Wait… Olympians need pep talks…?

from Vault High

Writing. It’s something I have always loved to do. I have kept a journal since age 10, and began occasionally blogging a few years ago. I really love to keep a journal because it allows me to express emotions when I really don’t want to share them with a human.

I specify “human” because I often share them with my dog.

Ok, back to the journal thing…

Journals will always listen. Journals are always there for you. Journals will never agree or disagree, they will only hear what you want to say, then tuck it away quietly to never be seen again. The only problem is, if you write something moving, its very likely it will go unread for many, many years – that is if it’s ever read at all.

And thus, the beauty of blogging becomes apparent. I feel I have experienced enough in my life my words could make a difference to someone, no matter how small. Maybe they could inspire a young athlete, or encourage a parent to help their child chase their dreams. I put content out there, and I never know who might end up reading it. That is the beauty of blogging.

I often don’t like to write about bad experiences. I find myself going back to read old journal entries or blog posts, and sometimes I think things are best forgotten. On the contrary, it’s nice to write about good ones. This time around, I think writing about my struggles this season could truly benefit any athlete who might read this.

Note: it might be difficult for non-pole vaulters to fully understand everything… but please read anyway…)

(I find the obnoxious GIFs hilarious, soooooo….)

This season has been far from glamorous in comparison to last year. 2016 was absolutely amazing. The stars aligned. I overcame a wrist fracture from a broken pole, and turned it all around, vaulting my way to an Olympic Silver Medal and the second highest mark in outdoor history. I became only the third woman all-time, indoor or out, to break the 5-meter barrier. I cannot even put into words how that felt. I accomplished things I had dreamt of since I first picked up a pole vault pole at age 13. This season has felt minuscule in comparison.

My first consolation to myself is, this is pretty typical. Many athletes come off of a their absolute best seasons ever and go into a slump for a bit. Like anything else in life, sport has its peaks and valleys. I will say, indoor season was rough mostly because I was fighting with some ankle and back issues. Long story short, I couldn’t train the way I needed or wanted to in order to be my best. We are now in the thick of outdoor season, and my body feels pretty darn good. It has just been annoying to modify my training in order to keep my back from flaring up. With tweaked training, my body has felt great! And really, this outdoor season I have felt like my jump is mostly “back to normal”. (Note: “normal” is fine temporarily, but even my “normal” has a lot of things needing fixed.) What really dampens my spirit is even though I feel pretty good, the heights just haven’t been there. I will clear a 4.65m/15’3” bar my a mile, but then not put together a make at the next height. At one small meet I put together a 4.84m jump, which I was very happy with given everything I have dealt with this season- but it is extremely frustrating to clear a 4.90 bungie in warmups and not be able to put it together when the bar goes up. My run and jumps have just not been consistent this year.

As I said earlier, this is how I feel “so far”… but truly, I know I can push through. The important thing is, my body feels good, and I know the heights are in me. I just have to coax them out. As I like to say, you have to be more stubborn than gravity to be a vaulter. And believe me when I say I am extremely stubborn, and also driven. I believe those two qualities will guide me to breaking the world record someday.

I am not undermining how big of a feat that is.

Putting together a world-record jump in a competition, when the bar is up, is very different from jumping that high in practice. I know I have jumped world record heights in practice before! I also know I am not the only one who has done so. But the reason the WR is so hard to break is because you only get so many chances to even attempt it in a competition.

Think about it like this: as a pole vaulter, you might get threeattempts at a personal best in a competition. MIGHT. You have to clear all of the bars leading up to that height before you even get to attempt it. If you get more than three attempts at a PR, that means you probably already jumped a PR and are going for the next one. Compare this to other events. In many other field events, the athletes are not held back by the mark of something they are attempting. They just go for it. Take long jump and the throwing events for example. They give each attempt all of their effort, and each one is a possibility to hit a new PR. In the vault, it doesn’t matter how much you clear a bar by. The bar has to be SET at that record in order to be able to achieve it! Well, I just rambled a bit, but… all I am trying to say is getting to the point where you can attempt a WR means you have to have a clean day up to that. You have to be ON. You don’t want to go into those attempts with dead legs from jumping at way too many bars beforehand. Also, don’t take this as me undermining the other events. That is not my intention. I am just trying to clarify how few shots vaulters get at big performances.

So wait… where am I going with this? Well, basically I am trying to describe my mindset. Last year was phenomenal, and I was spoiled with amazing performances. I guess part of me thought I would pick right back up where I started. I thought at this point I would be taking some solid looks at that WR. Instead, I jammed my ankle the very first meet of the year, and experienced intense back spasms beginning the second meet of the indoor season! I have never really had to deal with injuries before, aside from the wrist fracture last year, so those nagging issues indoor season were a bit of a wake up call. I know I just need to listen to my body and find ways to train without hurting it (more than pole-vault already does, by nature). I guess this blog is a bit of a pep talk to myself, but also I wanted to show the world that even the best of the best experience slumps. You have to pick yourself back up off the ground, and keep on moving.

I am not defining 2017 by what has happened thus far. Last year, I broke my wrist and was out for weeks. It was difficult to clear 4.75m when I came back to make the Olympic Team. Just a few weeks after that, my rhythm just clicked and suddenly bars in the 4.90’s were easy. The Outdoor American Record was just… easy. It felt so effortless. I know that if I keep on fighting, my rhythm will come back. I know it will. I have faith in myself, my abilities, coach, and my training. I know I still have time to turn things around and make dreams come true. Man, becoming World Champion this summer would be quite nice. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

And things WILL come together with persistence and health. Even if it’s not this season, I know it will happen in the near future. I know I’ll continue to be a force to reckon with as long as I keep at this thing with a strong mental outlook. And I am so excited because it’s not only me, but a handful of other women, too. I feel like the women’s pole-vault is about to be taken to another level in the next five years. I just really desire to be the one to lead on the pack!

My biggest goals for my career are of course a world record, an Olympic Gold Medal, and a World Championship Gold medal… but honestly, if I am even able to achieve one of those I would be happy. But what I want the absolute most is to then turn around and help the next generation realize their dreams. I want kids to see their talent and utilize it. Or maybe realize they might not be the most naturally gifted with athletic ability, but see how much they can accomplish if they persist and focus on technique. There have been countless athletes from sports across the board to surprise people. Athletes whom were looked down on and disregarded as harmless. You truly never know how far your body can go until you just allow it to. Stop letting the doubts in your mind get in the way. Stop letting people talk you down. Stop letting the trash talk get to your brain. Let that nonsense go in one ear and out the other, then go out there and let the performances do the talking.

So, I wanted to write about my frustrating season full of performances I see as inadequate because 1. it’s a great way to help myself see the big picture, 2. I want my young followers to see they are not alone in any struggles they may be experiencing in sports, and 3. because sometimes, forgetting the bad isn’t such a good idea – then we wouldn’t know when to appreciate the good. Right? Right.

FAST FORWARD…

Well, a few days ago, I wrote what you just read above. Now, on June 30th at 9:42p.m. central time, I begin by saying this: five days ago, I won my first USA Outdoor title. Quite the turn-around, I would say.

This is the beauty of sport.

This is a true testament to persistence and self-belief being the key to success. It truly is. Although I have had a few meets I wish I could completely forget about this season, all of that feels like it has been erased after this past weekend. Isn’t it amazing how a single competition can completely turn things around for an athlete mentally… emotionally? I was down on myself, but I had not, for a single second, forgotten what I was capable of. You always have to remember who you are, and not let a few “bad” performances erase things you have accomplished in the past. Society is very quick to forget. We (athletes) already have enough pressure on ourselves to perform well at each and every competition we go to. Here is some advice: don’t add to it. We already have to deal with pressure from everyone else. Why put more on yourself for no reason at all? Nobody but you can turn things around.

On Sunday I walked out with my head held high. I was predicted to take second, and I was out to jump right over those predictions. You can’t achieve your goals each and every time, but you do have to set out to achieve them EACH AND EVERY TIME. I let the predictions be my motivator.

I stepped out on the runway and said in my mind, “ok then, watch this.”

I also decided to have fun with it. I have always been an exuberant person. My emotions radiate from me like rays of sunlight. Lately, this season, I have been less bubbly after each jump, because I hadn’t been hitting the heights I wanted. I realized that not being happy with each make was holding me back. If I start each competition with a smile, and make every single height with a smile, the happy emotions uplift me. I am much more likely to jump high if I cheer and have fun with every bar. So that’s exactly what I did.

I made almost every single bar on my first attempt. I jumped 4.80m on my first shot, and a few moments later I knew I had it won. I wanted to cry tears of happiness. I proved to myself that I could endure a crappy first half to the season, then turn around and win a national title.

It’s funny. I think athletes often think we have something to prove to the world, yet we really only have to prove it to ourselves. I may have been out there thinking “watch this!”… but the “watch this” wasn’t for the crowd, it was probably for myself. “Watch this Sandi – you can do this. You can overcome everything you have been through this season.”

I really don’t know what else to say. I am just happy.

I may elaborate on some of these thoughts later, but for now…

NETFLIX.

🙂

Thank you so much for reading my babble.

xo

-Sandi


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