Senior Spotlight: Jessica Mattsson’s resilience spins track and field team in the right direction
She lifts a dense metal sphere from its chained piano-wire rope and steadily struts to the circle as the ball dangles by her side.
Appearing calm, but focused, the senior from Västland, Sweden, places her feet at a stable position within the circle, surrounded by a cage of netting, and turns her broad shoulders to glance through its narrow opening.
Using both hands, she begins to swing the contraption slowly with intention, allowing the ball to revolve around her figure, as if it were the Earth to the sun.
The hammer builds momentum with each revolution until she eventually spins herself to maintain control.
Like a revving engine, power and intensity builds with each rotation. When arriving at her maximum rpm, she slings the hammer through the cage’s opening and onto a grassy field in Atlanta.
Landing 62.07 meters away, Jessica Mattsson has, yet again, shattered her own school record.
“I could write a book on Jessica,” said Belmont University assistant track and field coach Joe Frye.
“Man, this is a girl who just has a light that people need to see. In a nutshell, she is the epitome of resiliency and anti-fragileness and she has a mantra of ‘let’s figure it out’ and ‘let’s do something about it’ and she has overcome a lot of obstacles to get where she is now,” he said.
Showing interest in track and field since she was 8 years old, Mattsson decided to tag along with her older sister to a practice one day.
“I ended up ruining my favorite pair of jeans,” Mattsson said. “I couldn’t just watch, I wanted to do the long jump and all the stuff the older kids were doing. And since then, that’s all I’ve been doing, pretty much.”
Mattsson quickly developed a love for the sport, taking part in nearly every event it offered.
In high school, she moved seven hours south of her family to focus on her craft.
“That was interesting,” she said. “Definitely a very tough time having to grow up and take care of yourself. I obviously learned and grew a lot. They weren’t my favorite years, but I got a lot better, which got me to this point, so I'm also very thankful.”
She then began specializing in the hammer throw, despite her love for the multi and jump events.
“Hammer was not my first choice,” she said. “But because of injuries and not knowing better how to treat that, those events were the only ones I could do without being in pain.”
And it was the hammer event where she PR-ed an outstanding 30 meters during her first year of high school, placing 14th in the world in her weight category.
Mattsson would only improve from there.
Racking up recognition worldwide, she graduated from Katedralskolan in Vaxjo, Sweden, where she set a personal best of 55.98 meters.
Her athleticism was enough to spark the interest of a university 4,500 miles away.
“When I recruited her, I hadn’t met her in person. But for the most part, she got good grades, seemed like a nice girl on Zoom and she was a pretty good thrower in Sweden,” Frye said.
In spring 2018, Mattsson arrived in Nashville and quickly established herself at Belmont by setting the program record in her second collegiate meet.
She would then break that record later in the outdoor season at the University of Texas, where she threw 54.57 meters.
Although making slight work of her event on the field, the adjustment to the American way of life was not as easy.
“It was definitely a culture shock. The Christian part of it all was different. Sweden is a very secular country,” Mattsson said. “Just the way people interacted … It was kind of hard getting used to. We would always call everyone by their first name so getting used to being like ‘oh, professor whatever’ or ‘coach’ before speaking to them.”
Coming to the states with fellow Swedish teammate Maja Gustavsson, the two often shared their confusion of living in a new environment with each other.
“That was awesome, just having someone to vent about all the changes … Just getting to talk about it and figure things out together, I think, was very valuable” Mattsson said.
As Mattsson slowly but surely adjusted to a very different culture, one thing, unfortunately, remained the same — injury.
“In my first and second semester freshman year, I was very lucky with not having trouble with injury, which I had all through high school, but I love to throw the jav, so I was throwing it for a few practices and then hurt my elbow,” she said. “I had to have surgery in January 2020.”
After an eight-week recovery from her elbow surgery, Mattsson then qualified for regionals during the 2020 indoor season.
Plagued by more injuries over the next year such as a disk bulge, hip labrum tear and knee issues, she made physical therapy a second home.
“Honestly, my trainer is probably sick and tired of me at this point,” she said. “It’s just been a lot, and mentally, it’s taken a lot.”
Despite a torn hip labrum, fall 2021 was the most consistent season Mattsson has ever had, she said.
Since then, she has seemingly improved in each meet.
Winning silver for her throw at the 2022 Ohio Valley Conference Indoor Championship with a 17.87 mete
r mark, she demonstrated her ability to work through adversity.
Throughout the 2022 indoor season, Mattsson broke the program record three times and established herself as a dominant force on Belmont’s track and field team.
Now, with the outdoor season in full swing, she intends to keep that momentum spinning.
Mattsson’s recent throw at Georgia Tech currently ranks top-16 in the NCAA East Region and top-32 nationally.
“She’s doing this with a torn hip labrum and she just keeps on going,” Frye said. “She’s always putting herself and pouring herself out to others.”
In addition to Mattsson’s ability to perform at a high level under tough circumstances, time management is a priority for her.
Among her athletics, academics and interests, the journalism senior also served as a reporter and sports editor for the Belmont Vision student news outlet.
While at the Vision, Mattsson placed sixth in the category of Best Sports Writer at the 2022 Southeast Journalism Conference.
“I love planning and organizing,” she said. “Whatever I go into, or take on, I have a hard time not giving 100%.”
And no matter how much is on her plate, Mattsson exhibits a quiet and calming presence to those around her.
“She is a very selfless person,” said freshman thrower Rebekah Stucker. “She is very behind the scenes. She doesn’t want to be the attention of the crowd, but she’s always there to talk to and she really does lead by example.”
PHOTO: Jessica Mattsson competing at the OVC Indoor Championship. Courtesy of Belmont Athletics.
This article was written by A.J. Wuest.