UW record-setting pole vaulter, NCAA record-holder launches herself to success
Not many of us would be brave enough to take a giant stick and launch ourselves the height of a giraffe into the air over another pole, and then drop down — but University of Washington pole vaulter Olivia Gruver is fearless.
With a 15-foot-6.25-inch jump, the UW senior last year broke the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s outdoor height record for female pole vaulters.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen, but jumping that high is so cool and it’s so different — a different feeling than I’ve ever felt before,” she told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “So you just want to keep striving to get that height again.”
This past weekend at UW’s Dempsey Indoor Center, she broke the UW indoor school record and the Dempsey Indoor record; the champion pole vaulter managed a 15-foot-3.5-inch jump.
“It’s really, really cool and feels really good, and makes me want to keep pushing for the next meet,” she said.
Washington’s Olivia Gruver cleared 15-3 1/2 (4️⃣.6️⃣6️⃣m) in the women’s pole vault claiming…
— NCAA Track & Field (@NCAATrackField) January 19, 2020
If you think throwing yourself over a bar and dropping onto a mat sounds similar to gymnastics, you’d be right — Gruver got her start as a gymnast in childhood, which could be where her comfort with flying through the air at daunting heights comes from.
“My height and my strength and my speed have really helped me, but if you’re fearless — and you can take a pole and try to jump over a pole, and you don’t think that’s too crazy — I think that’s the best quality you can have,” she said.
After she began growing too rapidly for gymnastics, she searched for a new sport in high school. That’s when she took up track and discovered pole vaulting.
“I was like, ‘Oh, this is kind of cool, and I’m kind of good at it.’ It was like a natural thing to me,” she said. “It was kind of an accident that I got into it, but it was a very good accident.”
But you don’t need to come from a gymnastics background or have a certain build to succeed at pole vaulting — Gruver maintains that effort and passion are the most important elements.
“Anybody can be a pole vaulter — if you put in the hard work and you have the dedication to do it, you can do it,” she said.
If it sounds intimidating to learn, she explained that pole vaulters do not start with the pole — it goes in steps. First a person learns how to hold the pole, then drop the pole, and then run with the pole.
“You just kind of get better and better at it each time, and get more comfortable with it each time,” she said. “So the way it progresses, it makes it easier for you — to where you don’t think about, “Oh my goodness, I’m taking this pole and swinging myself over another pole.”
Her goal is to one day go to the Summer Olympics, so keep an eye out in Tokyo 2020 or Paris 2024 — you just might spot a UW alum there.
Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.