In 2002, Maryland’s Ruth Kura set a program record in the weighted toss with a distance of 20.35 meters at the Armory Collegiate event in New York.

The record would stand untouched for another 14 years until Chioma Onyekwere broke it in 2016, throwing for 21.17 meters at the Big Ten Championship.

And, four years later, that mark was bested again — and in dramatic fashion. Transfer Angel Nkwonta smashed it with an astounding 21.36 meters at the Penn State Invite on Saturday.

For Nkwonta, the record was as good as hers the moment it left her hands.

“That throw specifically felt really good,” she said. “Everything about it felt like something good was going to come out of it. As soon as it released my hands, I knew, ‘Wow, that’s going to be a big throw.’”

[Maryland track and field continues to improve in second meet of the year]

That moment was the culmination of a long journey for Nkwonta — one that meant a new university, a new conference and a new opportunity to break records. A Seattle native, Nkwonta spent the first four years of her undergraduate career at Washington. Competing in the ultra-competitive Pac-12, she shattered the Huskies’ weighted throw record several times in the 2020 season.

But at the end of her senior year, it became clear a change of destination was necessary. Her parents, both Nigerian immigrants, had always been her biggest supporters. From taking Nkwonta to meets to watching live results, they were there for her every step of the way.

But six years ago, they moved to the East Coast where they were three time zones away from their daughter’s meets. Once her biggest supporters, they physically couldn’t see her compete.

They only attended two meets during her time at Washington, a stark contrast from the regular support they were able to show previously. 

So, although it meant leaving behind the life she knew, transferring was a simple choice for Nkwonta. It meant she would no longer be thousands of miles away from her biggest support group.

“I was hesitant to leave Seattle at first because I had all my friends there,” Nkwonta said. Then she realized, “I could make more friends, but my family is over here [in Maryland].”

From a competition standpoint, the move to Maryland made things easier.

“The Pac-12 has four or five of the best throwers in the nation, while the Big 10 has a lot of really good throwers,” Nkwonta said.

But that didn’t mean the move was easy. If anything, the most difficult part of her transition was making friends, especially given the coronavirus pandemic.

“Having to meet or hang out with people and following strict rules — I don’t want to get COVID and risk my chances of competing, so I can’t really do much,” Nkwonta said.

[Angel Nkwonta headlines Maryland track and field’s success in season opener]

However, Maryland provided people who made her transition easier, including throwing coach Travis Coleman.

“He’s super supportive, and he seems to understand my style of throwing really well and what works for me,” Nkwonta said. “He seemed to figure it out before I even figured it.”

Coleman also has a background as a counselor, which he has used to help Nkwonta and other athletes on the team feel more confident in their mindset. In turn, Nkwonta attributes much of her success at Maryland to Coleman.

“He’s not super technical. He’s more of like, ‘Be an athlete and kinda feel what you’re doing,’” Nkwonta said. “He recognizes that I’m already a really good athlete, and I should be able to use my abilities to do what my body can do, which has helped me a lot.”

And with that coaching, the school records came.

In her first meet with Maryland, Nkwonta threw for 20.62 meters, breaking her personal record and bumping her up to second on Maryland’s list at the time. She accomplished the same feat in the shotput, breaking her personal record and grabbing the second-best mark in school history.

However, those records came as a surprise for Nkwonta.

“I felt like I’ve been super inconsistent in my throwing [in the past],” she said. “I knew there was things in there that could go kinda far and break records, but it was kinda hard to believe that I can consistently get better and throw consistent throws.”

Now, it seems like everything is finally clicking for the senior standout, whose weighted throw record not only stands as the best in the program but second in the Big Ten and fourth in the nation this year.

And Nkwonta says she’s not even at her peak.

Even with how good her throw felt, looking at the footage, she thinks it’s obvious there is room for improvement.

With extra emphasis on her speed, Nkwonta believes a distance of 22 meters is possible.

“I know there’s still things I need to work on,” she said, “which is exciting because it shows that I can still get better from where I’m at right now.”