In high school, Beth Inglis discovered an innate strength: throwing things. Specifically, the shot-put ball.
"I'm 5 foot 10 and have long levers," she says. "It's straight physics: That's an edge in throwing events." So one day, while she was attending the Air Force Academy, a track coach stopped Inglis and asked if she'd ever done the hammer throw--the sport, dating back to the 15th century, in which women competitors hurl a nine-pound ball attached to a metal chain as far as possible. (In the men's version of the event, the hammer weighs 16 pounds.)
She hadn't. But "I tried it and it just worked," she says. "Pole vaulters would argue, but I think the hammer throw is the most technical event in track and field."
While at the academy, Inglis--the founder of Alexandria, Virginia-based Preting Consulting--competed for three years and reveled in it, though getting to meets came with unique challenges. "We'd carry our metal balls through security," Inglis recalls. "Kind of weird. But we traveled in uniforms, so it was a little less suspicious."
During her senior year, she broke the academy's women's indoor record by hurling the weight--the indoor version of the hammer--more than 53 feet. After graduating in 2002, she spent five years on active duty and served in Afghanistan and Iraq. As part of the Air Force track-and-field team, she had opportunities to compete against athletes from other countries by throwing at meets in London and Amsterdam.
After returning to the U.S., she and her sisters started and sold an apron-making company and ventured into real estate and cattle investing. But with her background, Inglis realized she could tackle the government-services sector with an insider's know-how, and in 2011, she founded Preting (No. 215 on this year's Inc. 500 list, with 2015 revenue of $5.2 million). "We support the Department of Defense on domestic and overseas missions," she says. Almost all employees are veterans; they focus on security issues, financial analysis, and designing and modeling businesses.
Preting keeps her busy, but Inglis still finds time to throw the hammer on the grounds of a nearby high school. "Every day is a figurative knife fight," she says. "Being able to go and throw the hammer for no other reason than to throw it, it's cathartic. It's the one thing I call my own and lose myself in. Whatever issue I had before throwing is less of an issue when I'm done."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the distance in which Inglis broke the Air Force Academy's indoor hammer hurling record. Her record-breaking throw clocked in at more than 53 feet. Additionally, in the indoor version of the sport, the hammer is referred to as "the weight."