Monday, March 19, 2012

Times, They Are A Changing....

I know many of you already know what is happening in my life. And most of you know something is up. I think I have finally sorted out all of my plans in the immediate future, so I guess it's time to spill the beans....

It was a very rough indoor season for me. Not only was I struggling to deal with my foot injury, but practices and meets were not going well, to say the least. Mentally I was a mess. And there was definitely a lot of tension between my coach and myself. I respect him a lot, but in the end I don't think that we are a good match as coach and athlete. I tried really hard all season to make it work. I tried to come into every practice with a positive attitude, but I always felt pushed aside and disrespected. And inevitably I left practices feeling dejected and down about my future in the sport.

After our last meet at Virginia Tech, my coach informed me that he had "lost the motivation to coach me.... months ago." At first, I was very hurt. For two weeks, I had decided that I was done pole vaulting forever. I was so down after the long season, that I really couldn't see a future for me in the sport. But with a little time, and some great friends, I decided that my time isn't quite up in this sport. I realize that my coach wasn't paid to coach me, he was doing it really as a favor and he gave up his free time to do it. So as harsh as it was, he had a right to make that decision. And I definitely learned a lot from him. And I can take that with me as I continue my journey this year.

It definitely still stings a little if I think about it too much. I have always prided myself on being so dedicated and working harder than anyone else. I have never ever had a coach give up on me in my 24 years of being a competitive athlete. And the end caught me by surprise. But even more surprising was the support I receive from everyone in Knoxville. Immediately I had several other training options to choose from in town. And I had a large group of people backing me up. I really was taken aback, and flattered.

But there are complications to staying and training in Knoxville. Everyone pretty much shares a pit. And even though all 5 post collegiate vaulters in town have different coaches, there are a lot of similarities in the training locations. So I would inevitably see my former coach and teammate at practices and meets. I don't know if I am mentally tough enough to make that work.

I am going into this outdoor season with two goals: qualify for the Olympic Trials, and have fun. Only one of those goals could be accomplished in Knoxville. So I created another option: Colorado Springs. It really fell together during our trip out there week before last. I have places to lift, sprint, and do gymnastics. I also found an AMAZING pole vault club in Boulder. We are going to have 3 elite girls training together this summer! And they have 3 elite guys too! Everyone is so positive and encouraging. And genuinely excited that I will be joining them. I feel like after months in the dark, I have rediscovered my love for the sport.

One of the biggest bonuses the being in Colorado Springs: My amazing, spectacular fiancé that I miss so much will be in Colorado Springs this summer. So we are not only going to have the chance to live in the same town, but in the same APARTMENT! I am so lucky. :)

So this is my last week in Knoxville. I will be moving most of my stuff into storage, and driving out to Colorado Springs! I am definitely sad to be leaving Knoxville. I will be leaving a lot of great friends here. But I will be back in TN in the fall. And really, everyone is welcome to come visit! If you come in July I can tour you around and show you the best that CO has to offer.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What would we do without Virginia Tech?

First of all I have to say thank goodness for Virginia Tech. And to their pole vault coach Bob Phillips. If it wasn't for them, every meet this season would have been a repeat of last weekend: mediocre meet, long wait, impossible to perform well.

Today I have spent all weekend trying to find meets for next weekend, the only weekend left in the season that Virginia Tech isn't hosting a meet. Our original plan was to go to the Air Force Invitational. It's a great track, and almost like home turf for me (since my heart really resides in CO). The competition would definitely be equally as good as Virginia Tech. So it would be a great chance to get some good bars under my belt. Unfortunately it seems the head coach at Air Force Academy is very hard to get in touch with. So I have no idea if they would let us into the meet or not.

But I had a glimmer of hope when I saw a collegiate meet accepting unattached entries in Albuquerque, on the same track that nationals will be held on in a few short weeks. After lots of phone calls I finally got ahold of one of the meet directors to ask about opening heights. Long story short, there are so few entries they may not even hold the meet. But he said that the University of New Mexico was hosting a collegiate meet the day before and he was sure that they would be happy to let in a few 4.00m jumpers.

It turns out UNM is not so accommodating. There is apparently a waiting list of post collegiate and professional athletes wanting to jump in this meet, and we were way down the list. It was basically a nice way of saying no. (By the way, he never even asked my name. What if he had just turned down Jenn Suhr? He'd never know...). So we're back to Air Force. Which is still a huge unknown.

Luckily there is a meet at Indiana University that accepts open athletes. But we don't know where they will set their opening height yet. It very well could be a repeat of last weekend with the 2+ hour wait.... I'm still holding out hope for Air Force though...

The frustrating part of all of this, is that I am not the only athlete dealing with this situation. Indoor meets try to limit field sizes, I understand that. But unattached athletes really don't take up that much space. It's not like every meet is flooded with unattached entrants. I don't think accepting us is hurting the Virginia Tech meet in any way. And aren't athletes like me and my teammate the future of the sport? How can we get the qualifying marks that we need for nationals and the trials if we can't find quality meets to compete in? (Yes I realize that I just ended that sentence with a preposition. I'm sorry. I'm annoyed. Not fixing it.) This sport should focus more of it's effort on creating situations that foster athlete development. Not make us so frustrated that we leave the sport.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Step in the Right Direction

First of all, I would like to thank everyone for their support over the past few weeks. I have finally started making some progress in the right direction, and I couldn't have gotten back on track without you.
As you know my first meet was a bit of a learning experience. After a very rough week reaching my breaking point with injuries, I refocused and was finally able to relax and enjoy my vaulting. We returned to Virginia Tech for a second weekend. This time around they had odd bar progressions, so instead of opening at 4.00m like we had planned I entered at 3.96m (12'11.75). It was also my first day jumping on the 14' poles. And I was switching brand of poles, which to be honest was unknown territory. I had no idea how they would feel. I ended up taking 5 jumps in warm ups, at least twice as many as I would prefer to take. But I made huge strides in my ability to embrace the technique that we are training. And I ended up clearing 3.96m on my second attempt. Here is a video of that jump:

By the time the bar moved to 4.11m, I was already at 7 full vaults for the day. Given my injuries, my fitness level isn't what I would like it to be. I am pretty exhausted by 6 or 7 jumps. But I gave a good go at 4.11m (13'5). Here is video of my best attempt:

Needless to say I was happy with the clearance. It was a PR for me, even though it was only by 6cm. But it felt great to clear a bar finally. And I felt like I was able to work around the injuries, and make progress on the technical aspects of the jump.

This past weekend we headed to my old home track, ETSU. The facility is great for track meets, and typically the meet is pretty good. This year opening height was a little lower, 10 ft. I wasn't too stressed out about it though. I have had a long wait in meets before. Last week was the first week where I really took the whole week to recover, and get my feet under me for competition day. And it totally worked! My feet felt the best they have in months when I was warming up. Here is my first warm up jump (the bungee is at 4.00m):

If you have ever dealt with plantar faciitis, you know that your feet are ok once you warmed them up. But once you stop and sit for a while, they tighten up again. Well, we definitely had to sit for a while. It was 2.5 HOURS before we came into the competition. I did my best to warm my feet up again, but they were hurting a lot, particularly my jump foot. My first competition jump I took off from about a foot too close to the box. So we moved back for the second one. When I jumped off the ground on the second attempt, I felt a pop in my foot. It was so painful that I didn't even finish that jump. On my third attempt I was struggling so much to get down the runway that my run was way off. I was really disappointed that I had another meet without a clearance, and I was really worried that I had done some serious damage in my foot. It hurt to put any pressure on my heel all night. When I woke up on Saturday morning my foot was a little more sore than normal, but thankfully (and surprisingly!) it loosened up throughout the day. It now feels like it will be able to recover and be ready to jump again this weekend.
With that scare behind me, and great jumping in warmups to build off of, I am looking forward to competing at Virginia Tech again. I will be sure to post an update on my next PR! :)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Troubled Waters

I have been quiet again, I know. There has been a lot going on in my world. And honestly there have been too many thoughts swirling around in my head, I was never sure that I could actually put them down on paper. As any athlete training to be they’re best knows, it is rarely ever easy. Lauren Fleshman stated how I have been feeling perfectly on her Facebook page this week: “Trying out for the olympics is being willing to serve your heart on a platter along with a knife and carving instructions.”

Balancing work, training, recovery, family, and friends is truly a difficult task in the best of times. And lately, it has been anything but the best of times. Christmas came at the perfect moment for me. It was truly a blessing to spend a couple of days relaxing with family and friends. It was a much needed break. But since we have gotten back into the daily grind, it seems like one thing after another just building up and weighing me down. The first was saying good bye to my Dad. He moved to New Zealand for a new job right after New Years. My mom will be following once he gets settled in and finds an apartment. Other than Geoff, my parents are my best friends. I know it seems silly being so sad that they are moving, and it’s only for a year. But it has really hit me hard. And anyone my age knows, mastering the internet and advanced technology can be difficult for our parents, right? So unfortunately since my Dad moved, communication has been sparse. It really has been hard to have them gone for such an important year in my life.

Other than the everyday stresses of work and training, the biggest obstacles in my way right now are these nagging injuries. I have a shoulder injury that seems determined to hang around. I don’t know what precipitated it, but it has really affected my workouts. I have had to make major modifications in my lifting. And on vault days, if I am taking off too close to the box or if I start my plant too late, I can really feel it in my shoulder. And even if the problem is minute, the pain in my shoulder causes me to hesitate, essentially ruining that jump. It has improved in the last few weeks, getting less and less sore. And I feel it less on the runway, either because I have improved my run and plant, or because the injury is healing. Either way it is a relief.

Unfortunately, the injuries that are not going away at all are in my feet. You may recall I ended my summer season in 2011 due to an injury in my jump foot. Initially I was told I had torn some tendons in my foot, but after an MRI I was told it was plantar faciitis. I got a cortisone shot in my foot before the start of fall training, and it alleviated the pain a little. But it never went away completely like we were hoping. Since then I have taken time off, dramatically altered workouts, and skipped more practices than I care to think about. I have taken every possible supplement that could help. I ice at least twice a day, stretch every morning and every night, treated it with the physical therapist and athletic trainers, all to no avail. If anything my foot has gotten worse. Over the last month and a half, I have developed the same exact pain in my right foot as well.

Dealing with a persistent injury like this it is a constant mental drain. At times it gets very hard to stay positive. Every workout is a struggle, and most of them get shortened. For a while I felt like my coach and I were not on the same page. I felt left out of every workout because my 27 year old injured body couldn’t do what my healthy 19 year old teammate could handle. I would go into every practice with a positive attitude, but I would always fall apart somewhere along the way.

Last weekend we had our first meet of the season. The pain was manageable. But I was unable to clear a bar. Realistically, I am not disappointed with the result. Compared to last year, I am gripping a foot higher, running from 5 ft farther back, and I’m jumping on the biggest poles I’ve ever been on. And I’m opening at a bar that is above my personal best. Some people think that’s crazy, but I know I can clear it, and I don’t really see the point at jumping at lower bars if they are not going to get me anywhere. I can handle the no-heights. But I am still not happy with an unsuccessful meet.

Practices this week were pretty bad. My feet are hurting more than they ever have. I wasn’t able to jump at all on Wednesday. The stress of it all was so overwhelming that I had serious conversations with my family about hanging up my spikes for good. I have been buckling under the stress for so long, and my body seems to be failing me. I have been doubting the faith that I have always had in my jumping ability.

But after talking to my coach and some important people in my life, I have reconsidered. We are making more major adjustments to the training plan. My feet are clearly not handling two vault days a week, so we will drop it to one. That means that the only vaulting I will do for the rest of the indoor season will be at competitions. I have also been blessed with an amazing boss/sponsor who is helping me afford some new shoes. New Balance hooked me up yesterday with a sweet pair of Grandma-like shoes to wear at work and walking around during the day (seriously hideous shoes. I am not usually one to get caught up in what I’m wearing, but I am definitely losing style points with these. But I don’t care how silly I look if they’ll help), plus a new pair of trainers, orthotics, compression socks, and special socks to sleep in that keep my feet flexed at night. I don’t know if it’s the socks, the shoes, my positive attitude, or something else at work, but this morning I wasn’t limping quite as much when I got out of the bed. I have refreshed my optimistic outlook on the season. We leave today for our second meet at Virginia Tech. My opening height isn’t getting lowered, I am just going to jump higher.

A huge thank you to those that helped me out this week. It was really a rough one. I really do feel blessed to have such an amazing support system from all of my friends and family. I am more determined than ever to give this everything I’ve got until I have nothing left to give.