At first glance, Kienan Donovan might not look like a typical thrower. At 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, he’s not as big as his counterparts and he’s relatively soft-spoken.
But don’t let his appearance and demeanor fool you.
The Golden Valley sophomore is one of the strongest throwers in the Foothill League and one of the fiercest competitors. He currently holds the No. 13-ranked throw in shot put in the state (57 feet and 7 1/4 inches) and the No. 16 ranked throw in discus (171-2), both of which were set at the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 Finals last week.
Donovan is the only underclassman ranked in the top 20 in both.
“You can’t judge a book by its cover. Kienan may portray himself as a little guy, innocent and quiet, but he’s a go-getter,” said teammate Shyann Franklin, who owns the third-ranked throw in girls shot put in the country this year. “There are lions and gazelles and Kienan is a lion. He’s always been, he just has it in him, it’s a natural thing. So watch out.”
“I think my size gives me an advantage because I can be the underdog,” Donovan said. “Come up and get people that don’t know what’s coming. Pack a punch.”
Donovan has been training in shot put since the third grade and discus since the sixth grade with his father Kyle Donovan.
The elder Donovan, a former thrower himself, used to coach his son at the youth level with the Canyon Track Club Hawks and joined the Golden Valley track and field coaching staff last year when Kienan was a freshman.
In addition to practicing with his teammates after school, Kienan also works with his dad at home everyday.
“He and his dad have a training facility at home, they made a ring for both shot and disc, they lift weights at home too,” said Golden Valley head coach Jalonick Davis, whose son Jalen is a sophomore runner on the team. “That’s the family, that’s how they get it done. The will to win and practice as hard as he does everyday, it’s exciting to watch. As Jalen’s father, I’m watching how Kyle and Kienan interact. It’s a great son-father relationship, coaching relationship.”
Kienan credits his father for his continued success in the sport and said that Franklin, a Cal Berkeley commit, is the best teammate he’s ever had.
Franklin reciprocates that affection for him. Whenever the pair are together, they always seem to be laughing and smiling.
“It’s been a major blessing for me. Him and his dad coming last year really helped me with my shot put career,” Franklin said. “Kienan is my mentor, even though he’s younger than me, I idolize him and look up to him and respect him. I value everything he tells me to do in the ring and outside the ring.”
“Shyann has taken him under her wing and provided an outlet for him. I think we got more out of Shyann with him being here as well,” Davis said. “They help one another out, they’re able to laugh, they’re able to joke. It takes a load off of him and with her as well. That great relationship that they have and friendship, it goes a long way.”
In most cases, upperclassmen take on the role of leaders, but Donovan is the rare example of a young mentor who helps guide the older members of the team.
And more importantly, he does it with his actions, not his words.
He’s always one of the last people to leave the weight room. He gets in quality reps and if he doesn’t do it right the first time, he does it until he has it down. He arranges practices with his teammates and he studies the sport by watching professionals on YouTube.
“Even as a younger guy, he’s one of the guys who shows leadership. He has the enthusiasm, the attitude, the will and wisdom as well to help coach and see things that maybe we don’t see as coaches,” Davis said. “What he brings to the table is leadership. He gets a lot of the throwers together, he organizes a lot of the practices and times.”
Both Donovan and Franklin will be competing at the CIF-Southern Section Masters Meet on Saturday at El Camino College. Donovan will vie for a spot at state for the first time in his career in shot put and discus and Franklin is looking for a top finish in shot put.
The coaches advice to Donovan was to not change his approach and not overthink things. They want him to just have fun, be himself and maybe surprise some people along the way.
Davis said that Donovan “eats and breaths the sport,” and the young thrower is ready to prove that it’s the size of his heart that matters most.
“I’ve put in a lot of hard work, I’ve been timing everything, I’ve been building up my mental strength so I’m able to compete with the bigger guys and kind of chase them a little bit,” Donovan said. “I guess the stereotype of throwers, I’m kind of the opposite, which gives me a little bit of an edge and something to fight for.”