Track and field athlete David Pless has bounced around quite a bit through the years as a shot put thrower.
He spent the first 16 years of his life in Buckhead's Brookwood Hills community while attending Holy Innocents’ from kindergarten to seventh grade and Lovett from eighth through 10th grade. Pless finished his high school tenure at the Asheville School in North Carolina.
He proceeded to have a distinguished collegiate career at Bates College in Maine, where he was a three-time NCAA Division III national champion and a 10-time All-American. After graduation in 2013, he lived in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, before returning to Atlanta in November.
Pless lives in Midtown with his fiancee Chrissy Gee.
Upon his return to Georgia, he began training under the guidance of coach Mike Judge, the leader of the Throw1Deep Club based in Marietta. The group, which trains at the Marietta Sixth Grade Academy, has produced immediate results.
Pless has surpassed his career-long throw mark three times in 2019. He threw 20.73 meters at the Don McGarey Invitational in Kennesaw April 27 to win the event. Pless' next top throw was at the Tucson Elite Classic at the University of Arizona May 16, where his mark of 21.06 was second only to reigning Olympic champion Ryan Crouser.
Pless' best throw to date was at the Ashland Summer Series in Ashland, Ohio, in June. His distance of 21.13 meters was about three centimeters beyond the Olympic A standard of 21.10.
“I have known David since he was a freshman in high school,” Judge said. “The last four years, when he has come home to visit his parents, he has trained with me. We would make a lot of technical progress and he would improve. (But) then when he would return to Portland, he wouldn’t retain the technical gains he made while training here. I offered to be David’s coach if he relocated here and gave 100% effort.”
Pless is preparing for the biggest meet of his career, the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships which begin July 25 in Des Moines, Iowa. A top-three finish within the distance standards by Pless at nationals can send him to the IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar, where he would represent the United States.
“It's been going pretty well,” Pless said of his training ahead of nationals. “It’s been my best year since college. (There's) more work to be done, and I have to throw a few feet further if I want to secure a place on the world championship team. With all the adjustments I’ve made, things are moving in the right direction.”
Pless gives credit to Judge as well as his lifting gym, Marietta Barbell, for placing him in this position.
“Mike has helped me tremendously,” he said. “I feel that there’s an adjustment period working with a new coach that takes a year, but my experience with Mike has been tremendous. He’s done some tremendous things with me and the guys I train with his attention to detail and focus during every one of my training sessions. We’ve only been working on one or two things, and every day he’s demanding me to improve and perfect that one thing.”
The area of improvement seems subtle but has produced substantial results in return.
“Before I started working with Mike throwing the shot, the focus was on how fast you can be creating acceleration behind the ball with your body through your hips,” Pless said. “I would rotate and fall away from it trying to swing. Now I’m working on using the ground more effectively to lift the shot and get directly through the ball and finish.
"It's a minute thing, but it's been hard to get all the way over the toe board using the maximum amount of space. Just working on that one thing and doing it every single day throwing into a net and working with bars in drills, I’ve gotten better. My worst meet this year is still better than my best meet last year.”
Judge added that “this past year David has been able to make technical improvements and he has been able to change his competition mentality. He has gotten a lot better at actually competing. Over the past four years, his best throws have always come in practice. This is the first year he has thrown farther in meets than practice.”
Pless also said while most track and field athletes’ peaks may happen in their early 20s, he’s entering his prime as a thrower at age 28.
“All of the accumulation of the years getting stronger working in the weight room and perfecting technique snowballs into itself,” he said. “I’m still seeing rapid improvement.”
That improvement comes with a hard training routine preparing to throw the 16.1-pound shot.
“I have a full-time job as an accounts manager at a startup business with my fiancee, so a normal day in season would be for me to work from 8 a.m. through 3 p.m. and train from 3:30 pm to 9 p.m. in Marietta,” he said. “Each day I spend about two and a half hours throwing and doing plyometric drills.
"We throw various weights including heavier ones in the offseason because it simulates the adrenaline and energy you will have at a meet. I’ll lift in the weight room, doing squats and bench press as well as core work. That will be another two and a half hours in the training day. I’ll also stretch, work on mobility and (work) with a massage therapist afterwards.”
The travel schedule also provides challenges with Pless only spending one week at home over the past two months.
His track career had a unique start as an eighth-grader at Lovett.
“I got cut from the baseball and soccer tryouts.” he said. “I showed up at track and saw that it was a no-cut sport and the throws didn’t require running.”
Pless also found comfort in an individual sport.
“I like it,” he said. “It's tough because I’m hard on myself and blame myself, but know that I can control everything because it's all on me if I do well or not. If I throw farther its because of the work I put in.”
After college graduation, Pless made an ultimate decision on his athletic career.
“There have been a bunch of pivotal things that have led me down this path,” he said. “I was encouraged by my college coaches that I had a real shot of doing this, but it wouldn’t be easy or glamorous but I can throw really far. I was a volunteer assistant coach at the University of San Francisco and thought I was done. In March 2014, Chrissy sat me down said I would be miserable if I hadn’t accomplished what I set out to do. It would haunt me the rest of my life if I didn’t let out a big throw.”
Even through his journey around the country pursuing this career, Atlanta has found a way to bring Pless back home.
“I had great coaches at Lovett who encouraged me and played a big role,” he said. “It was a great program and it's come full circle. There was a thrower at Lovett named Cody Cox that was working with Mike at a camp back when I was in high school. I attended the camp and didn’t take too much from it because I didn’t know what I was doing. I never imagined I would be working with Mike 12 years later, and he would be the guy with the answers to get me to the next level.”
Pless also has an adventurous side. He enjoys the outdoors and even took a cross-country bike ride as a teenager.
“I’ve stayed away from bike riding but still enjoy it,” he said. “We hike a lot as a family. Training is the center of my life, so I only do things that can add to that.”
Pless himself has been a coach for young athletes working as a clinician at the Maximum Velocity Track and Field Academy in Danville, Kentucky, and the Ironwood Thrower Development Camp in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Ironwood features more than 300 throwers and is the largest camp in the United States.
“It's daunting when you first pick up the weight, but the kids get excited when they figure it out and can throw farther,” he said. “It’s a big source of personal pride because its a very objective measurement. If you throw six inches farther, you know you did something correct compared to different sports where there are many factors. It's fun to watch.”
Right now, the focus for Pless and his support team is to compete for the coveted spot in the World Championships.
“It would mean everything,” he said. “This has been an extremely difficult journey with a lot of setbacks and failure. I credit my family for helping me overcome because I’m one of the last older guys that has worked through finishing 15th or 10th at nationals, which has happened to me.
"To represent the United States has been my dream forever. There’s something special about grinding against something and hopefully overcoming it. That would make it much more special. It would prove that I can overcome.”