Only two Aggie female track athletes have earned All-American status three times during their careers at Utah State.
Distance runner Alisa Nicodemus is in the Utah State Athletics Hall of Fame. Shae Jones-Bair is about to join her.
The pole vaulter will be among the eight-member class of 2012. The newest group of Hall of Famers will be officially inducted Saturday evening at the Riverwoods Conference Center in Logan.
“I was a little shocked, kind of surprised me,” said Jones-Bair when asked about her reaction to being part of the 2012 class. “I hadn’t really thought about it. When I got the call, I was like, ‘Cool, sounds good.’ … I told my husband, ‘I guess I’m officially old, because I thought you had to be old to be in the Hall of Fame.’”
The 34-year-old mother of four is excited to be returning her alma mater this weekend. She and her husband, Brad Bair, who was a decathlete at USU, currently live in Kimberly, Idaho, where they coach the high school track team and also run a track club for youth.
“I would like to come back more (to visit USU),” Jones-Bair said. “We took the place for granted. What a wonderful place to train; it’s just beautiful. You don’t realize it when you are there competing and training all the time.”
When the Blackfoot, Idaho, native came south to Logan, she was a sprinter and long jumper. Pole vault was brand new to collegiate women, and Jones-Bair had never done it before.
“After my freshman year, they added women’s pole vault to NCAA Championships,” Jones-Bair said. “I had been a gymnast (for more than 10 years), and my coach said why don’t we give it a shot and see what happens. Obviously it was a great fit.”
Yes, it was. Jones-Bair more than caught on.
As a redshirt freshman in 1998, Jones-Bair earned her first All-American honor by finishing eighth in the pole vault at the NCAA Indoor Championships. She followed that up with a fifth-place finish the following year at the Indoor Championships.
“It (pole vaulting) was just kind of a natural thing to me being a sprinter and a jumper and having that gymnastics background,” Jones-Bair said. “It kind of all fit together. Curtis Collier was the coach that recruited me, and he told my dad that his daughter made him look like a recruiting genius.”
However, her third All-American honor may be the sweetest. Battling injuries, Jones-Bair wasn’t even sure if she was going to be able to compete in 2000. The Aggie did and turned in a gutty performance at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, placing fourth in her signature event.
“I remember sitting on the plane almost in tears on the way to the 2000 Outdoor Championships,” Jones-Bair said. “I was in pain just sitting there and didn’t think I would be able to compete. … I was able to compete and got fourth, tied for third, but took fourth because of misses. It was a special moment because I didn’t think I was going to be able to compete. That was pretty special to me.”
Hamstring issues had limited her, so she stopped running sprints and long jumping. It would be a hamstring issue that kept her out of the 2000 Olympic Trials as she had qualified.
“We tried to focus on the one event that was my strongest and lessen the load on my leg,” Jones-Bair said. “… It was a great experience to find an event that was right for me and to have good coaches. All of my experiences were awesome and came because I was at Utah State.”
Was there ever any fear when she was learning to pole vault?
“For me, no,” she answered. “I just loved it from the beginning. You just don’t think about it as you are flying through the air. There were times when I was learning and ended up back on the runway cement and got bruises. I had injuries. In fact, I got back up that day and had a personal record. I guess there was never a fear for me. It was just fun.”
Jones-Bair was invited by 2000 Olympic champion Stacy Dragila, who was at nearby Idaho State, to come train after her college days. Jones-Bair thought about it, but had recently given birth to her first child and decided to hang up her track shoes.
Now she gets to return and relive some of her college glory days.
by: Shawn Harrison
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