Evansville’s own Joseph Maxwell chooses career over Olympic bid

Joseph Maxwell at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia in 2015.

NCAA athlete named second-ranked shot putter in Canada

by Mike Brock

EVANSVILLE – This is a story about trying to getting as far as you can, for all the right reasons.

This is a story about a boy, born in Little Current and raised in Evansville. A boy who was formed on and by this Island, a reflection of the land and the people around him. A rock in stature and character, just like the Island. Most importantly, though, this is the story of a young man who left home to pursue a dream, only to find out that the journey was the dream the whole time.

Steve Maxwell was the same age that his middle child, Joe, is now when he left Richmond Hill to start something new. Having grown up with a family cottage near North Bay, he looked north again. Manitoulin was one of his first stops, and within “five minutes” of getting onto the Island, he knew that the land he was looking for was here somewhere, and that the foundation to the home and the life that he had envisioned was right at his feet—literally. He picked a piece of land just outside of Evansville and set to building his home from Manitoulin limestone. The most important rock in the foundation—his high school sweetheart, Mary—joined him shortly after. Marriage, then children, followed. Then more children. Robert, Katherine, Joseph, Jacob and Ellie in all. All part of the plan. As much as anything, sticking to the plan no matter how long it takes is a big part of this story, too. The last piece of limestone was added to the homestead in 2018, more than three decades after the first was laid.

Steve’s plans—as grand in scope and term as plans of a personal nature can be—have always been driven by balance and simplicity. It has always been about the pursuit of family and interest and passion. “Beauty, peace and permanence,” as Steve puts it. To be able to work hard at living your own dream, on your own land. By all accounts, the Maxwell family has done just that, and is all of those things. They are a varied bunch, pursuing different paths, but with the same open mind and appreciation for the journey that Steve and Mary had when they arrived on the Island. Like their father, they are all storytellers, too. 

Robert, the eldest, has built a small home next to his parents’ and started a family. Still working the land, he is a photographer and a videographer, too. Katherine, an artist with a knack for vintage clothing, has four young boys with her husband and lives in Windsor. Jacob, keenly interested in animal welfare, is in the process of applying for veterinary school. After four kids in eight years, in 2007, as Steve puts it, the Maxwells “still had something to share.” So, they applied to adopt a child from South Africa. It took a year-and-a-half, but they made a match. When they found out, Mary and Steve were on the next plane they could catch, and Ellie became the latest Maxwell to come to Manitoulin Island to build a life. She’s a singer, and a darn fine one, which makes sense considering she was named after the great Ella Fitzgerald. 

Joseph, first in almost every competition he has ever been in, was third in the family. Right in the middle. Centered. Balanced. Surrounded by family, protected with love, supported with values. While most of his peers were playing hockey growing up, he latched onto the throwing disciplines of track and field. Thanks in large part to the influence of his middle school gym teacher, Dan Smith, who introduced him to the shot put in Grade 5. Coach Smith, his gym teacher at C.C. McLean, was a former track athlete at York University. Dan brought a passion for athletics to the school, and it was a perfect fit for a kid like Joe. “He was competitive, but he, at the same time, was confident enough and motivated by his own progress. He kept working. He was a really well rounded kid.”

After just a few weeks of learning the basics with Dan, Joe travelled to Sudbury for the Rainbow Board meet. Competing against kids a year older, and a lot bigger, he finished second. He was hooked, though. The following year, he went back to that same meet and won easily, breaking the meet record. It was not too much further down the road that the concept of getting an athletic scholarship entered the conversation. Something else to build towards.  

One of the things that attracted Steve to the Island was that “Manitoulin provided the necessity of doing it ourselves.” Joe didn’t really have a coach in high school. They built their own shot put pad at home. Joe took it upon himself to do the work—hours upon hours at his home gym and shot put area. The lack of facilities and coaching helped fuel the reasons for Joe’s successes. Into his teens, Joe was selected to represent Canada at the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) World Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia. He finished fifth. The next year, he represented Canada again at the 2016 World Juniors in Poland. Overall, he won six Canadian National Championships across multiple levels in both the shot put and discus. He was also an excellent student, and graduated with a 4.0 GPA from Manitoulin Secondary. From just outside of Evansville, Joe, on the shot put pad at home, had built himself an impressive resume by the time he was ready to move on. That self-motivation and determination impressed National Collegiate Athletic Association coaches.

“First of all, who has the opportunity to train for anything 20 feet from their own door? Coaches were astounded that he never had a coach!” says his dad. Five years ago, as Joe was going through the process of choosing a university, his old grade school coach, Dan, echoed that sentiment in a reference letter to the coach at the University of Tennessee:

“Coming from a very small and remote rural community, Joseph did not have the luxury of having track and field clubs or coaches. He researched throwing and conditioning techniques. His father built him a shot put circle and cleared fields for a landing area. All of his progress came as a result of his training at home and participating in competitions great distances away. To me, this strong sense of self-motivated effort exemplifies his strong desire to improve and succeed.”

The sport of shot put is an orchestrated explosion of strength and balance and rhythm. It sounds simple: “put” the “shot” as far away from you as possible. You cannot do that, though, before understanding the steps you need to take to get there. The footwork, perfectly choreographed and endlessly practiced, is crucial to success. The flight of the shot is entirely dependent on everything going well before your toe hits the rubber. You see, 16 pounds of steel is too heavy to throw very far, no matter how strong you are. You need to follow the process. You need to use every inch of your fibre in every “put.” Plan your steps, work hard, trust the process, then, success. 

“Just a lot of hours in the backyard growing throwing metal balls. But I always had the vision for what I hoped would happen. I mean, I think at times I maybe lost sight of that, but I was able to keep my foot on the gas pedal and it eventually worked out.” You can hear the satisfaction in Joe’s voice. As he retires from his lifelong sport full of happiness. Contentment. Pride. An understanding that the journey was the best part of the whole deal. Joe Maxwell, the second ranked shot putter in Canada, is not going to the Olympics, and that is just fine with him. Joe knows that it’s not only about where the shot lands, but how it got there. 

“We had to do things a lot differently, and there’s a lot of trips down south, a lot of trips to the US to get into the competitions that I needed to be in. So, I received a lot of support from my parents through those high school years. I’m so thankful for that because I know I wouldn’t have gotten here, had it not been for that.” 

Where is here? For Joe, it’s the honeymoon phase of a successful athletic career that saw him represent Canada around the globe, earn a full scholarship, win a Division 1 Conference (Southeastern Conference) shot put title, all while graduating with multiple academic honour rolls under his belt.  

As an athlete who came from a large family in a small community, Joe understands the importance of roots, and he’s extremely happy that he was able to plant some at the University of Tennessee for the last five years. And now, armed with a business administration degree (major in marketing), Joe’s next chapter is in Austin, Texas. It’s a gig that came up because of the network and connections he was able to build while at Tennessee, and a perfect transition to a post-athletics life. The person who hired Joe owns four businesses, and every year he hires five or six recent grads who spend three months at each business. Then, after a year, each grad is placed wherever they are suited best. Joe sees it as a chance to learn the operations, the management and the marketing. Just like any success he has had in athletics, Joe knows that this is more than a job, it is also another opportunity.  

“It’s like a business crash course, I guess you could say. Obviously there’s some powerful people running these businesses, and if I could go on and impress them and do a good job in that year, I think it could set me up really well down the road. So I’m excited.”

Joseph is the second ranked shot putter in Canada. He is a Division 1 Conference champion. He has represented Canada all over the world. No, Joseph Maxwell is not going to the Olympics, but he’s okay with that. 

Like a true modern homesteader, he’s too busy building a life of beauty, peace and permanence.