It was never her intention to hold Bambi captive, but when this little abandoned fawn stole Olympic gold medalist Jenn Suhr’s heart one spring evening in 2011, she went with her gut and decided to rescue the docile doe that had clearly lost its way.
It’s not surprising the 31-year-old pole-vaulting phenom stumbled across this tiny, helpless creature. She loves to watch deer roam the 10-acre property she shares with her coach and husband of three years, Rick, in her native upstate New York. After Jenn converted Rick from a hunter to an animal lover, they installed an outdoor video camera about 100 feet from their house to watch all kinds of wildlife, especially deer, wander and play on the expansive fields that surround their home, which also doubles as her training facility (she has an indoor and outdoor runway with pole vault pads in her backyard).
“I love to go through the footage,” said the 13-time U.S. national champ who set a world record in women’s indoor pole vault by clearing 16 feet, 5½ inches at the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships in Albuquerque, N.M., in March.
“I don’t know where this family of six raccoons lives, but I like to put out apples so that I can watch them. Also, there’s this one deer that I’ve been following since its birth. We have every stage of its early life — about eight months — on tape, which is pretty cool.”
Admiring deer from afar and domesticating them are two very different things. Having grown up with pets her whole life, Suhr knows the distinction well and prefers to live only with cats and dogs, which is why she owns an all-white 120-pound Great Pyrenees named Tundra and an orange tabby cat that she rescued named Morris. So when she came across a weak, immobile, sweet-looking fawn, she never imagined keeping her.
“When I started to get close to the baby deer, I expected it to jump up and run away,” said Suhr, who has been ranked the No. 1 American since 2006. “But when it stayed still, lying on its belly, legs spread out and with its face on the ground, I thought, ‘That’s not normal.’
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“So I picked her up and brought her home.”
That night, Suhr bought some goat’s milk at a local farmers market to feed the undernourished fawn that appeared to have been left to fend for itself for some time. After she filled the fawn’s belly, Suhr set her up with blankets in her pool house, which became the little deer’s home for the next few days.
Once the deer was strong enough to stand on its own and walk again, she immediately began following Suhr everywhere, including inside the house and around the yard. Within a week, the special little visitor, which Suhr affectionately named Anna Beth, had already become part of the family. They even took a road trip together to their lake house — Anna Beth shared the car’s backseat with Tundra. Despite their easy union, Suhr always knew their precious time together was limited.
Jenn Suhr played basketball in college and has gone on to become one of the best pole vaulters in the world.
“There’s just so much that I couldn’t provide for her, so I looked online for a local animal refuge for deer and found one that’s registered to foster deer only 15 miles away,” said Suhr, who later found out that New York fines people for illegally keeping a pet deer.
Although she was sad to let her go, Suhr knew she was leaving the doe in good, capable hands.
“When we dropped off Anna Beth, deer were coming up to us, like in a petting zoo, and I thought, ‘I want to be this lady.'” No, seriously.
“When I’m done being a pro athlete, I’m going to open an animal refuge for deer,” she said, only half joking. “Also, I want Rick to dig a pond and fill it with swans.”
For now, her Snow White dreams will have to be put on hold while she prepares to defend her gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, starting with the 2013 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, later this week.