Shot Putter Simon Dixon and the Art of Adaptation

When UChicago first-year and champion shot putter Simon Dixon dislocated his throwing shoulder in 2020, he had a simple, if unorthodox, solution—use the other arm.

By Blair Penn

At 6’2” and 265 pounds, UChicago first-year shot putter Simon Dixon might be easy to spot strolling on the quad, but his unique story and accomplishments after only one season of UChicago indoor track and field are more difficult to discern. In just his freshman season of indoor track, Dixon was a DIII All-American in the shot put, placed third at the NCAA DIII National Championship, was US Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-Region in the indoor shot put, was named UAA Athlete of the Week four times (January 9, February 13, February 20, and March 13), and was the UAA champion after throwing for 17.20 meters.

To put a throw like that into perspective, a throw of 17.20 meters isn’t just big time in DIII; it would be a more than respectable throw at a DI level. The throw put Dixon right on par, or even above, shot putters from schools like Auburn University, University of Tennessee, or Clemson University.

Dixon hails from Magalia, California but went to high school in Paradise, a small town in the mountains of California. In high school, he was involved in athletics besides track and field and had a stint playing on his school’s football team. He decided to leave the team in his junior year because, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, he did not feel like an accepted member of the team.

I came out as LGBT in January of my junior year, and the team didn’t directly give me a hard time about it, but they would say a lot of homophobic things,” Dixon said.

Dixon said the culture of track and field has been a more accepting place for him. “In the world of throwing, I feel pretty well-respected. It could be because the world of throwing [involves] a different type of meathead-ery than football,” he said. “The team here is super accepting.”

Before becoming a committed track athlete, Dixon casually ran in middle school and even tried out for the high school long distance team. “I found out that an eight minute mile time wasn’t exactly competitive, so I decided to listen to what the throwers on the team were saying and give the shot put a try,” he said. Dixon wasn’t very good at the shot put in his freshman year, but it gave him motivation to get stronger and improve his technique for the next year.

One of the things that makes Dixon’s shot put career so extraordinary—besides the fact that he is a freshman who is already at the top of DIII shot put—is the setback he endured that made him switch from throwing as a righty to a lefty.

Dixon took up wrestling in his sophomore year of high school. In 2020, he dislocated his right elbow in a match, causing him to wear a brace for a few months and leaving his right arm weakened for over a year afterwards. Dixon wanted to compete for track in the spring but knew his right arm would not be healed in time for the season, so he decided to start throwing with his left.

 “It was a difficult transition to make. It felt like I was trying to write with my non-dominant arm with the intention of writing full essays,” Dixon said. Nonetheless, he was determined to have a better sophomore track season compared to his freshman one; after a few months of training, his left arm surpassed where he was with his right.

Dixon says he feels that he has lost some throwing utility by using his left arm, but he has no plans to change back to his right arm because of how well he has been competing. As he puts it: “I think I would be throwing further if I hadn’t injured my right arm, but I can’t go back and change the past. I just got to thug it out.”

In reflecting on his first season as a member of the UChicago track team, Dixon said, “I couldn’t have been happier with how my season’s gone! I steadily improved during preseason training and during the indoor season and loved the feeling of competing at the collegiate level.”

Dixon said his proudest moment was getting a podium finish at nationals, which felt like a huge weight off his back, especially because he had faced some nerves that hurt his performance in high school. “During my junior and senior years of high school, I choked at the last meets of both seasons and threw well below my personal records at the time,” he said. During his first season for the Maroons, he was able to put those demons to rest.

Dixon has improved a lot as an athlete and has upped his mental game since then. “I was worried the same thing would happen at [nationals] this year, but I performed excellently, and squeezed out the third furthest throw…of my life,” he said.

Dixon credits a lot of his success to assistant track and field coach Nicole Murphy, a UChicago alum who, during her shot put career, was an All-American (highlighted by a second-place finish nationally), a seven-time UAA champion, and held the conference records for both indoor and outdoor shot put.

“Coach Murphy has been an incredible resource. There are a lot of throwers practicing at once, so she has to move around and cover a lot of ground with a lot of people, but she is a super effective coach,” Dixon said. “The drills she assigns to me, the technical advice she gives, and her analysis of my throws has helped me progress so much in the throws much more than I did during high school or over the summer…I’m grateful to be training and competing with her.” 

Dixon also appreciates the warmth and support he’s received from his teammates during his time at UChicago. “I was kind of worried about making friends when I first got to college, and the throwers really helped me ease into college life,” he said. “We’re all varying degrees of silly which is, in my view, a perfect environment. I am super tight with the throws squad, and, of course, I’ve made a lot of friends on the broader track team too.”

Outside of track, Dixon says, “I like to think I’m something of a goofy person outside of the ring or weight room. I can be quite silly at times. I love reading, movies, thrifting, hiking, and fighting games.” Fellow first-year teammate Michael Nelson, who throws discus, javelin, and hammer, described him: “He’s such a big teddy bear. He has a lot of energy and loves spending time with his friends.”

Dixon has big throwing goals that he has set for the rest of his time at UChicago. He aspires to break the school record in shot put, weight throw, hammer throw, and discus, and claim first at shot put at nationals next year. His ultimate goal is to break 20 meters in the shot put, which would place him at the top of DI–level shot put competition. 

Dixon’s intensity and love of throwing match his ambition and equip him well for the grueling lifestyle of throwing at UChicago. Practice at UChicago while in-season is usually five days a week, along with three lifting sessions. Dixon competes in three events during the spring season: hammer, discus, and shot put. This is common among members of the throws squad, who often train in two events each practice.

“At practice, Simon is really dedicated and a super hard worker, but he also is lighthearted and jovial. He is always fun to have around,” fourth-year teammate Ella Cornwell said.

Practice begins with a warmup before Murphy assigns members of the team different drills to work. “Some days will be more technique-oriented, while other days are all about intensity and getting power behind a throw,” Dixon said. In the spring, throwers practice their events outside for around two hours, followed by lifting weights in the Henry Crown Field House for another hour or so.

The team lifts three days a week and incorporates compound movements like squats and bench presses, as well as more complex lifts. Dixon’s highest lifts to date are a 520 pound squat and a 360 pound bench press.

Over the summer, Dixon prepared himself for the college track season by focusing on building strength. “I lifted very frequently and intensely and ate just about as much as I could to put on size,” he said. 

Dixon’s advice to fellow athletes is simple. “No matter what else you do, consistency is key. Make sure you’re practicing and conditioning for your sport regularly,” he said. “A lot of times it felt like I was just banging my head against the wall trying to improve with my left arm, but by diligently following my routine, I eventually got the results I was looking for.”