At first blush, the pole vault was a turnoff.
Jenn Suhr wanted nothing to do with the event until her future husband, Rick, coaxed the former basketball player into taking a leap of faith.
She eventually landed on the Olympic stage, earning a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Games
“I actually thought those people who did it were really crazy,” Suhr recalled. “Now, pole vault is something that I live for and it’s something Rick and I are both diehards about.”
Suhr is among the elite track and field athletes hoping to use the 103rd annual Drake Relays, April 26-28 in Des Moines, as a springboard toward this year’s Olympics in London.
She also belongs to a select sorority of newly married competitors capable of adding a gold medal to their wedding ring.
“It was my husband, really, who got me into it,” Suhr said. “It’s funny how you can go from not even knowing the event to absolutely loving it.”
Suhr, formerly known as Jenn Stuczynski, was married on Jan. 3, 2010. Jenny (Barringer) Simpson, wed husband Jason 10 months later.
In 2011, Simpson won the 1,500 meters at the World Championships.
“It’s a huge part of my success,” said Simpson, a native of Webster City. “And I think it will be a huge part of my longevity, having somebody who understands what I do.”
Simpson benefits from having a spouse with a flexible schedule and an appreciation of what it takes to excel on the international level.
Jason Simpson is training for April 29’s Eugene (Ore.) Marathon.
“The lifestyle is definitely a really important thing, and having somebody who can really understand and absorb some of the selfishness that comes with being a professional athlete,” Jenny Simpson said. “And then also, just the really small practical things, like if I have a 70-minute run and it’s cold and it’s snowing … sometimes he’ll take his lunch break and run with me.”
Connie Price-Smith, the track coach at Southern Illinois, credits husband John with helping her earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team as a thrower in 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000.
“He just helped me with confidence and me believing I can accomplish things,” she said.
John Smith remained a stabilizing influence when his wife went from being a student of the sport to a teacher. He is an assistant coach for the Salukis, who will bring several athletes to the Relays.
“For me, moving into coaching was an easy transition,” Price-Smith said. “Now, the focus is still somewhat on myself, because I want to be successful at it.”
Rick Suhr offered some insight to establishing a healthy marriage away from the sport.
“You have to have a majority of your interest together outside of track and field,” he said. “If you don’t, I don’t think your relationship is going to last.”
Rick’s relationship with Jenn began as a coach. They became a couple in 2007, partly because of their travel demands.
“It came up as a conversation one day,” Rick recalled. “She goes, ‘It’s really hard for me to date anybody with this schedule.’ And I go, ‘You know what? It’s hard for me.’
“She said, kidding around, ‘Maybe we should be dating each other.’ That’s how the whole thing evolved and started.”
Jenn Suhr will be among the headline performers April 25 during a Drake Relays’ vaulting competition at Jordan Creek Mall.
She is currently ranked No. 1 in the world and owns the Ameican indoor (16 feet) and outdoor (16-1¾) records.
“I’ve heard great things about (Drake) in the past and it’s on my bucket list to do,” Jenn said. “Rick and I have talked about competing in a street vault or a mall vault. We thought, ‘This is perfect.’ ”
PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
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