Mason Finley is a man of many stages.
One of the mammoth 6-foot-8 senior's platforms is the thrower's ring. Finley hurls a 16-pound shot put ball skyward, contorting his body to create torque and watching as the ball appears smaller and smaller in the distance. He releases a discus with equal force; the crowd's eyes follow along as it cuts through the wind and whizzes along on its course.
To the untrained eye, this is a simple practice. The harder you throw, the further it flies. But Finley, despite owning arms that challenge the integrity of shirt sleeves and hands that swallow up shot put balls, understands that method outweighs muscle.
In this sport, success means finding the marriage between force and grace.
"A lot of times you try to really muscle things out there, and it never goes quite right," Finley said. "You have to find this give and take of explosion and tranquility. Once you hit that spot, it’s like, ‘There it is. I got it.’"
Finley found it last weekend. The 10-time All-American and four-time NCAA runner-up broke his own Wyoming facility record in the discus, winning the event with a throw of 210 feet, 6 inches in the hometown Cowpoke Open.
The best throws, he said, aren't easy to explain. But you know it when you feel it.
“I didn’t know how far, obviously," Finley said of the recent personal best. "But I knew I really caught it as soon as I released.”
For an athlete who has already accomplished so much, goals dwindle. Of course, Finley wants to win every event and meet he competes in -- the next one being this weekend's Mountain West Championships in Laramie. But each throw is also a step on a steeper climb.
“Mason’s in a good spot. He’s confident. He’s throwing right at his personal best right now," Wyoming track and field coach Bryan Berryhill said. "He’s throwing personal bests every week. What’s important for him going into this championship is to hopefully go in there and win the shot put and discus championship first and foremost, and then beyond that, he just wants to get better each week.
"He’s a 10-time All American, and his next step is to become a national champion. This weekend’s a big stepping stone in order to keep that momentum going into the national championships.”
But though his throwing prowess is already etched into the school's record books, Finley continues to push himself. That's why his other stage is, well, a stage.
“It started when I was at the University of Kansas. I took a humanities course, just beginning acting," said Finley, who spent three years at Kansas before transferring to Wyoming in the summer of 2012. "And man, it was really challenging. It was stuff I had never done before. It crushed me for a while, because I couldn’t do it.
"I couldn’t get up and be somebody else in front of people. I went and watched a play, 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream.' Ever since then I’ve wanted to do it."
Finley is a theater major, splitting his time between heaving heavy objects and transforming into roles. Track and field runs in the family, having been passed down from his father, former Cowboy thrower Jared Finley. He started throwing in fifth grade, refining his technique and building into a machine that now hums powerfully and efficiently.
Theater is different. It isn't natural and wasn't taught, drilled and instilled at an early age. It's another stage, but one he wasn't born on.
“There was a time when I was throwing a discus in a stadium in China, and there were thousands of people there. And it really didn’t faze me, because I’ve been doing it for so long," Finley said. "But there was a role I had to play where my girlfriend left me and I had to cry on stage, and that took forever, man. I could not do that."
While acting and throwing are fundamentally different, their appeal to Finley strikes the same chord. He has been named the Mountain West Track and Field Athlete of the Week four consecutive times, but yet he reaches further -- towards that elusive national championship. He aims for school records, conference records, national records.
This weekend, it's the Mountain West crown. In 2016, he hopes it'll be the Olympics.
And after he's done competing, Finley plans to act. He dreams of a move to southern California, where he'll take film acting classes and push the boundaries of who he can become.
Regardless of the stage, Finley seeks a challenge. This weekend, he'll search for the perfect throw. After that, he'll turn his sights to Hollywood or Broadway.
"You start finding things that are challenging and you love at the same time," Finley said. "They just feed off each other.”