Kurt Roberts' shot put career is off to a remarkable start.
He started throwing as a sophomore in high school in Athens, Ohio, and says he only got serious about it as a senior. From there, he attended Ashland University and went on to become a three-time Division II national champion, even setting the national indoor record for the division.
But that's not what he's known for. He's known for that photo.
The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Roberts was captured in fine form in mid-throw at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., late last month by Associated Press photographer Matt Slocum. The AP moved the photo on the wire, and newspapers and websites across the country ran it. Roberts became an Internet sensation.
"I got a text message saying, "You're looking pretty photogenic," the quite regular-looking Roberts said, laughing. "People were sending me pictures of it in the Columbus paper. My hometown newspapers ran it."
Roberts, 24, who is in his first year as a professional shot-putter, immediately saw the humor in it. And the value.
"People started Photoshopping it and stuff. I thought that was absolutely hilarious," Roberts said. "There's no way you can be upset about something like that. A lot of people think an embarrassing photo, or looking abnormal would be a bad thing. In my case, as somebody who's a young shot-putter, it's kind of a blessing. Not having a sponsor, working for everything. ... So the more you can have your face out there, the better chance you have to get a sponsor."
Yes, his face, literally, is out there. He proudly points to this illustration by artist Evan Hughes of a similar photo from the weekend.
"He posted it on my Facebook and it was really cool-looking. It was awesome as a cartoon. Makes me look a lot less deformed."
So, since not many of us have ever thrown the shot, does it feel as bad as it looks?
"It depends. On your best throws, it feels like the ball just floats out of your hands and you don't even push on it," Roberts said. "Some throws, it feels like it took everything out of your body. I think that might have been one of my better throws of the meet. That's something where I may not even feel that I'm really pressing that hard with my body."
He adds with a laugh, "I don't really feel like my guts are going to pop out of me the way that it looks."
Roberts said that although he finished fifth at the trials and didn't make the Olympic team, he's grateful for the opportunity to compete. He got to perform in front of 22,000 people at the hallowed ground of Hayward Field in Eugene, and he said he had "the best series of throws of my life and the second-best throw of my life [68 feet, 1 inch]."
But when he returns to his day job, he knows there's more fun at his expense to come. He's a P.E. teacher at a private school in Canton, Ohio, and with the summer break, hasn't been back to school since the meet.
"Once the kids get back, I can only imagine. ... It'll be hilarious. I teach from 3-year-olds all the way up to eighth-graders," Roberts said. "The younger ones may not get it, but the older ones will get it and will probably do something to razz me, because I definitely like to keep it a pretty relaxed classroom and allow kids to kind of pick on me and things like that."
Roberts said his wife, Tiffany, hasn't been too embarrassed by the attention.
"She definitely thought it was funny. She wasn't ever like 'Whoa ... that's ... my husband,'" he said. "If she thought it was ugly, she didn't tell me."