In his nine seasons as the pole vaulting coach at Memphis, Tyler Fraizer has coached many outstanding female athletes.
None, he said, were as good as Carolina Carmichael.
The 2012 Class 3A pole vault champion at Lake Forest, Carmichael became a four-time NCAA All-American and NCAA Championships qualifier at Memphis. She’s the school indoor and outdoor record-holder in the pole vault.
“She’s in high company. She’s the best to come through here,” Fraizer said.
Carmichael also participated in the U.S. Olympic Trials at the University of Oregon.
Carmichael, who graduated with a degree in sport and leisure management, did not qualify for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but has plans in the sport beyond her distinguished collegiate career.
“I’m ready to be a pro vaulter,” Carmichael said. “I’m going to focus my training on that goal.”
The amateur-to-professional path is much less clear in less commercialized sports such as track than it is in football, baseball or basketball.
As a collegiate athlete, Carmichael’s season revolved around a never-ending cycle of practices, meets and classwork. In the professional ranks, more time is spent on training, allowing for refinement on specific techniques necessary to compete against the nation’s best.
“In college, we have meets every weekend, then regionals and nationals,” Carmichael said. “All these meets where you have to jump higher puts a lot on your body. When I can focus on training, there are small things to work on that will help me peak during the season.”
When Carmichael returns to Memphis later this summer, she plans to hire Fraizer as a personal coach. They will design workouts to prepare her for the professional indoor and outdoor circuit. These include the indoor Millrose Games, held each winter in New York, and the outdoor Adidas Boost Boston Games in the spring.
Carmichael said there are also events in Europe and Asia that award prize money. Athletes who perform well at such high-profile meets increase their chances of landing endorsement deals.
“If you jump consistently higher, you start getting sponsors. A shoe company like Nike or a local company will sponsor you,” Carmichael said. “If you have a sponsor, you can travel around the world and compete for a living.”
Fraizer is coaching former Memphis pole vaulter and Olympic qualifier Pauls Pujats of Latvia. He said Pujats plans to turn pro after Rio, though the longevity of such a career for track athletes is questionable at best, even for Olympians.
“You have a small window to make a living off of this,” he said. “There are some athletes going to the Olympics who don’t have sponsors. In our sport, the higher you are ranked in the world helps your situation. You can benefit financially from Nike, Adidas, Puma, doctors or healthcare facilities.
“Do I believe (Carmichael) can do it? Yes, I believe she has the tools and ability. But there are a lot of things to get to that level.”
The first of which is rest and recovery.
Carmichael is spending most of the summer away from the track. She said she’s aware of the challenges of building a pro career but is unperturbed.”
“I’m done with my college career, which is kind of cool,” Carmichael said. “I’m faster and stronger and getting more excited about pole vaulting again. I’m ready to get back after it.”