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ATHLETE OF THE YEAR - The Shot (Put) Heard Round Riverbank
Garcia Clinches Athlete Of The Year Recognition With Record Toss
6-19 RIV Female AOY1
The hefty weight of wrestling and track and field medals, accompanied by Athlete of the Year recognition by Riverbank High are no burden for the strong frame of Riverbanks Melissa Garcia, the 2013 Riverbank News Female Athlete of the Year. - photo by IKE DODSON/THE NEWS

The concrete platform supporting 2013 Riverbank High graduate Melissa Garcia stretched across a diameter of seven feet on June 9, but inside Edwards Stadium on the University of California, Berkeley campus, Garcia was balanced on pins and needles.

After scratching out of the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters championships on a throw that would have broken the RHS shot put record, Garcia knew the Golden West Invitational at Cal was the last appearance of her Bruin career, the last opportunity to etch her name into school lore.

And she delivered — twice.

Garcia heaved shots to eclipse the school’s top mark on two occasions. She launched a 38 feet, 1 inch record breaker to qualify for the prestigious event finals, where she bested her own school record with a herculean 38-4 to land fourth among some of the best throwers in the state.

It was a dynamic finish for one of the strongest competitors Riverbank has ever seen, the final accolade for The 2013 Riverbank News Female Athlete of the Year.

“Melissa has done whatever it takes to win, and I know how much it meant for her to walk away from Riverbank High without any regrets,” Riverbank coach Monte Wood said. “I felt like doing a backflip when she broke the record.”

Garcia, also an accomplished wrestler, was spectacular on the mat, but saw a promising senior campaign cut short when a devastating injury ruined her looming return trip to the California Interscholastic Federation Girls State Championships.

She was top-12 at state as a junior and undefeated against girls as a senior, but was forced to end her season prematurely after injuring her ribs.

With wrestling over, Garcia concentrated on her exploits for coach Wood and delivered a vigilant routine of work to prepare for the spring season. Her determination led to stunning Trans-Valley League dominance that granted her an undefeated conference title in both the shot put and discus.

It was the third straight undefeated shot put season for Riverbank’s throwing sensation.

“I take a lot of pride from my school, and I really wanted to be that girl who could improve Riverbank’s reputation,” Garcia said. “I left a legend behind for wrestling (she was the first girl to qualify for girls state), but that wasn’t enough for me.

“I wanted to leave with that shot put record.”

Garcia’s dogged pursuit of the 38-foot school record was an intriguing storyline all year. The three-time league champ came within three quarters of an inch when she bested conference throwers at the TVL finals by nearly seven feet, then needed only a 37-1 to claim the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV-V title and aid Riverbank’s DV girls team title a week later. She scratched out of Masters, but fired back against elite competition at Golden West to reach her ultimate goal.

“For a long time I was telling myself that I was almost there,” Garcia said. “I have been working so hard, and it feels amazing to finally reach my goal.”

Coach Wood said Garcia’s devotion to record-breaking mirrored her continual strive to get better and benefit the team.

“She is definitely a driven kid,” Coach Wood said. “She has not had the easiest time in life, but one thing she really wanted was to finish her career with that record.

“She is a kid who has given everything to our team for three years. She does whatever it takes to win.”

Garcia said her passion for excellence in athletics removes the negative aggression she would otherwise be burdened by. It’s a healthy expression for a girl who lost her mother at the age of nine and was thrust into domestic burdens at an early age.

“For a while there I was locked into a big depression,” Garcia admitted. “I didn’t have a mother and I was forced to go to a school where I didn’t like going.

“Instead of playing with Barbie dolls I had to work and get stuff done at home. When I went to school I would put myself down, thinking I would not graduate.”

Garcia said in an effort to find some identity and improve her demeanor, she joined the wrestling team. Success on the mat would give way to success in track and field and she was hooked.

“I had my difficulties like everybody else, but I pulled it off,” Garcia said. “I stuck with it and it makes me a stronger person, a better person.”

The talented athlete will join coach Mary Shea on the Modesto Junior College track and field program next year. She said she also has an opportunity to train in mixed martial arts and Brazilian jiu-jitsu with Modesto Power.