Olympic dream in sight for Alysha Newma

From an early age, Alysha Newman dreamed of being an Olympian.

The Delaware native begins her final leap to achieve that goal Friday at the 2016 Canadian track and field championships and Olympic trials in Edmonton.

The multi-record holding pole vaulter hopes to snare a spot on the team heading to Rio, a redemption of sorts after missing the Pan Am Games in Toronto last year in the wake of an injury that reduced her training schedule.

Her first passion wasn’t pole vaulting, though.

When she was eight, Newman started competitive gymnastics and instantly fell in love with the sport, only to have a growth spurt and a debilitating injury at 13 dash her dreams of Olympic glory in that sport.

“I wanted to go to the Olympics so bad for gymnastics. I was training 25-30 hours a week. I loved it,” she said “I hurt my back and got really tall so everything got really hard for me.”

She didn’t just hurt her back, Newman broke her L5, a vertebrae in her lower back and a major piece in the spinal column. She was forced to sit out of all athletics for a year.

When she returned from injury on the hunt for a new sport, she was quickly poached by her grade-school English teacher who insisted she join the track and field team.

Soon after that, she started training with the London Legion Track Club with Joe and Sandy Ryder, who made her try pole vault as soon as they learned of her gymnastics background.

Newman said she begrudgingly took up pole vault, but it only took one record-breaking performance — which happened to be her at her first meet — to make her realize that pole vaulting was where she was meant to be.

“They put a stick in her hand and when she started breaking records it lit a fire under her,” said her mother Paula Newman.

During her workout this week at Western University’s TD Stadium, Newman was careful not to say “if I make the Olympics,” and if she did, she was quick to correct herself — “When I make the Olympics.”

This is not a statement from an overconfident athlete. It’s a mantra for the 22-year-old who has been breaking and setting records since she was a freshman at Mother Teresa in London.

In 2012, she jumped to an OFSAA gold medal, and record, in her senior year, clearing 4.06 metres. Then, in 2013, she won gold at the Pan Am Junior Championships with a record breaking 4.40-metre jump.

Newman’s success took her to the NCAA where she’d spend her first year at Eastern Michigan before transferring to University of Miami to follow her coach, Jerel Langley.

In April, Newman, jumped to a new Canadian and University of Miami and Atlantic Coast Conference record, clearing 4.60 metres, a solid 19 cm more than her previous personal best, at a home meet in Coral Gables, Fla.

After clearing the jump, Newman showed off her gymnast’s chops with a back flip on the mat.

The jump is above the Canadian Olympic standard of 4.50-metres.

But, to punch her ticket to Rio as part of the Canadian team later this summer, Newman will need to finish in the top two during the trials at Foote Field in Edmonton.

A third spot is available at the discretion of Athletics Canada. Currently, there are four women who have cleared the standard.

Making the team would be redemption for Newman, who missed out on last summer’s Pan Am Games in Toronto by two cm after a stress fracture in her leg shortened her window to qualify.

“She missed October to April and was late coming back to train,” said her mother, “She had six weeks to get her height up and just missed it.”

The experience served as a lesson for Newman, whose determination was a blessing and a curse, according to her mom, causing her to overtrain, ultimately leading to injury.

Just like when she broke her first record, the injury lit a fire under Newman, who who came back with a renewed desire to win.

“Last year (people) doubted me with my injury, so this year I wanted to make a statement,” she said.

“No Canadian has brought home a (pole-vault) gold or had a podium finish (at the Olympics). That’s my ultimate goal.”

Newman, both fiery and competitive, has put countless hours into making a name for herself in the sport.

Between September and December she and her teammates put in gruelling workouts to prepare for competition season. Then from December to August she transitions from indoor to outdoor season, then to national team competition.

She trains six days a week, three times practising jumps, three times weights and additional running, plyometrics and general endurance training.

Her mother said she has watched her daughter sacrifice a lot in her pursuit of greatness.

“She wants to be known as the best Canadian pole vaulter and she’s willing to work that way. How can you not support that as a family?,” said Paula Newman.

And despite her begrudging start, Newman has since found parallels between her first love and her new passion.

“When I’m in the air and on the runway nothing else matters. It reminds me of gymnastics, everything goes back to gymnastics,” said Newman. “If I can make my dreams come true through pole vault it would be just as great.”





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