “I achieved some things (earlier in my career) and I did well at times, but I felt I didn’t achieve everything I could have. I need to try and do them and not have any regrets.”
With that in mind, Battle continues to work out at the University of Alabama. He said he remains strong and continues to fine-tune his technique in what he describes as a “two-year plan.”
“In the last month or so, I started to come around,’’ he said. “I’m definitely not in top shape, but it’s starting to come around and I’m beginning to feel like a shot putter again.
“We don’t have a plan to rush. We’ve been trying to take the mindset to do what we need to do. If it comes (in time for the Olympic Trials), it comes at that time.”
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Earlier this month, DICK’S Sporting Goods launched its first Team USA-themed TV and digital advertisements as part of its sponsorship of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The ads are intended to celebrate the journey and sacrifice made by Team USA hopefuls in their pursuit of their Olympic and Paralympic dreams. The athletes featured in the commercial are a small portion of DICK’S roster of nearly 200 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic contenders across 35 sports who are currently employed at 89 stores in 32 states.
Battle is one of those working for the company in Tuscaloosa, allowing him to juggle his work schedule around his training schedule.
“After not throwing for so many years, somebody (at DICK’S) liked me,’’ Battle said.
In tandem with his 20-hour-a-week association at the sporting goods giant, Battle also works in the university’s athletic communications office an additional 10 hours.
“I help the track and field staff with records,’’ he said. “I do research on old track meets and make up a database with performance lists.’’
Wouldn’t it be cool that if some time later this year or next, Battle could add his name to a database that chronicles the achievement of our country’s best?
“I’ll empty the tank,’’ he said. “At least I tried … and I’ll have no regrets.”