Sport: Shot Put
Born: April 16, 1993
Nicholas Vena was born April 16, 1993 in Morristown and grew up in Whippany. His parents, Michelle and Vic, encouraged him top participate in various sports programs as a boy, including soccer and basketball, however football was off-limits. It was a good thing for the other boys in town given that Nick would one day stand 6’4 ½” and weight more than 250 pounds.
Vic had been a standout in the shot put at West Essex High, so naturally he guided his son, a lefty, into the shot put and discus, where Nick’s size, strength and raw power would give him an obvious advantage. The only problem was Nick found the shot put boring. He wanted to be on teams with his friends.
Nick was unusually quick and coordinated, which enabled him to spin faster than shot-putters his age. As his throws eclipsed 40 and then 50 feet in grade school, he became more excited about the sport and became super-focused on his technique. When Rutgers track coach Anthony Naclerio saw Nick, he agreed to tutor him at clinics so as not to violate a future NCAA recruiting rule.
Vic always kept things fun, making sure not to overschedule his son. When Nick shattered the national bantamweight record at the age of 9, the Venas let him stay home and swim with his pals in the town pool rather than go to the nationals. As an 8th grader, Nick once hit an overhanging tree branch during a meet.
Prep records began to fall starting Nick’s freshman year at Morristown High School, where he was coached by Paul Buccino. At the Armory Track & Field Center in New York City—where he won four national championships—the shot put area had to be reconfigured to accommodate his monster throws. At New Jersey’s Meet of Champions, he won the indoor and outdoor titles all four years and was Penn Relays champion four times, too. Nick was a prep All-American six times.
Nick won one USA Track & Field junior title and set national records for the longest throw by a freshman, sophomore and junior. He was unable to break Michael Carter’s record as a senior—considered one of the few unbreakable records in high school sports. On the final throw of Nick’s high-school career he set a state record with a throw of 75’ 10 ¼”.
By the time he graduated, Nick had eclipsed the 70-foot mark in competition 96 times. Heavily recruited, he accepted a scholarship from the University of Virginia.
Moving from the 12-pound ball to the 16-pound ball used in international competition is always a challenge in this sport. Nick was making the transition more or less on schedule—earning All-ACC honors—but was unhappy about a coaching change and transferred out after one year. He joined the Georgia track and field team, won his first meet with the Bulldogs and soon his 16-pound throws were approaching his 12-pound heaves as a high schooler. He earned second-team All-America status as a junior and was a first-team All-American as a senior in 2014.
Nick fell short of his goal to make the Olympic team in 2016. It was arguably the world's toughest squad, with the men to beat including Joe Kovacs, Darrell Hill and Ryan Crouser. In Brazil that summer, Crouser won gold and Kovacs took silver.