Rock Chalk Weekly: The Many Layers of Daina Levy
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Download the app:Written by Brittney Maddox, Kansas Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Senior thrower Daina Levy has established herself as one of the premier hammer and weight throwers in NCAA track & field today. Over the past two seasons she has ranked among the top-10 nationally in both events and has posted some of the best marks in school history. But her excellence inside the throws ring is just the tip of the iceberg when you begin to delve deeper into the many layers of her life. She has taken full advantage of the various places she has lived, the cultures she has adopted and the opportunities she has been given, and in turn, has molded herself into the unique individual she is today.
A CULTURED LIFE
Levy has gained a vast perspective throughout her time on this earth. It all begins with her family. Levy’s parents are from Jamaica, the rich-in-culture island of the Caribbean. Levy’s parents did not know each other until they eventually met in Canada. Here, Levy and older brother, Asaph, were brought into their epic journey of a life.
Levy, although born and raised in Canada, feels more culturally attached to her Jamaican heritage.
“When people think about Jamaicans they usually think of a more laid back kind of people.” Levy explained. “And that is very true with my family. If you walk into my house, you’d hear Jamaican/Reggae music and things like that. This culture is more fun-loving and laid back than Canadian or American culture, I think.”
With that double culture exposure right off the bat, Levy was off to an incredible start of developing as an all-encompassing individual.
When she was around 14 years old, her family decided to venture out to another country; they made their way to The States. High school is a transition in and of itself, but starting over in a completely different country was a whole other game. New opportunities were made attainable, new people to connect with, and more life to be lived. Levy didn’t know it then, but this was where some of her true passions would be born.
Levy recounts that she was never into sports until high school. Her brother had played basketball his entire life, but track & field were never in their cards, or that they knew of, until making the move from Canada.
“My brother started triple jumping and he had only been doing it for a few months before he received a full scholarship to the University of Georgia,” Levy explained. “I wasn’t even considering throwing at that point; I started sprinting because I wanted to lose weight. That’s how it all started.”
Admiring her brother and realizing her own desires, Levy fell into a sport that would transform her life in ways she never expected.
“I sprinted for about two years and then we went to championships and I realized that I was pretty strong,” Levy said. “I thought I could start to throw something. I started doing that and it progressed and eventually I decided I loved it more than sprinting. So I quit sprinting and started throwing full time; this was during my junior year of high school.”
Both Levy and her brother got into this field seemingly late into the game, when asked how they found that drive for this sport and how quickly they developed in it, Levy reveals why there was a relatively quick learning curve.
“My parents were actually track athletes growing up, but my brother and I were never involved in it or anything like that until we moved to the states,” Levy said. “It was like a natural thing I guess, we just had the genes for it.”
Those genes helped send both Levys to the next level of collegiate athletics. Levy began her collegiate career at the University of Auburn. She loved the program and the coach, but toward the end of her second year her coach departed for another school. This put Levy in a position in which she needed to make a decision of what her next move would be as well.
Throwing isn’t the only tool she has in her belt, as Levy is also a pre-med student. So when the time came, she wanted a school where she could keep alive both her passion for medicine, as well as her love for throwing. Instead of making it public that she was deciding to transfer, Levy made her own list of schools based on her personal needs and wants from each so she was able to focus on herself and what she wanted over what schools wanted from her.
Reminiscing on her unique journey through life, Levy admits that the change and growth she has seen in herself throughout her collegiate career has been a matter of night and day.
“I didn’t have high enough expectations for myself coming into this program,” Levy admitted. “I think that is a common problem people have. It is all so exciting but I don’t think I ever fully saw my potential until recently. I realized I can go to the Olympics and I can do things that other people can’t. If I had known that and seen that from the beginning, I would be in a very different situation than I am now – there has been a lot of personal growth for me here.”
Her humility of her past and desire for a continuing successful future stems from a key aspect she claims has gotten her to where she is today.
“My spirituality. It keeps me grounded in a lot of ways,” Levy said. “I think I find solace in feeling like there is a higher power out there that is helping me. That keeps me sane.”
In addition to her spirituality, Levy feels that the connection she has built between herself and her coach is one that also keeps her grounded and focused.
“I am all over the place all the time, so that connection really helps,” Levy admitted.
The connection between Levy and coach Kokhanovsky seems to complement each other really well. Coach has noticed Levy’s vibrant personality throughout the past couple of years he has been working with her.
“She’s very powerful, very smart and very approachable to coach,” Kokhanovsky said. “She is everything you are looking for in a thrower, she fits that profile.”
A MEDICAL AFFAIR
Equally important to Levy, athletics and medicine have been the driving forces for her throughout her post-high school decisions. Athletics came late for her, but medicine has been a curiosity of hers since she was a little girl.
“I didn’t even play doctor, but I did used to get into trouble at school and at home though,” Levy explained. “I used to go outside and dissect animals that were dead in the street and see what was inside and I was curious about how they died.”
Though this was not a very popular hobby of most three-year-olds, it was for Levy. It was only the beginning of her continuously developing passion for biology.
“I have always been interested in biology and how bodies work,” Levy said. “Once I got more education on the human body, I started developing more of a passion for primarily women’s health and children’s health. It was a natural funneling for me; the more I learned, the more passion grew behind it.”
Levy’s yearning for this field is further explained through her given reasons of what attracts her most to this field of work.
“I think for me it is knowing that someone’s quality of life has improved because of something I did,” said Levy. “It could be something simple like providing meals, giving clothes, or as specific as medical treatment. I’ve witnessed and done those through my volunteer work. As far as medical, I would specialize in a field, so if I could help them through a specific case and improve their quality of life in that way – that is all just so amazing to me.”
When asked what specifically she had in mind for her future medical endeavors, Levy revealed that she was interested in the Voluntourism program as well as eventually opening her own cancer rehabilitation center.
“Voluntourism is an organization that sends you and a group to different places in the U.S. or outside of the U.S.,” Levy explained. “You travel with and volunteer in the medical field, so you would give vaccines to people who can’t afford it or do not have access to it. Throughout this volunteering too, I get to see how medicine is and how it works outside of where I am now, which is really cool.”
She plans to take at least a year off of school to focus herself on volunteer work. She already has a well thought-out plan for her rehabilitation center as well.
“I want it to be set up resort style so patients would stay there throughout their treatment,” said Levy. “It would have spas and things that would help patients feel better about themselves. I feel like there is a lack of support and self-confidence in the transitioning breast cancer survivors, so that is something that I really want to focus on and bring to the cancer survivor world.”
Pursuing a career in the medical field is a tough and time-consuming commitment. Levy knows that, but it hasn’t stopped her from continuing to impress everyone with the grace at which she accomplishes it all. Coach Kokhanovsky too has yet to see this path as nothing she can’t handle.
“Daina is a workaholic,” Kokhanovsky said. “She will do whatever it takes. Last year, a week before finals, her computer crashed. So she had to redo an entire project in one week and she still managed to make a high grade. I’ve never had to tell her to work harder in a practice or a competition. She gives 100 percent in whatever she does.”
AN AESTHETIC ESCAPE
Amidst Levy’s complex interests lies another outlet – art.
“I am a very artistic person and that comes from my family and our heritage,” said Levy. “I have always been super artistic. I painted every day when I was little.”
That painting crept its way into her life again when her hectic course curriculum took over. She explained that her last semester was stressful for her, so in attempt to alleviate some of that stress, she looked into a more expressive class.
“I thought if I had incorporated something fun and something that was already an outlet for me, it could turn into something I could thrive in,” Levy said.
She ended up taking a theater make-up class and found that not only did she enjoy it, but she was also great at it.
“The class definitely awakened a new passion and I would love to do more makeup-oriented things,” Levy admitted. “Whether that be freelance, for major productions or films – knowing that I have the talent to do makeup like that professionally, I would love to explore it more.”
EYES ON THE OLYMPICS
Realizing that she is an athlete with great talent, her desire for the Olympics is a very real occurrence in her daily motivations.
Last summer at the NCAA West Preliminary in Austin, Texas, Levy broke the national record in the hammer throw with her toss of 69.02 meters (226’5″). Later that summer she went on to claim the Jamaican national title in the event. Both of those accomplishments have her primed to make a run at qualifying for the Jamaican Olympic team this summer in Rio.
“It is definitely a huge motivation for me,” Levy said. “Right now my best is 69 meters and it will take 71 meters to go. Because I can compete for Jamaica, there are not as many people throwing that far. I think as long as I can hit qualifying standards, it is something that could happen. I feel like I am on track to do it.”
Coach Kokhanovsky also sees the Olympics as a definite possibility for Levy.
“She just needs to take it one step at a time,” Kokhanovsky said. “She is always setting very high goals for herself.”
Levy is a wild card with goals beyond the sky’s limit. Her list of accolades is never ending both in the classroom and in the throws ring. She dives into anything and everything her heart desires and comes out drenched in more colors of versatility. Her adventure continues.
Levy’s senior season could not be going better. As she continues with her success, she won her first Big 12 weight throw title at the conference championships in Ames a couple weekends ago. She has also earned her qualifying spot to the NCAA Indoor Championships to be held in Birmingham, Alabama this week.
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