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Throwing toward the top

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Before he flung his way into the Southern Illinois record books, redshirt senior J.C. Lambert nearly landed at a different school for a different sport.

"He wasn't even recruited for track," said SIU throws coach John Smith. "He was meant to come here."

Lambert was on his way to McKendree college to play football, but toward the end of his senior year at Harrisburg High School, he attracted Smith's attention.

"I started noticing improvement, liking track more, so I decided to walk on as a track athlete [at SIU]," Lambert said.

It didn't take long for the walk-on to unleash his raw talent. By the end of his sophomore season he earned the first of four All-American honors, along with a scholarship.

"That's kind of what we specialize in, the kids that other people pass up and nobody wanted," Smith said.

But during the fall of his junior year, his performance began to fluctuate wildly.

"I dropped body weight, 15 pounds, my strength levels started going down," Lambert remembered. "Standing up and walking up the stairs would just take the breath out of me."

"He'd go good for a while, five-six months, then boom it'd put him right back down," Smith said.

Finally this past fall he saw his family doctor, who diagnosed Lambert with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a rare, tick borne disease that's potentially fatal.

"I don't know what it's like to have cancer, so I don't want to say I know how it feels, but it felt like, something along the lines of having cancer," Lambert said.

The doctor immediately prescribed antibiotics to help Lambert recover. Within the next month, he started seeing results out on field and improving. He added back 17 pounds of muscle, just in time for his final spring season.

But perhaps the craziest thing of all, Lambert was still dominant while he battled the illness.

He broke the school and Missouri Valley Conference record in the weight throw, and in March 2012, finished second in the event at the NCAA Indoor Championships--less than three inches from first.

"If I was completely healthy, I would have won the indoor weight my junior and senior year," Lambert said. "I believe I would've gotten close to the collegiate record."

Now fever-free, Lambert's won all four of his spring hammer throw events. He currently ranks 6th in the country and continues to add to a career that almost never happened.  

"I'm four-time NCAA All-American, national runner-up," Lambert said. "It's pretty crazy, cause if I would've told myself that as a walk-on, I never would've believed it."

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