In what has become almost a routine for the Washington University track and field teams, junior Anna Etherington set another school record last week. Etherington, a systems engineering major from Barrington, Ill., cleared 4.02 meters at last Friday’s WUSTL Mini Meet, upping her already-established outdoor school record by 0.01 meters. Etherington is also the school-record holder in the indoor pole vault with a clearance of 3.97 meters, and she has won the pole vault at the University Athletic Association championship meets ever time she has participated. She has come a long way since first attempting a pole vault as a freshman in high school. Etherington sat down with Student Life on Wednesday to discuss her past, present and future with pole vaulting and Wash. U. track.
Student Life: How does someone actually get a start in the pole vault?
Anna Etherington: I get asked that all the time. I was actually on the diving team in high school, so some of the divers were also on the track team and said I should try it, so I did. I did gymnastics ever since I was little, so I’m kind of in the body movement sports. So yeah, just one day, I tried it and ended up loving it.
SL: You have obviously come a long way from that point, so how did you get to the level you are at now?
AE: On my high school team, we had a girl who was pretty good, so it was nice to try to go do what she did. I mean, I’ve done a lot of practice, I’ve done a lot of weight lifting. I even went down to the middle of nowhere, Arkansas to the Mecca of pole vaulting and practiced there. I’ve done things to get better, just a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication to one thing.
SL: What I remember about the pole vaulters from my high school is they were really short and small. At 5 feet 8 inches, you are significantly taller than the pole vaulters I went to high school with. How does that factor in?
AE: It is actually better to be taller because, if you think about it, the angle of the pole, if you have your arms up, is closer to vertical, which is where you want it to go. It’s actually better to be taller or have really long arms, whichever one. I mean, as a gymnast, I was too tall. But for a pole vaulter, it is definitely better to be taller.
SL: What was your specialty in gymnastics?
AE: When I was younger, it was the bars because I had a lot of upper body strength. But then I quit, and when I went back, it was the floor because I had a lot of power [laughter].
SL: Were you ever afraid of pole vaulting?
AE: I have been afraid. Usually, people say, “That’s so scary!” and I’m like, “What are you even talking about?” I don’t think about it like that. I broke a pole in high school, so that made me think, like, “Oh my god, what am I doing?” But my coach told me to go—he made me pick up another pole and go—and that really washed away the fear. Sometimes I think, “What am I doing? I’m flying in the air,” but you have to weigh the risks. You’ve done it like a million times, and you’re fine. I get scared, but usually I can talk myself out of it.
SL: Do you still get scared a little bit?
AE: Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes I’ll be like, “Oh my gosh.”
SL: What is your favorite part of the pole vault?
AE: Doing it? [laughter] I think if I think about a vault that I have done well, I think about when I go over it and clearing it, but it is kind of hard to pick one apart. You can’t do one part without all the others, and you can’t be really good at one part without being good at all the others. So I guess making the bar is my favorite part.
SL: What is going through your head right before you start your run-up?
AE: Usually, I’m thinking about what I’m trying to work on. If it’s get my arms up and out, that’s what I’m thinking about. Sometimes I’ll talk to myself. I’ll be like, “You can do it,” just a little pump up because you need that extra adrenaline.
SL: What about during the run-up?
AE: Get the pole in the box. You can’t do the vault if it doesn’t get in the box. Really what I do is at the beginning of the vault, I think about what I have to do and then during it, I just do it. I’ll think about little cues that I have and not really anything in particular.
SL: What about when you’re falling [after going over the bar]?
AE: Sometimes I’ll be like, “Stay, stay, stay” because I’ll have hit it just a little bit. Or if it is staying up, I’ll be like, “Oh, good.” And then I hit the pit and I try be like, “OK, great,” and I’ll do like a little “yes!” But then it is on to the next bar. I’m really always thinking forward.
SL: Last Friday, when you set the record, there was a small crowd there, and everyone was cheering you on. What were you thinking right before and then right after you cleared it?
AE: Before I was thinking, “You can do this.” I love having an audience. Sometimes I’ll get nervous, but the way I get over the nerves is by saying, “Look, everyone just wants to see something good. They don’t care if it’s you; they just want to see a good vault.” There’s this thing called “the slow clap” [in track] where you start out slow and get progressively faster, and I used to hate it. One day at [the University Athletic Association indoor championships in 2013], it was going on for another event, but it timed up perfectly with mine, and I made [the vault]. My coach was like, “You need the slow clap!” So now, he always does the slow clap. So having the crowd and doing that is really nice. After I cleared, I just felt a wave of relief that I could keep going. Like, “I get to go further, I made the bar.”
SL: What would you say your favorite memory of pole vaulting is?
AE: One that sticks out was my freshman year at indoor conference. I was in a jump-off. What happens is two people are tied throughout the whole thing, and you get another attempt at the last height. If neither person makes that, you go down three inches and you each get another attempt. It goes down like that until you break [the tie]. Indoor conference was also in Chicago, so a ton of alumni were there, so it was a huge “oh my gosh, everybody is here, wow” moment. The [other] girl went and missed it at the height we were going at, and then I went and made it. At that moment, everybody rushed over, and I realized that I’m doing this not just for myself but for everybody else. I will always remember that moment.
SL: Why did you choose to come to Wash. U.?
AE: I was looking at it for academics, obviously. I remember my visit trip when I got to meet the team and stay overnight. I just realized that this team loves being a team and being together. That really drew me in. We have a great coach, too. I could see myself here. The campus is beautiful; dorms are nice. It was the whole package, but really what set it over was the team atmosphere.
SL: Looking back at everything that you have accomplished so far at Wash. U. and in high school, how does it make you feel?
AE: It feels good, kind of amazing. If I really think about how far I’ve come from making 5 feet 6 inches at my first meet to 13 feet—it is cool. It also makes me think that I can do better. I don’t really like to think about where I’ve come from but rather where I can go.
SL: So where do you see yourself going? What are your goals for the rest of the season?
AE: Get higher. I’d like to place better at nationals, for my own benefit and the team. We were so close to getting fourth [at the indoor championships]. I want to get stronger. I have weightlifting goals, too. Just little goals to get better.