A jump rope contest that banned her because of her age was Amber Campbell’s first athletic challenge.
“I was only 5 years old, and you had to be 7 to compete, so I told my Mom,” Campbell said.
The three-time U.S. Olympian retired from professional athletics in July, and is now the organizational development coordinator for the City of Myrtle Beach.
A 2004 Coastal Carolina University graduate, the athlete will be honored at the 2018 Celebration of Inspiring Women on Feb. 5.
The event, at the Sheraton Myrtle Beach Conference Center, is part of the eighth annual Women’s Leadership Conference and Celebration of Inspiring Women, presented by Women in Philanthropy and Leadership [WIPL] for Coastal Carolina University.
Campbell finished sixth overall in the women’s hammer throw at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She finished with a throw of 72.74 meters, the highest for an American female, just two meters away from a bronze medal.
She also placed 21st in Beijing in 2008, and 13th in London in 2012.
While at CCU, Campbell was a five-time NCAA All-American, and 16-time Big South Champion. She earned seven titles in indoor track and field, and nine crowns in outdoor track and field.
She won four individual titles in the indoor weight throw and three in the shot put, and was crowned champion four times in the discus.
Campbell won the outdoor hammer throw three times, and the shot put twice.
She was named the Big South Women’s Track Athlete of the Year each of her final three years at CCU, and in 2002-03, was honored as the leadership conference’s Female Athlete of the Year.
The only three-time recipient of the Big South’s Women’s Track and Field Athlete of the Year award, Campbell still owns CCU records in the weight, indoor shot put, outdoor shot put, discus and hammer throws.
She was voted to the Big South’s Women’s Track and Field All-Decade Team for 2000-09. She is a member of both the Coastal Carolina and Big South Hall of Fame.
Campbell competed for the USA at the IAAF World Championships in 2005, 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015 in the hammer, and she won gold in the hammer at the 2015 North American, Central American and Caribbean Championships.
She placed third in the 2011 Pan American Games, and second in 2015, and is a four-time USATF outdoor champion in the hammer throw – winning in 2010 (71.52m / 234-8), 2012 (71.80m / 235-6), 2015 (72.36m / 237-5), and 2016 (74.09m).
“Hammer throw is pure competition,” she says. “You step up to the line, and it’s you versus everyone else. You don’t get to rely on anyone else.
“Nothing and no one else matters. It’s all about, ‘How good will I perform on this day?’”
Campbell says that short of being a world champion or getting an Olympic medal, she achieved everything she wanted to athletically.
“I got out of it more than I ever thought I would, and made so many relationships all over the world.”
Sweeping her hand across her “necessities-only” desk, Campbell describes herself as a minimalist, and her worldview reflects the razor-sharp, no-frills focus that made her a champ.
Athletic competition, she says, is something she did, but it’s not who she is.
“I loved representing God and my family, and reaching for something that always felt like it was just beyond my reach and unattainable.
“It was a challenge that was greater than my imagination.”
But, she retired because that focus changed.
“I didn’t have the same fire and passion to go out and train every day, and the sport is too hard not to give it your 100 percent.”
Growing up with brothers, two of them in track and field, she wanted to follow in their footsteps – literally – and started competing in that sport in middle school.
She played whatever sport was in season, including volleyball, basketball, softball, and soccer, and says she never heard of the hammer throw until she got to Coastal.
She’d been a good student, she says, but a better athlete, and athletics was a way to earn a scholarship.
She studied psychology at CCU, and because her coach, Dr. David Vandergriff, has a PhD in human behavior, that combination added to her being able to focus on her athletics.
“We had a lot of interesting discussions about overcoming obstacles, and I felt like that was an advantage for me,” she says. “Figuring out someone’s motivations, why people do things the way they do them…why I do things the way I do them.”
That interest still finds her at an out-of-the-way spot in a busy airport, studying people.
“I find a corner to watch from, and it can be hysterical.”
Free time also means hanging out with sorority sisters, with family or with her significant other, LaShawn McLean, a teacher in North Carolina.
Or, it might mean just tooling down the highway.
“Sometimes I’ll take a day trip to Charleston, just to be on the road, clearing my head and listening to good music,” she said.
“And, sometimes I’m just a homebody and will binge watch Netflix.”
Campbell is also active in the special needs ministry at Beach Church, and expanding that part of her life is a huge part of her life now.
“There are so many organizations, and kids need love. I can be another person, another pair of hands, another body to help, and another ear to listen,” she says.
“I can try to affect some real change. I’m still trying to see what that looks like for me, but ultimately, I want to help.”
Excited and pleased about her upcoming award, Campbell says, “It’s always a humbling experience for people to recognize something I had fun doing. Sometimes I didn’t even think of it as a job, but I did earn a living, and I did represent my country. And, it is definitely humbling.”
Ready to move on to the next goal in her life, Campbell says, “I do love to win. Whether it’s tic-tac-toe or the hammer throw, I love competition.
“But, I have lots of passions and lots of goals, and there’s more to life than medals and trophies.
“My next goal is to see what kind of influence or leader I can be in the city.”
By the way, the 5-year-old Campbell did compete in that jump rope competition against 7-year olds, and she did win.
“I got a blue ribbon,” she laughs, adding, “Jumping rope is still my favorite form of cardio.”