GREEN BAY – Robin Schmit has helped develop some of the best girls pole vaulters in the state.
Yet Schmit has never been to a track and field meet.
The Green Bay YMCA gymnastics director is proud to see a number of her pupils continue to set the bar high in a different sport.
“Gymnastics is a really, really difficult sport,” Schmit said. “For these girls, pole vaulting is that same challenge.”
The top five spots on the state honor roll for the girls pole vault this year were occupied by individuals that were at some point members of the Gymstars gymnastics team that Schmit coaches.
De Pere’s Kylie Swiekatowski, Grace Kowalkowski and Olivia Fabry along with Green Bay Preble’s Sheridan Michaud and Jensen Van Duyse all cleared at least 12 feet in advancing to the WIAA state track and field meet last season.
They were all at least Level 8 gymnasts, too.
“There is a ton of strength involved,” said Swiekatowski, who set a WIAA Division 1 state pole vault record in June by clearing 12-7. “I think that just transitions you really well into pole vaulting.
“Gymnastics teaches you how to compete. That’s something you need to know for pole vaulting because it’s an individual sport and it can definitely get in your head. Those things go hand in hand with gymnastics and pole vaulting. You have to be tough mentally.”
Wrightstown native Bonnie Draxler is hands down the best girls pole vaulter in state history, earning four Division 2 state titles and setting the WIAA state record for all divisions by clearing 13-3 in 2014.
Draxler also was the Green Bay YMCA’s first Level 10 gymnast and won 15 state gymnastics titles. She feels her success in the pole vault wouldn’t have been possible without the coaching she received from Schmit in gymnastics.
“It has been amazing the opportunities I got to have because of gymnastics,” said Draxler, who will be a junior at San Diego State.
Draxler was named Mountain West Conference women’s field athlete of the week three times last season, including when she cleared 14-¾, which is the third best mark in program history.
Given the coordination and body control needed in both sports, it’s quite common for elite college pole vaulters to have a gymnastics background. Draxler said all but one of her teammates at San Diego State competed in gymnastics.
“It’s interesting at the college level how different coaches teach (gymnastics),” said Swiekatowski about what she noticed during her recruiting visits before choosing to compete at Rice University.
Swiekatowski credits Draxler, a gymnastics teammate, for getting her interested in the pole vault.
Draxler, meanwhile, points to one of her older gymnastics teammates, Meredith Duchaine, a 2007 Green Bay Preble graduate, for sparking her interest in the event.
“It’s pretty awesome how it has continued,” Draxler said. “Whenever I looked at (track and field) results, it was like, ‘Wow, all of these girls were on my gymnastics team.’ It’s neat to see.”
Although Schmit hasn’t been able to attend a meet in person because she is usually teaching gymnastics classes, she has seen plenty of pole vaulting through the videos that appear on her Facebook page from her former students.
Schmit, who has coached gymnastics for 20 years, has learned how to teach techniques that can specifically translate to pole vaulting.
For example, Swiekatowski and Michaud made the decision to give up gymnastics in high school but still came to Schmit for gymnastics-based workouts plans or ideas. Swiekatowski and Michaud also stayed involved with the sport by coaching younger kids.
Meanwhile, Van Duyse has remained an active competitor in gymnastics while competing in track and field, like Draxler did.
Schmit hopes the lessons they learned through gymnastics will help them throughout their lives.
“I think the biggest thing that makes me proud of these girls, beyond that they are amazing athletes and students, is they are still a family,” Schmit said. “They’re all wearing different school uniforms but they’ll take pictures together all cuddled up at a meet in one blanket because they’re freezing. They’re all one family still.
“They’re leaning on each other and trusting each other, just like they were all on one team. I just think that speaks volumes for what they are and for the family the ‘Y’ is able to create within our program.”