By Amanda Blackman
(May 2018) From throwing a hammer in the Bird’s Nest
stadium in Beijing during the 2008 Summer Olympics to studying to become
a surgeon at CU Anschutz, Loree Thornton is no stranger to pushing
herself to the limits in pursuit of her dreams.
Watching the 1996
Summer Olympics, Thornton knew she wanted to be an Olympian. She just
didn’t know what her sport would be. She imagined competing in the games
and meeting a Russian gymnast. She went so far as to take four years of
Russian in high school.
“I was like, ‘I need to speak Russian so
I can meet him,’” Thornton said with a laugh, “because, you know, I’d
meet him and get married.”
But she didn’t even discover her event until she was in college when her coach suggested she the hammer throw.
was like, ‘Cool what’s that?’” Before that day, Thornton admitted,
she’d never heard of hammer throwing. In track and field, the hammer is a
metal ball that weighs about nine pounds and is attached to a steel
wire. The athlete twirls the ball and releases to fly across the field.
“I think it picked me,” she said.
that moment, Thornton worked toward the Olympics. At Colorado State
University, she trained about four hours a day, ultimately setting a
“I broke the collegiate record – the
farthest-throwing female to throw a hammer of all time,” said Thornton.
“That’s why I think it chose me; I loved it.”
In 2008, she earned
one of three spots on the U.S. hammer throwing team for the Summer
Olympics in Beijing. She described walking into the Bird’s Nest stadium
as a surreal experience. After devoting 10 years to her training, she
was fulfilling a dream.
“You question yourself, you question the
process, and then to walk into a stadium that’s vibrating with energy
wearing USA across your chest is one of the best feelings,” she said. “I
cried when I walked out. I thought, ‘All that work for this moment.’ It
was pretty exciting.”
Connection to Winter Olympics
though Thornton participated in the summer games, she feels a connection
to the Winter Olympics because some former track teammates participate
She most enjoys watching figure skating during
the Winter Olympics. “I love figure skating. It’s really cool to see all
those years of hard work come out so beautiful,” she said. “It’s where
sport meets art.”
After the 2008 Olympics and four more years of
throwing hammers, Thornton retired from competition in 2012 to pursue
another dream: to become a surgeon. Being a doctor had always been on
her mind, but she had doubted her abilities – even after going to the
“I came from a pretty underprivileged background.
Saying you want to be a doctor is on par with saying you want to be an
astronaut. People don’t do that, not people like you,” she said. Going
to the Olympics taught Thornton that any dream, even those that seem
unattainable, can come true with enough hard work and dedication.
A new goal: surgeon
When she heard she had been accepted into CU School of Medicine class of 2020, she cancelled all other school appointments.
“I thought, ‘I got my number one choice – I’m done!’” she said.
to become a surgeon doesn’t require long hours in the gym, but there
are plenty of new challenges. Thornton said people suggest she should
become an orthopedic surgeon; she is considering other specialties just
to prove them wrong. Regardless of the surgical route she chooses,
Thornton continues to work tirelessly.
“There are some weeks
where I get five hours of sleep a night. I’m getting my butt kicked, and
I’m tired, but then I go into clinicals and I’ll learn about a disease
in class and I’ll see it and feel like I’m helping a patient. That’s my
favorite part: It reminds me of why we do what we do,” she says. “One
day someone’s going to need the best of us.”