Madias Loper Jr. isn’t Superman. But if he has a Kryptonite, no one has seen it in two years.
On one of the first warm days of spring, the last day of March, the skies were clear and the wind was almost nonexistent. A group of high school boys huddled up and joked with each other near a single row of bleachers, perhaps trying to calm the nerves of stepping into the ring and hurling a two kilogram object into the air in front of their peers. Less than a half hour before the start of the discus throw, two notable competitors were still absent from competition.
Somewhere nearby in a car, Madias and his brother Justyn sat without exchanging words, the noise from their headphones the only sound they could hear. No smiles. No laughter. Just focus on the task ahead, a routine to eliminate as many distractions as possible, including friends.
The silence was broken when their mother Vasha called from the upper field at Starr’s Mill High School. It was time to start warming up.
A 17-year-old senior at Whitewater High School, Madias has built himself, both physically and mentally, into one of the top athletes in Georgia high school track and field in only a couple years. The colleges that have made a strong effort to add him to their rosters have been almost overwhelming at times, and his commitment ultimately went to Air Force Academy.
The decision was based on a desire to not only sacrifice his time to train and compete as a scholarship athlete on the track team, but also to sacrifice for his country. Madias knows what he’s getting into. As a child of an Army father, he has constantly been on the move since he was born in Lithia Springs, packing up and traveling from state to state with little time to get acquainted before finding a new place to call home.
Throughout his lifetime, Madias’ journeys have spanned countless miles, but there’s only one distance he cared about on this particular Friday afternoon as he made his way to the upper field to warm up.
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Three chalk lines streaked through the field. The first line was 80 feet from the ring where the discus would be thrown, the second 100 feet away, and the final chalk line was 180 feet, barely within eyesight from the throwing circle. The initials “ML” were written next to the 180-foot line.
Madias paced toward the net in a tightly-fitting Superman T-shirt, which he wears at every meet. His eyes exuded a laser-like focus and his steps were deliberate, as if he choreographed every move he’d make from the moment he walked out of the car.
As Vasha told a story about how Madias’ discipline, how he sometimes stays up until 2:30 a.m. finishing his homework, Madias handed his mother his iPhone and ripped out the headphones as an expletive roared from the song Madias was listening to.
Vasha raced to turn off the music, startled but not surprised.
“I like Migos too,” Vasha said of the hip-hop group singing the song.
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Vasha can handle Madias’ music choice, but when Madias was in sixth grade, she wasn’t sure she could take the cold and lack of sleep. At a track near their home in Charleston, West Virginia, late on a Thursday night, Vasha watched her eldest son stumble to a last place finish in the 800 meter race and the shot put. It was nearing 11 p.m., and Vasha needed to make it to work at 7 in the morning.
“I tried out for everything else on the team,” Madias said to his mother. “I didn’t make anything else but the shot put. And the losers have to run the 800 at the end.”
Madias’ father, Madias Sr., didn’t mince words about his son’s track performance when he started his first year of middle school.
“He sucked at it.”
It didn’t stay that way for long. The family moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, the following year, and, through better coaches and teammates, Madias came to the realization that track was his calling. Although the roof over his head was always changing, he found a permanent home inside the net.
Throwing — discus, shot put, hammer, and weight — soon became his passion, and he began working tirelessly, watching YouTube videos, going into the weight room for the first time, and training as often as he could to perfect his throws.
His work ethic has been remarkably consistent since then, evidenced by the fact that both Madias and his mother easily remember the last time he took more than a couple days off from training: when Madias got his wisdom teeth out during Christmas week of 2015.
As Madias’ love for the sport grew, his family joined him. Madias Sr. and Vasha started coaching throwing — Vasha is now the founder of a local throwing club called Peach State Throwers — and Justyn, now a 15-year-old sophomore, took up the sport himself.
“When I committed to it, they committed,” Madias said.
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After the warm-ups ended, Justyn was one of the first throwers in the ring, and he walked through his motions as he prepared for the first of three throws. Vasha settled into her comfortable spot a few inches behind the net with her phone out to take video so she could coach her sons later.
Justyn’s first throw collided with the far right pole, sending the line of throwers back a step. After reassuring his brother that his best throws were ahead of him, Madias removed his Superman shirt and entered the ring, eager to take advantage of perfect weather conditions. His first throw fell just shy of his 172-foot personal record.
Vasha was wearing a black headband that read WARNING: TRACK MOM. WILL SHOUT LOUDLY, and she owned those words, as both her sons took their second throws. Justyn shook off his first throw to send a discus soaring into the field, and Madias once again didn’t reach his 180-foot goal. But Madias was undeterred, fully aware he had one throw remaining.
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In the summer between sophomore and junior year, Madias needed to choose between track and football. Even though he was only one of three freshmen to make the varsity team in football, it was time to give up the sport for something he knew he could excel at.
“It was obvious that track is for him,” Madias Sr. said.
Madias pulled his grades and ACT scores up, and he was rewarded with a flood of colleges wanting him to compete for them. Madias Sr. never pushed joining the military on his sons, and Madias said he was against it for a while, but as he matured, he realized it was exactly what he wanted.
“As a parent, it’s confirmation,” Madias Sr. said. “I don’t want to tell him what to do. I want him to find his own way. I was very happy that he picked a service academy.”
At 5-foot-9, 240 pounds, Madias might not be the prototypical size of a college athlete, but he makes up for inches he doesn’t have in height in the distance he throws.
Justyn is also “vertically challenged,” as he calls it, but neither were going to let any obstacle stand in their way during the Friday Night Lights track meet at Starr’s Mill.
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Madias’ silence in between his second and final throw was only broken when he walked to his brother and placed both fists on his shoulder.
“You know you can do it because you’ve been doing it all week,” Madias said.
Madias wants to break as many records as he can while he’s still in high school, but he also believes Justyn is good enough to break all the records he plans to break.
“He’s going to beat me,” Madias said, matter-of-factly. “I’m not sad about that. I love him, and I think he’s going to be one of the greats in Georgia and the United States.”
While Madias has him beat right now, Madias acknowledges he wasn’t as good a thrower as Justyn when he was his little brother’s age. To confirm Madias’ suspicions, Justyn is already drawing interest from some quality schools, including Air Force.
Justyn said it’s the belief Madias has in him that has helped him gain confidence in his record-breaking potential.
“I expect myself to do that too,” Justyn said. “I’ll probably beat him in everything he does. I’m trying to catch up to him, beat his old marks.”
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While the future may belong to Justyn, the meet belonged to Madias. He once again took off his Superman shirt as he entered the ring for his third toss, but kept his Superman mentality.
“When I’m in that ring, it’s like me, Justyn, my parents, we’re all in that ring together,” Madias said. “It’s not just about me throwing far. It’s about bringing a good name to the family and a legacy to the Loper name. It’s not just about me. It’s about all of us.”
Madias unleashed his signature scream as he released his final throw, and the second he let go he screamed again. The last scream was a celebration because knew he’d done it. Vasha watched and videoed from behind the net, Madias Sr. looked on from the far chalk line, and Justyn stood on the sidelines as his eyes followed the hovering disc.
He broke his personal record by more than four feet, reaching a distance of 176 feet and 6 inches, more than 20 feet further than the second place thrower.
“When I grow up I want to be like you,” said a nearby official who was clearly older than Madias.
Teammates congratulated Madias, but there wasn’t much time to revel in his feat. His mind was already on the next throw.
“I wanted to throw 180 today,” Madias said afterwards. “I threw 176. Came up a little short.”
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While Madias didn’t provide much time for smiling that day, he was able to finally take in the reward of his achievements on Wednesday, when he signed his letter of intent in the Whitewater High School gym.
The crowd of students who showed up to support Madias seemed almost as large as the supporters during Whitewater’s National Signing Day, which unlike Wednesday’s signing, occurred during school hours.
While friends anxiously waited and Madias’ family helped set up, Madias walked into the storage closet and put on a brand new $10 Superman shirt over his Air Force attire. The new shirt didn’t last long, as Madias ripped it down the center to reveal to his classmates what the six blue and white balloons and America-themed decorations had already told them: Madias is headed to the Air Force Academy in the fall.
“It was a little hard, but I got it off,” Madias said afterwards about his ripped shirt as he enjoyed a cupcake to cap off the celebration.
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Many family, friends and spectators were amazed at how far Madias threw the discus at the meet on Friday, March 31, but that’s not where his personal accomplishments ended that day.
Moments later, Madias broke the meet’s all-time record in the shot put, reaching a distance of 64 feet, 3 inches. He accounted for more than 50 percent of Whitewater’s total points, and he only competed in two events. Earlier in March he had won a national championship in the shot put for his age group at the USATF Indoor Nationals.
“I want to be the best in the country, the best in the world,” Madias said. “Until I get there, I’m still working.”
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Right before Madias signed his letter of intent Wednesday, friends hovered around his signing table and looked in amazement at a picture of Madias next to a locker with dozens of medals surrounding him.
“I heard he gives away his first place medals,” one friend said.
Hidden from sight in the darkness of the storage closet, Madias put the “S” on his chest, preparing himself to present the identity of the place he’s going to become the American hero he’s always dreamed to be.