Jayla Bynum walked through the front circle and turned to look at the sector, visualizing where she wanted to put her shot.

After a deep breath, she lined up her feet at the back of the circle. With the shot in position on her shoulder, she stepped, spun, and tossed. She landed in the middle of the circle as the words “stay patient” ran through her mind.

She didn’t think it went very far at first. Her momentum pushed her nearly out of the circle and onto the toe board, but she fought to stay in to ensure the throw would count. When the shot landed, that’s when it clicked for her — she knew it was close to her personal best, she thought. Only it wasn’t just close, it precisely tied it.

Bynum, a graduate shot put thrower for Maryland track and field, finished as the top collegiate thrower at the Hokie Invite on Jan. 20 and tied her indoor personal best with a 15.70 meter attempt. In that moment, gratitude overtook her.

In October while running hurdles during practice, Bynum had a freak accident. She failed to clear one of the hurdles and snapped her ankle in both directions, leaving her with a lateral and an anterior ankle injury.

Bynum was in and out of treatment for three months. She got an MRI in early December and found herself at a crossroads. She could either get a PRP injection, which would have kept her out for longer than she wanted, or she could wear a boot and take time off from throwing over winter break. Bynum chose the latter.

The graduate student went through every treatment available to her. She spent countless days in the athletic training room with the Terps’ trainer, Sabra Metheney, to be able to compete in her final collegiate season.

“She is probably the biggest reason why I’m back where I’m at,” Bynum said. “When I came back, and I voiced to her my concerns, she never dismissed me, she was always on top of it. And even to this day she continues to work with me day in and day out to help me stay on top. She was a big part of my support system.”

[Olympian, Maryland track coach Andrew Valmon hopes his runners reach same heights he did]

Bynum’s first full week of training and structure with throws coach Tyler Burdorff was the week leading up to the Hokie Invitational.

“Really our goals going into that was just to keep taking steps forward and seeing where we were at,” Burdorff said. “We set the bar low.”

She exceeded everyone’s expectations.

“It was an accumulation of all the work we put in the past few months to get me back to where I was at and ready to compete at a high level that weekend,” Bynum said.

That accomplishment was more than just a product of the hard work she put in over recent months. It started nearly a decade ago.

Bynum accidentally stumbled into shot put when she was in middle school. In seventh grade, she played basketball and volleyball. Her school awarded a medal to any student-athlete who played three sports, which Bynum coveted.

So she tried track and field. She hated it. She quit after the first week.

Bynum gave it another chance the following year. In her first meet, she came within a foot of the school’s record shot put record.

“It was like a joke, a running joke at the time,” Bynum said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re gonna get it.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not gonna get it.’And then by the end of that year, I had broke the school record by like a few feet.”

She progressed in high school, becoming a seven-time all-state honoree and winning the 2018 Kansas 6A shot put state championship. Bynum committed to Indiana State.

The hurdle that injured Bynum’s ankle wasn’t the first obstacle she had to overcome. During her junior season, she abruptly and unexpectedly lost her aunt to COVID-19.

[With injuries behind her, Maryland track’s Anna Coffin is focused on championships]

Coming from a close-knit family, it was difficult for Bynum to adjust to being 10 hours away from her family grieving someone who she called “the glue that kept them all together.”

“She’s like a mother figure to me,” Bynum said. “My mom grew up without a mom. So like, it takes a village. She was a really important part of my village.”

Bynum then found herself in another unique situation. She was able to graduate within three years. With the opportunity to play in the Big Ten, a more competitive conference — and a chance for a fresh start after personal loss — Bynum transferred to Maryland with two years of eligibility remaining.

“It was kind of just divine timing, it all fell into place how it was supposed to be,” Bynum said.

Bynum knows firsthand how things can change instantly, on and off the track. She plans to take her final season one step at a time and trusts it will come together as it’s supposed to.

“My attitude going into this last season is understanding and knowing that I can have all these different plans but just enjoy the moment, enjoy the ride and be adaptable to whatever is thrown at me in life, track, school, family, everything,” Bynum said.

And she has a support system behind her in Metheney, who Bynum still regularly works with to strengthen her still-healing ankle , as well as Burdorff and other coaches and teammates.

Bynum’s eyeing an NCAA tournament finals appearance in her graduate season.

“I want to just see her continue to walk that path,” Burdorff said. “She took a really big step in terms of how far she threw and how consistently far she threw last year and so, doing whatever we can do to take another big step this year.”

(Photo courtesy of Maryland athletics)