The Best of Bienvenu: Local Track & Field standout set to compete in nationals
LAFAYETTE, La. (KALB) - Throughout the first full week of June, some of America’s top athletes will be competing in the NCAA Track & Field National Championships.
While nationals are taking place in Austin, Texas, there will be some local seasoning on this year’s competition with several local athletes competing for a title. However, the athlete with perhaps one of the most unique stories to tell is Maria Bienvenu, a graduate of St. Mary’s in Natchitoches, now a javelin thrower at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
“It has just been crazy honestly,” said Bienvenu. “I never would have thought three years ago that track and field would have brought me all these places and all these friendships.”
In just two and a half seasons with the Ragin’ Cajuns, Bienvenu has not only broken the program record, but the Sunbelt Conference meet record in the javelin.
As decorated as Bienvenu has become in the sport, it was not originally her first option. Prior to her time in Lafayette, she was a star on the hardwood and diamond for St. Mary’s. In her freshman season with the Lady Tigers, her dad and life-long friend, Chris Maggio, noticed something special, and that’s when the lightbulb went off.
“We were at a basketball game during their freshman year. Maria had the ball, and she was inbounding,” said Maggio. “She threw the ball the length of the court, which sounds good, but it was on a straight line on a dart. No loft on it. It was just a straight shot.”
Maggio would add that he told Bienvenu’s dad that she needed to try throwing the javelin and from there, the seed was planted.
However, before she became the record-setter she is today, Bienvenu first had to learn the basics of track and field, and that is when her parents sent her to a well-known trainer in the area, Corwyn Aldredge.
“I probably helped 100 kids in the yard learn how to throw the javelin and compete,” said Aldredge. “When Maria was brought here for the first time, we went up and down this yard so many times.”
This was just the basics that Bienvenu was being taught to throw the javelin.
“I remember the first time we went out there, and he handed me the javelin and said to try to make it throw straight,” said Bienvenu. “I had no clue how to hold my arm, and it took me so long to make it go straight.”
Eventually, she not only threw it straight, but threw it far, and Maggio, the same one who spotted her talent, was able to make a few calls to secure Bienvenu a walk-on spot at ULL. Despite not having much competitive experience, she went on to excel in her freshman campaign throwing her way into the NCAA Championships.
“I had no clue what I was doing,” joked Bienvenu about her freshman season. “I walked out here new to everything to the track world. I didn’t know what the requirements were for javelin or anything. It clicked when I got here.”
Even to Bienvenu’s T&F coach, her success was a bit of a surprise.
“Freshman year was kind of a shock,” said Terry Hughes, the assistant coach at ULL. “Almost every meet she had a new personal record and kept going up, so as a first-year athlete in general making it to nationals is a huge deal.”
However, right as her career was reaching a peak, Bienvenu would suffer a torn ligament in her elbow.
“I was in such denial that I actually tore it,” said Bienvenu. “It took a week or so to realize and get the MRI back that it was torn. Physical therapy is no joke. It is tough, but definitely a mental game too, so I was losing that confidence of what it felt like to compete.”
The thrill of competing would come back in a big way as after her recovery, she produced the best season yet, breaking the conference meet record, placing 5th in the East regionals and securing her spot in the NCAA Championships for the second time.
“The atmosphere is just crazy,” said Bienvenu on what she is expecting this time around. “I have been so thankful to be a part of that and to come back again this year. I just want to compete for myself this time and not try to overdo it. I just want to get out there and show them I deserve to be there too with them.”
Bienvenu will be competing Thursday, June 8, at 5:45 p.m. To watch her compete in the javelin, tune in to ESPN+.
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