Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Media
Canadian Olympic hammer thrower Jillian Weir has never lived on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, but she’s certainly proud of her heritage.
Weir’s family has a diverse background, she noted during a recent interview with Total Sports.
Her father Robert Weir – a three-time Olympian – is British and his parents are Jamaican while her mother Kim Armstrong is Canadian with generations of women before her coming from the Mohawk territory.
“That’s where my Indigenous background comes from,” Weir remarked, adding that her great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother are Mohawk. “It’s from my mom’s side.”
One of Weir’s middle names, Lydia, comes from her great-great-grandmother Lydia Brandt, a former Tyendinaga resident.
“My great-grandmother and my great-great-grandmother were born and raised and lived there in Tyendinaga their whole lives,” Weir said.
Weir is a registered member with Tyendinaga Territory and Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, “but I have never lived in Ontario.” She grew up in California and later trained and lived in Alberta. Her mother grew up in Napanee and her grandparents later moved to Perth. She still has family in the Kingston area.
Weir, now 28, embraces her Mohawk heritage and always enjoyed learning about it from her grandparents and other family members.
“I feel like that instilled some strength in me and some resilience so I’m definitely proud to represent the Mohawk nation and it’s a privilege to be able to compete at the Olympics and have some representation for our Tribe on the world stage,” Weir said.
Her dad, Robert Weir, competed in the hammer throw at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He went on to play five seasons in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger Cats, Ottawa Rough Riders and Toronto Argonauts.
During his time in Canada he met Jillian’s mother. He returned to the Olympics in 1996 and 2000 to compete in discus.
“Growing up I knew my dad was an athlete, I knew he was a track coach and I spent lots of time around track and field and watching him coach and watching him compete,” Weir said. “I’ve got vague memories of my childhood. In 1996 I was only three-years-old, but our family did go to watch my dad compete in the Olympics. In 2000, I was a little bit older, seven at the time, and same thing, our family was able to go and watch my dad compete.
“I have just always been around track and field and there was never a question in my mind that I wanted to pursue athletics at its highest level.”
Funny enough, Weir’s father never taught her the hammer throw. She played water polo, basketball, softball and even joined her middle school wrestling team just because her brother did.
“In school I wasn’t one of the biggest or strongest kids, I would say I was on the smaller side. Typically track and field throwers are known to be these big, strong athletes,” Weir said. “My dad never looked at me when I was younger and thought ‘Okay, she’s going to be a hammer thrower.’ He just encouraged me to play all different sports and no matter what he was happy for me to be active.”
Weir excelled in shot put and discus in high school and earned a scholarship to the University of Oregon. That’s where she learned the hammer throw.
“My dad looks back now and says ‘Well, if I knew you’d be this good, I wish I would’ve taught you when you were younger,’” she said. “My first Canadian national team was at the World Junior Championships and I competed in the shot put so my first international competition experience wasn’t even in the hammer throw. The hammer came later and I just got better and better and eventually I surpassed the level I was at in the shot put and discus and ended up focusing on the hammer.”
Weir has now competed at several big events, including world championships, Pan-Am Games and Commonwealth Games.
She was hoping to make an impression and leave her mark at the 2017 World Championships in London, but it didn’t go her way. She didn’t register a legal throw.
“That was tough because I got there and I was excited to compete and be at one of my first major global competitions and I didn’t end up getting a mark,” Weir said. “That was tough, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to continue to improve.”
Her personal-best throw so far is 72.50 metres. The hammer weighs 8.8 pounds.
Weir trained for the Olympics at the University of Missouri, where her dad is a coach and she is volunteer coach.
Weir competed in Tokyo in the women’s hammer throw qualification round on Aug. 1 and placed 11th win a best attempt of 68.68 metres. She didn’t advance to the final round, but was proud to be representing the Mohawk territory.
“I think representation is huge in any way so to be I think Canada’s first Indigenous hammer thrower competing at the Olympics, that in itself I want to show young Indigenous youth that you can do anything,” Weir said.
“As long as you keep putting your best foot forward and you work hard, you can reach the Olympic stage or reach the highest level of whatever you want to do whether that’s in sports or education or you pick a different career path. It means a lot to be able to represent the Mohawks and the Tyendinaga Territory at the Olympics.”