Katie Yeager works tirelessly to perfect her form, endurance and strength before catapulting herself into the air and clearing the bar.
Yeager, a sophomore anthropology major, has been pole vaulting for five years and is this year’s Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion in the event.
She said she cannot imagine her life without the disciplined sport.
“It’s a total package when it comes to pole vaulting,” Yeager said. “You have to be fast, strong, acrobatic and really mentally disciplined.”
After nine years of doing gymnastics Yeager said she needed a change.
“(Pole vaulting) wasn’t making me cry everyday because gymnastics is really hard and the coaching is a completely different style,” Yeager said.
Yeager began pole vaulting when she was a sophomore in high school.
She had never been coached in the sport and mainly learned through trial and error, as well as the frequent pointers from YouTube videos.
“I was really good at it with my gymnastics ability and it just made me want to keep going and going and getting bigger heights,” Yeager said.
Yeager still holds the record for her high school and is the SCIAC champion for 2012 with 3.68 meters.
At the Cal State Los Angeles Invitational Saturday, Yeager tied for first with 3.51 meters.
“She has a knack for not quitting,” teammate Jared Manke said.
Pole-vaulting demands a lot from the athlete such as upper body strength, speed and agility.
Josh Linker, assistant coach of track and field, said that Yeager works extremely hard and always strives to learn more about the techniques of the sport.
Yeager practices pole vaulting two times a week and the rest of her time is spent doing speed drills and strength exercises.
“Being smaller I can get upside down faster (…) and apply my gymnastics into that really works out for me or else I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the girls I’m in competition with,” Yeager said.
Anything from a slow running start to a gusty wind can drastically offset the results of the jump. Yeager said she typically goes through five different poles every week.
“When you break a pole correctly by just your pure strength it shatters into like a million pieces,” Yeager said. “It’s really cool to see but it’s super dangerous because you get really hurt.”
Despite the hard work and possibility of injury, Yeager said the feeling of accomplishment and pride is indescribable.
“She’s a competitor,” Linker said. “She’s very consistent with what she does.”
Pole vaulting is also different from other track and field sports because the amount of athletes in this sector are fewer than in others.
Yeager said this builds a community-like feel that makes the sport even more enjoyable.
Manke said that Yeager’s dedication to the sport creates an atmosphere on the field that inspires others and motivates him to try harder.
“I feel more relaxed about myself when she’s out there doing it too,” said Manke.
Yeager’s achievements help motivate and direct her toward higher aspirations. She said that she plans to focus on bulking up to gain strength, which will hopefully help her in earning a spot in the nationals.
“If I don’t make it this year I’m just going to train that much harder so next year I make it,” Yeager said.
“If she makes it to nationals, I can see her making all American,” Linker said.
Yeager plans to graduate early so she can head to a graduate school and jump unattached.
“Not a lot of people have done (pole-vaulting) so they don’t understand how it feels,” Yeager said. “Defying gravity is the coolest feeling ever; it’s just really awesome.”
Amanda Nieto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.