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This former cheerleader is aiming to be a ‘world-class star’ in hammer throw

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Liangie Calderon, a Northeastern sophomore, won the Under-20 Puerto Rico championship last summer as a relative newcomer to the ancient sport.

Liangie Calderon had completed her freshman year at Northeastern when she won the Under-20 Puerto Rico national championship in the hammer throw. 

In August she returned to Puerto Rico for the Under-20 Pan American championships, where she finished sixth despite a severe case of food poisoning.

What made these achievements all the more impressive was Calderon’s status as a newcomer to the track and field throwing event. She grew serious about hammer throw as a junior in high school, just two years after being introduced to the sport. It didn’t become her outright priority until she arrived at Northeastern.

“I was a cheerleader in high school,” says Calderon, now a sophomore at Northeastern. “Cheerleading is my first love.”

Liangie Calderon mid hammer throw.
“She definitely has big aspirations,” Northeastern assistant coach Wilfredo de Jesus Elias says of Calderon. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

The footwork she developed from competitive cheering eased her transition to hammer throw, contributing to her rapid climb.

“I think she has enough in the next four to five years to be a world-class star,” says Wilfredo de Jesus Elias, an assistant coach specializing in throws for the women’s and men’s track and field teams at Northeastern. “It’s [about] getting into the echelon where you’re going to be qualifying for the Olympic Games or the World Championships. Where you can go to any meet, make a final and always be in the mix to be among the top eight.”

“I think about how fortunate I am to have the throwing career that I’ve had already,” Calderon says. Video by Cameron Sleeper

The ancient sport — newfound to Calderon — involves an 8.8-pound ball at the end of a steel chain not quite 4 feet long.

Stepping inside a partially enclosed cage, she initiates momentum by swinging the heavy chain overhead a couple of times like a weighted towel. As the ball orbits her with increasing speed its weight spins her four times on the fulcrum of her right heel before she releases it through the cage’s narrow opening into the sky.

As a freshman she quickly rose to No. 7 all-time at Northeastern with a throw of 55.81 meters.

“A lot of people say when you don’t feel anything — when the ball feels like a feather — that’s when you know that it’s going to be a really good throw,” Calderon says. “But sometimes the best ones feel the worst because you’ve fixed something so integral. You haven’t been doing it right for your previous throws so now you feel off a little bit because you finally did it right.”

I think about how fortunate I am to have the throwing career that I’ve had already.

Liangie Calderon, a second-year at Northeastern and winner of the Under-20 Puerto Rico championship

There are so many moving parts that blur together so quickly that Calderon needs to gather herself before each throw.

“She’s very outgoing and super charismatic,” says freshman thrower Catherine Sargent. “But when she’s getting ready, she’ll step away just a little bit. She’ll have a mini-ritual with herself, finding herself.”

The sport that could make a star of Calderon is, for her, a deeply personal exercise. She’s investing in it for many causes — including for herself, for Puerto Rico and for her little brother Jaedin, a former athlete who no longer can compete and inspires her every day.

Liangie Calderon wearing a throwing glove.

‘I do it for both of us’

Calderon was born and raised in Coventry, Rhode Island. Her father had been a shot putter in high school so it was natural for Calderon to try the field events. She took to it quickly, winning the freshman state championship in hammer throw with the help of her high school coach Michael O’Loughlin. But it wasn’t until her junior year that the avocation became her vocation.

It was during that year that her brother’s young career in football ended.

“He got tackled and he fell in a weird way and blood rushed into where his spinal cord opened up and the blood clot formed,” Calderon says. “The next morning I woke him up. I was like, ‘Jaedin, we have to go to school,’ and then I drove myself to school because he was in middle school at that time. 

“And then I got the call. My mom said, ‘We’re taking him to the hospital. He can’t walk.’ That was so heartbreaking to me. And from that day forward so much changed.”

Jaedin uses a wheelchair. The family home has been renovated to provide him access. Their extended family, neighbors and friends have all been supportive.

“Being such an athletic and outgoing kid, it’s been amazing to watch how he took a terrible situation and turned it around,” Calderon says. “My brother is one of the strongest people I know. Most people would never be able to make a full recovery mentally the way he did. I do look up to him because he’s doing well. I’m sorry, I’m all emotional about this topic.”

She squeezes the tears from her eyes as she explains.

“We’re very close,” Calderon says. “Before he got hurt he was a very talented football player. He was going to camps, he was traveling all over the country to play football. And now that he can’t play sports anymore, I guess I do it for both of us. 

“I want to make sure that he knows that his big sister is doing really good things and going somewhere. He’s a big part of why I do the sport and why I want to be so great — because he can’t be great in his own sport that he chose.”

Three international options

“She was tall, she was very coordinated,” de Jesus says of Calderon at the time when he was recruiting her in high school. “She’s very vibrant, very outgoing, and I guess I could characterize her as a character in a good way. She definitely has big aspirations and sometimes she tends to get a little down on herself, but that’s normal for any high-level athlete.”

She was drawn to Northeastern in part by the high-level academics. Calderon is studying chemistry with plans to become a dentist.

De Jesus succeeded in recruiting her twice — initially for Northeastern and then for his native Puerto Rico. Calderon could have represented the Dominican Republic, the home nation of her mother. She could have competed on behalf of USA Track and Field. But she chose to represent Puerto Rico, an opportunity based on the ancestry of her father.

Liangie Calderon preparing to throw a hammer.

“There are two sides of it,” de Jesus says. “My recommendation was that she should go where you can get the opportunity. For a lot of these high-end international meets, having the opportunity to go is almost everything, and if a country is willing to take you, then that goes a long way. 

“And then secondly you should represent a country you feel connected to and you feel like you want to create a bond with. She can speak Spanish really well. From going to Puerto Rico — our Northeastern team was going down there — she got to see the people, meet a lot of the throwers and coaches. She fell in love with the island and with our culture and what we’re about.”

I think she has enough in the next four to five years to be a world-class star.

Wilfredo de Jesus Elias, assistant coach for track & field at Northeastern

She won the under-20 national title last year while throwing 51.79 meters, well below her personal best.

“It’s been a very interesting kind of culture shock,” Calderon says. “The most special thing to me is realizing you don’t have to be authentically Puerto Rican to really love this place that you’re representing.”

Calderon returned to Puerto Rico with de Jesus last August for the Under-20 Pan American Games. Her goal was to medal, based on the high level of her recent training. But the food poisoning hit her the night before the event.

“I was throwing up so many times, I couldn’t eat anything,” she says. “But I was super grateful for my opportunity to compete and I really wanted to show everyone that I was strong and could still throw.”

In an unexpected way, Calderon’s sixth-place finish and willingness to stick it out helped solidify her relationship with the Puerto Rican team and its supporters — the start of what could be a fruitful partnership.

“She very naturally lets the ball do what it wants, which is what you want to do in the hammer throw,” de Jesus says of the orbit that Calderon creates with her throws. “You want to let the ball run around you and you’ve got to stay in the middle and be like the sun. 

“From a coaching perspective it’s nice that she doesn’t really know her upper echelon. It’s very rewarding to see her beat those [milestones] that, to be quite frank, she thought were impossible.”

Liangie Calderon gritting her teeth as she prepares to throw a hammer.

Aiming for 2028

“I felt a little isolated at first,” Sargent says of her arrival as the lone freshman thrower on the Northeastern women’s team. “But Liangie immediately was like, ‘Hey, let’s go do this, let’s go do that.’ She was super supportive.

“It’s a huge team so I’m still learning names and faces. But if I go walking with her, she knows everybody — and she’ll have a good conversation with them and the chemistry is there. She’s just great with people.”

This has been a difficult year for Calderon. She suffered broken bones in her feet in a freak everyday accident, possibly from walking on an uneven surface. She missed most of the indoor season and is now renewing her rhythm for the outdoor competitions. 

Sargent says her teammates are radiating back the support that Calderon has shown for them.

“I am very, very hard on myself,” Calderon says.

But she has learned to apply perspective to her ongoing mission.

“I’m only 19 years old,” she says. “So I think about how fortunate I am to have the throwing career that I’ve had already. There are so many people who wish they could have the career that I’ve had in, what, six years of throwing? 

Headshot of Liangie Calderon wearing a red Northeastern Track & Field t-shirt.

Liangie Calderon

Second-year, Women’s Track and Field

Career Highlights:

Hammer Throw
Weight Throw
Shot Put

“I’ve been lucky in that way to have those experiences — and I’m very grateful to have people who believe in me and guide me and help me with getting these connections and being on these teams and getting to these meats. So when I start to think about myself badly, I look back on all of that and [realize] I should not take it for granted in any way.”

This summer she will return to Puerto Rico to compete in the Olympic trials. Calderon understands that she probably is not ready to earn a place at the Games in Paris.

But in 2028, when the Olympics will be in Los Angeles — there is a goal that may be within her reach.

Ian Thomsen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on X/Twitter @IanatNU.

Photography by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Video by Cam Sleeper/Northeastern University

Design and development by Marin Carroll