When Aria Ottmueller first asked if she could do the pole vault, Chandler Valley Christian coaches were pretty adament. Nope.

But the junior doesn’t like to be told she can’t do something. She persisted, and last week, jumped in competition for the first time.

Then, on Wednesday, at the Chandler City Track and Field Meet, Ottmueller jumped a Division IV state-qualifying provisional height of 6 feet, 7 inches.

So what makes this such a tremendous feat?

Ottmueller is legally blind.

“I was born completely blind, and then I gained some vision, so I was at 20-200,” she said. “Then, I lost half of what I had. So now I’m at 20-400.

“When I’m pole vaulting, I can’t see the pit. I can’t really see anything.”

Ottmueller does it based on steps and memory. She lines herself up on the runway, marking where she need to start. Then she counts the strides, knowing at which stride to plant the pole and rise into the air to come over the bar.

“We started in the sand pit, and just kind of jumped,” she said. “The first time I did it, I really liked it.”

The oldest of four children, Ottmueller was bullied as a child, her mother Maria said. That only fueled her determination to prove to people she can achieve anything in life. Her mother never let her feel she was limited.

“As a kid, I did community service with children with disabilities in Wisconsin,” Maria said. “A woman taught me people can do anything they set their mind to if you give them a chance. That’s how I raised her.”

Some of Aria’s vision returned as a toddler, but by the eighth grade, half of that was gained  was gone. At night, she can’t see anything. On overcast days, she can’t see a thing.

She uses her other keen senses to get around on the track.

Ottmueller started out as a distance runner. But it wasn’t challenging enough. She always liked to jump, she said. She has jumped horses. She did gymnastics.

“I’ve always not liked being on the ground as much as I like being in the air,” Ottmueller said.

Coaches thought Ottmueller was joking when she first brought up the notion last year.

“I was talking to one of my coaches, and he’s like, ‘She’s not pole vaulting,’ and I’m like, ‘Yes, I am,’ ‘’ Ottmueller said.

But there were liability issues that the school had to consider. Her mom cringes at some of the thing Aria asks to do. But she was all in on Aria’s determination to vault after she realized how serious she was about it.

“At first, I said, ‘Yeah, right, why don’t you do the javelin throw while you’re at it,’ ” Maria said. “She pushed it. I’m 100 percent behind it. I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ When she sets her mind on something, she does is.”

Assistant track coach Al Nelson made sure all of the safety precautions were in place as Ottmueller gradually excelled.

“What a story,” Nelson said. “We have a little joke, that because she really can’t see where she’s landing, it’s almost easier for her. She has overcome so much in the classroom and on the field. She was determined that she was going to pole vault.

“She wasn’t going to use her handicap as an excuse. She’s as viable a part of our team as any athlete.”

Valley Christian has long been a hotbed for track and field. Before divisions were reduced in 2011, Valley Christian won 18 of 19 girls state championships.

Colin Lowney, one of the top boys athletes on the team who has vaulted 12-7, said  she told Ottmueller last year she didn’t want her trying it for fear she would get hurt.

But now Lowney is inspired watching Aria fearlessly fly through the air.

“She’s a really good jumper,” he  said. “She has a huge smile every time she jumps.”

Ottmueller never worries about getting hurt.

“You can’t be afraid of what you can’t see,” she said.


Ottmueller Vaulter Magazine
Ottmueller Vaulter Magazine

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