Willamette Striders Track Club

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Sandi Morris: A glance through a window into my life as an athlete

By John Olson / June 17, 2009 
Greenville rising senior Sandi Morris describes her trip to Portland, Ore. to work with pole vault coach Rick Baggett.
See the original article on SCRunners.com

June 5, 2009
I made my way through the crowd of people in the Charlotte, N.C. Airport towards the plane that was to take me to Portland, Ore. With my coach Rusty Shealy by my side, we made our way to the other side of America. We left at 6 a.m. and landed at 1 p.m. our time and 10 a.m. their time. After all the usual hustle of getting luggage and making sure not to leave anything on the plane, we got outside of the terminal and took our first breath of Oregon air. Rick Bagget, a very well known pole vault coach on the West Coast, drove up in a soccer-mom mini van decked out with USATF stickers and pole vault symbols. We shook hands very quickly from drivers seat to back seat and that was it...time to train!!

After a quick nap back at Coach B’s house, we hit the pits! First session of the first day was basically for coach to get a look at my ability. What point I was at, what I could and couldn’t do. He started by teaching me a little different warm up. One that’s more specific to pole vaulting. Just different active warm-up drills that help running form and balance. After warmups we worked on short run drills… (vaulters tell how far they run from by how many “lefts” they take. Instead of saying six steps they would say three lefts or how many times the left foot strikes the ground). It is very difficult to get an athlete to do things in the vault because there are very few ways to slow down sections of the vault to get the feel for it…one just has to do repetitions and do little things better each time, such as my take off. I can hang from a high bar or a rope and hold my left leg back and drive my right knee as much as I want…it does not feel quite the same as actually taking off. So he brought me forward to three lefts (six steps) from the pit and we repeated the plant over and over. I focused on every little thing he told me to do and had an incredible and good change occur! My current personal record is 12 feet, six inches, but after working on that takeoff (which sets up for the top of the vault) I feel confident I can go 13 feet soon! The second session was after dinner and we were trying to save energy for the next couple days so did not do anything too major. We worked on some gymnastics stuff and simple stretches and then hit the pillow!

June 6, 2009
After a good night’s sleep, I woke up and ate breakfast. The three of us (me, coach Shealy, and coach Bagget) headed back to the facility at around 10. The facility is this huge barn that’s not wood but aluminum, I think. Inside its about 60 feet by 200 feet and the entire floor was astro turf and there was a rubber runway running down the middle strait into a vault pit! On the other side was a high jump pit! The walls were lined with all kinds of toys that any athlete would love to monkey around on! Uneven bars, rings, high bar, a pully system with a harness that you can run and plant a pole to feel the take off, monkey bars, and a bunch of other things!! Its like pole vault HEAVEN!

I started out with the same warm up that coach B showed me (which is very efficient!) and then moved onto some more short run drills. Slowly he would take my run back a little at a time. Started with three lefts, then four, five, six, and finally seven. I have never run from further than seven so he kept me there. I was on a smaller pole and the point of this next drill was to get me exploding off the ground with a powerful right knee drive and a long left trail leg. I was supposed to be trying to get as DEEP in the pit as I could…not really as HIGH. (so you could call it long vaulting haha…a mix of pole vault and long jumping). I would run, plant as forcefully as I possibly could, hold the trail leg back, then try and slam the top of the pole to my thigh and shoot off the top of the pole. At the end I would turn to my belly, and some times do a 360 back around to my back and land either way! I had never felt more powerful coming off the pole than that before!! After that we stopped for the first session and went to grab some lunch. We also went and watched the girl’s vault at the Washington-Oregon high school meet. I wished very badly we could stick South Carolina in and I could compete haha!

After eating some good ol’ chinese food (I know…not too great before a workout)… we went back to the house and watched part of the Prefontaine Track Classic to digest lunch and rest. (I was upset with the vaulters…way too many no-heighted!!). The second session we did a little bit of everything. Short runs mostly, and gymnastics! I worked on free-hip circles and pullovers. He also put me into the harness and held a small pole and planted in the plant box he placed at the end of the system so I could run and plant like I was going to actually vault (though the harness would only let me plant and not go upside down).

There was also this very sweet girl Caisa from Venezuela! She was the Venezuelan national champion in the vault! She seemed shy at first, but she came out of her shell and we had a lot of fun training together. We even made up nicknames for each other….she was Casadilla and I was Monkey. The night came to an end while the two of us chased each other around with pool floaties and had pretend sword fights. (Boy did I sleep well!)

The last morning came too quickly. I had already learned so much in just two days, I wondered how much I could learn and improve if I lived and trained their! We took my run back to seven lefts after the warmup and short runs. I had a lot of fun putting everything I learned together into a full-vault! I had to be on a smaller pole because I was so exhausted, but I was able to get vertical and go up and come off the top of a small pole very well. (That means that once I do that on a bigger pole then I might have to raise my goals because I will be flying over my current ones!!!) I was completely exhausted after repeating runs. I had to crawl/roll out of the pit. We ate lunch at this really good burger place with cool paintings on the walls and really loud waitress. (My head felt heavy because I was so tired). Coach laughed at me because I am a fast eater and the previous meal he said “you ate it so fast I didn’t even get to see it!” Haha so he made sure to get a look at my burger because five minutes later it was gone.

Second session came quickly because I fell asleep after lunch. I was too tired to do much, so we did more gymnastics. Back rolls into handstands, bubkas, pullovers, free hip circles, attempted giants, and standing on medicine balls while planting a pole!

Although my time spent there was very short, I learned a LOT. I feel more confident with my vault now, and know that if I keep at it I really think it could take me somewhere. Who knows the possibilities. I started at the bottom, and this is just the beginning of my climb to my destination. I want to be the best I can be. Even if that doesn’t mean setting new world records, or coming in first place, I simply want to know that I was the best I could physically and mentally manage! I do not compete to win….I compete to PR. If I PR then I am happy. If winning comes with it, then that’s the icing on the cake!!

I think that athletes get so caught up in want to win. Just win, win, win. That they forget what being an athlete is all about. And I think anyone who is an athlete knows just what I am talking about. Most of us get that feeling every once and a while. I have gotten it. Where your mind gets so caught up in wanting to win that you forget to do the most important and basic things!

I hope you enjoyed reading this small glance through a window into my life as an athlete. It means a lot to me to get chances to be able to put my ideas and thoughts somewhere where anyone can read them! And thanks to my mom, Kerry Morris, who has been my track coach and parent since my freshman year. I know I am a pain mom, but I love you! And thank you to coach Shealy for being more than just a coach to me and taking care of me as if I was your daughter. And Dad, I love you! I know you get frustrated with me, but I do everything I can to make you proud to be my father.

See you guys at the track!!

Sandi Morris, Greenville class of 2010