Traditionally, a bucket list refers to things you’re going to do before you die, but there are other lists with softer deadlines involving different buckets.
You can ask Jamie (Davis) Connor about that and she’ll give you an account of what it’s like to wander onto a dream and then give it some thought and then take that step most of us never take on the real crazy stuff – she’s actually trying to carry it out.
Connor, a Colton native who is a former Tri-Valley High School and University of South Dakota athlete, wants to make the next Canadian Olympic team as a pole vaulter at what will then be the age of 35. Her age is noteworthy in a sport usually dominated by younger people, but that’s really just a number in this story. Much more significant is how one actually goes about deciding that, “Yes, this might seem strange but I’m not concerned about that. I’m going to do it anyway because I believe I can do it.”
It was March 1 in Colorado Springs, Colo., where Connor, whose husband Trevor grew up in Canada, pole vaulted a personal best 13 feet, 1.5 inches at a meet at the Air Force Academy. It made her a four-meter vaulter, which is sort of a separating point in the business between one kind of pole vaulter and another.
She cleared 12-8, which confirmed she was vaulting pretty well, and then she did again. Some days are made for this kind of thing.
“I got to that height and I kept thinking ‘I can really make this,’” Connor said. “When I cleared the bar – I didn’t bounce the bar, I didn’t touch the bar, but when I looked up the first thing I said was ‘Does that count?’ Did that happen? I was really surprised and I don’t know why I was surprised because I’d cleared that height in my head a thousand times.”
It provided Connor with significant evidence that she is headed in the right direction and offered hope, based on her comparatively quick climb, that more training can equal higher bars. Connor’s visualizations are now of her clearing 14 feet, which would put her in contention to make the Canadian team.
“It’s funny how much more I listen to coaches,” Connor said. “When I was in college, I realize now, I really didn’t listen. I was convinced I’d just have fun and I’d figure it out on my own. Now it’s more ‘How does this work?’ I’m much more mentally aware now and athletically aware.”
As Jamie Davis — her father Jan is a South Dakota amateur baseball hall-of-fame slugger — she competed in the pole vault at USD, though it wasn’t one of her events in high school. Injuries and inexperience hampered her, but she was a Division II All-American her junior year after basically starting from scratch with Derek Miles and the USD coaching staff as a freshman. After college she spent time trying to make a go of it professionally, training at the same Jonesboro, Ark., Earl Bell-run facility where Miles, a three-time Olympian, began his post-collegiate pole vaulting career.
She went as high as 12-8 in practice, but an eating disorder stalled her progress to the point where she knew she had to make changes. One of those was leaving pole vaulting behind.
“It was based on a lot of self-doubt and negative feelings,” Connor said. “I was plateauing in my sport, I wasn’t taking in the proper nutrition – I was more and more obsessed over what I looked like. My eating habits were really limiting what I could do.”
Things have changed this time around on that count.
“Nutrition fuels my workouts,” she said. “It’s a positive thing now rather than something based on a negative body image.”
She did triathlons and bicycle races, got a masters’ degree from Colorado State and got married. In 2012, she was watching the Olympics with her husband and saw some of her friends from her pole vaulting days on television working at heights she thought were attainable.
“I started feeling a little sad about the idea that my time was past,” Connor said. “I knew if I left it at that, I’d have regrets. Then I starting thinking. What if I got back into it? I could still go to the Olympics. You never know until you try.”
Living in Boulder, Colo., at the time, she was 33 and back to working with coaches and training to become a pole vaulter. In time she and Trevor decided to move to Toronto, where Trevor is from. Because she is married to a Canadian and living in Canada she’s eligible to compete in national events. She trains with Melanie Blouin, the nation’s top vaulter, and is directing all her energy to the sport these days after leaving a job in Colorado.
Connor is the first to tell you a lot of thank yous are in order.
“For my husband to drop everything and move shows how much he supports me,” Connor said. “I’m not contributing as much. We’re putting off starting a family, we’re living in an apartment – he’s pulling a lot of the weight in the marriage right now. It makes me so grateful.”
She has effusive praise for Blouin, and her generosity in time and advice. Even the naysayers – she’s heard from some who told her she was being silly – have played a part in pushing the dream this far.
She knows that ultimately the height of the bar will gauge her degree of competitive success, but the process itself has fueled its own kind of triumph.
“I think this is about people and not giving up on your dreams,” she said. “People who think it’s too late to try something – that’s not the truth. The truth is you can always get better at things. Yes, you’re going to run into physical limits to an extent that come with age, but this way you don’t have to live with regret. You don’t have to let fears and self-doubt run your life. No matter whether I can do this or not, it’s going to help me in my career, my marriage and with my children. Don’t let fear overtake you.”