By: Steve Irvine,

The advice came during Neal Tisher’s orientation session this past summer as she headed into the first days of medical school at UAB. Maintain the  extracurricular activities that you love, the students were told.

Tisher followed that advice, even though her extracurricular activity is rather unique.

“I would assume most kids in medical school probably hit the gym and hit the treadmill or bike or something to try to relieve stress or try to stay healthy,” said UAB women’s track and field head coach Kurt Thomas. “Well, hers is pole vaulting. That’s kind of where I fit in her world.”

Pole vaulting is much more than a hobby for Tisher, who joined the UAB track team for her final season of eligibility as a graduate transfer. The Mobile native won multiple state pole vault championships at St. Paul’s Episcopal High School, as well as claiming state titles in the heptathlon and 100 and 300 meter hurdles, and was a pole vault standout at Ole Miss. She earned All-America honorable mention in both indoor and outdoor track while at Ole Miss and set school pole vault records in indoor (13 feet, 11 inches) and outdoor (13-9.75).

Tisher had a year of college eligibility remaining after missing her senior season at Ole Miss because of shoulder problems. She hurt her rotator cuff late in her junior season, just before competing in the NCAA Regionals, and wasn’t cleared to compete until the summer after her senior season ended. She applied to medical school at UAB but was prepared to go back to Ole Miss for one final season if she wasn’t accepted.  Her acceptance to UAB, however, meant her pole vaulting career, which began when she was in the 7th grade, was over.

“I thought I had to quit track and I was devastated,” Tisher said. “I’m not going to lie, I cried. When you quit it, that’s when you realize how much it means to you. I was like ‘What am I going to do?’”


She hadn’t considered the option of continuing track and field until a conversation with former Ole Miss hurdler Lee Moore, who was attending medical school in Tennessee. He asked if she had thought about competing at UAB with her final year of eligibility. Thomas said he heard Tisher was coming to UAB for medical school and might be interested in joining the team. Tisher eventually reached out to Thomas about the possibility.


“I told her get to Birmingham first and check out how the first couple weeks of classes go,” Thomas said. “Their medical school classes started late July and early August. I told her come late August, come talk to me and we’ll try to figure everything else out. I wanted to set her mind at ease, I am willing to work with you but, at the same time, it’s not the same as undergrad. I kind of knew that going in.”

The challenges of medical school are substantial. Mix in the rigors of being a college student-athlete and doing both takes a special person and an understanding coach. Tisher’s school obligations often changes weekly and the hours are grueling. At times, she can’t make it to practice sessions with the team so she adapts. She might do her workout at the UAB campus Recreation Center, which is close to where she does most of her school work, or find another time to squeeze in a practice.

“I don’t sleep as much as I used to,” Tisher said. “I probably used to micromanage myself as an undergrad, little did I know there was more micromanaging to do. I typically try to make it to as many workouts as I can. Coach is really sweet about some days you just can’t get to it all. I wake up early. It’s doable, not every day but it’s doable.”

Thomas said the nature of track and field helps. It’s a team sport but so much is also done individually. He said as long as the communication remains solid, which leads to proper planning, then it works. However, that doesn’t mean he thinks it’s easy on Tisher to squeeze everything she needs to do in 24 hours daily.

“She just has the right mix of personality and perseverance and grittiness,” Thomas said. “She’s a tough competitor, she’s a fireball. It doesn’t surprise me with her personality. I think that’s how she’s always attacked everything. In practice, she’ll sit there and tell me all the things she had to study and all the things she had to do and that’s when it kind of hits me. I don’t think many people could do it.

Tisher made a quick impact, despite still shaking off some rust. She set or tied school records in each of her three meets thus far. She placed second overall in the BSC Icebreaker with a jump of 12-7 ½ and had a best clearance of 13-1 ½ in each of the other two meets. She finished tied for first in the Vanderbilt Invitational and third in the Samford Multi & Invitational.

She’s just happy to still be competing in the pole vault, even if that experience comes complete with some quirks. Getting a 14-foot pole from place to place is not easy, especially when you drive a small car, and out-of-town travel is far from simple.

“It’s pretty comical,” Tisher said. “I have a small car, a little Honda Accord, and trying to strap the poles on there is a hoot. People stare at you when you drive. The airport is the best. People ask ‘You have some fishing poles in there?” I’m like “No, I don’t think they make 14-foot fishing poles.” You have to ask for a room on the first floor in hotels. They’re awkward. Everybody thinks they break down and they do not.”

However, she wouldn’t change one thing about her pole vault journey.

“I’ve had some of the best times with my teammates,” Tisher said. “I’ve always loved to compete. I think it helps me get into medical school. I think it helped me make friends within the first hours of undergrad and medical schools. It’s kind of prepared me everywhere and made college more enjoyable.”







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