Two Blind Pole Vaulters Compete at State Championships
You think pole vaulting is difficult enough as is? Try doing it while being legally blind.
Two high school student-athletes did exactly that this past weekend, each competing in her respective state's championship event.
Despite being unable to see the bar she'd be jumping over, sophomore Charlotte Brown cleared three heights at the Texas track and field state championships on Saturday. Brown cleared the first three heights (9 feet, 6 inches; 10 feet; and 10 feet, 6 inches) "easily," according to the Associated Press, but couldn't clear the 11-foot height in three attempts. Coming into the day, Brown's personal best was 11 feet, 6 inches.
Brown has 20/400 vision in her right eye and "only a pinhole field of vision in her left eye," the Dallas Morning News reports. To compete in the pole vault event, she lays down a special 80-foot strip of artificial turf alongside her running lane, which provides her a light/dark contrast she can use to keep herself running straight. Once she starts running, her coach, Derek Smith, shouts out the number of steps she's taken to give her a cue of when to time her jump.
"I've always wanted to do stuff with adrenaline," Brown said a day before competing at the championship, to the AP. "Most people think it's crazy to pole vault. I've always just thought it would be a lot of fun. I run full speed at a stationary object that I can't see."
She ultimately finished the event in eighth place (of nine). The National Federation of State High School Associations also presented her with the Section 6 National High School Spirit of Sport Award during the meet.
A similar scene unfolded at the Arizona track and field state championships on Friday, with 17-year-old Aria Ottmueller, who is legally blind, competing in the pole vault event.
Ottmueller only started pole vaulting six weeks ago, according to ABC15.com, yet she still managed to qualify for the state meet by clearing a 6-foot, 7-inch jump. Like Brown, Ottmueller is unable to see the bar that she's supposed to sail over, so she relies on counting her steps and muscle memory to know when and where to jump.
"We started out and did it a lot by feel," Ottmueller said to CBS5AZ.com. [Coach Perry Fraley would] take my pole, I'd hold it, and he'd put it in the pit and he'd help me get the feel of jumping."
That method served her well during the state meet. She set a new personal record by clearing a 7-foot, 6-inch jump, finishing sixth at the championships, according to her school's athletics Twitter account.
Check out this video of Ottmueller clearing a jump at the state championships, courtesy of AZCentral.com.
Photo: Emory Rains High School's Charlotte Brown, who is legally blind, competes in the Girls 3A Pole Vault in the UIL State Track & Field athletics meet on Saturday in Austin, Texas. (Eric Gay/AP)
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