UNM’s Amber Menke wants to jump 14 feet this season
It started with a tumble, a child’s first attempt to leave the ground. Then came cartwheels and dancing leaps and jumps into sand.
And now, for New Mexico senior pole vaulter Amber Menke, it’s about reaching for the sky.
“It’s fun to fall from higher heights,” Menke says.
Menke has been falling from higher and higher heights since she decided to take up pole vaulting.
It’s something she didn’t even attempt until her freshman year in college. But she is now the school’s record holder and owns three of the top-10 performances in UNM history.
“Clearing the bar is probably one of the best feelings,” Menke says. “You feel yourself crossing over, you see the crossbar, and you know you’ve made it. There’s a rush of adrenaline.”
It’s the kind of rush she’s been after for as long as she can remember.
“When I was really, really young, all I wanted to do was cartwheels,” she says.
So, at the age of 3, she took up gymnastics.
“When I was 6, 7, 8, I had dreams of being an elite gymnast,” Menke says. “But when I got to high school, I wanted to try different sports.”
She still intended to go to college as a gymnast, but a phys-ed instructor at Cibola High School talked her into trying track. She went from school to the track to gymnastics practice.
As a Cougar, Menke finished sixth in the triple jump and sixth in the long jump at the 2008 state meet. It was while she was long jumping that then-UNM assistant Mario Wilson spotted her and asked whether she ever considered pole vaulting.
“I thought it sounded fun,” Menke says.
But she also felt a little nervous, joining the Lobos in an event she had never even attempted.
Before she took to the air, she took to the water.
Eventually she made it onto the track for her first vault. The flying part was fine. The running part was awkward.
“It was unusual to run holding an object,” Menke says. “It was a little weird.”
Everyone kept telling her she was doing well for her first year, so she persevered. And by her third year of vaulting, she was reaching new heights.
“It started to feel more natural,” she says. “I started to feel the little subtleties that I couldn’t feel before.”
Menke will be among those competing at this weekend’s New Mexico Collegiate Invitational at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
Pole vaulters Logan Pflibsen and Robert Warensjo are also scheduled to compete this week. Jumpers Kendall Spencer, Floyd Ross and Django Lovett; sprinters Ridge Jones, Carlos Wiggins, Zoe Howell and Shirley Pitts; and middle-distance runners Luke Caldwell, Sean Stam, Adam Bitchell, Kirsten Follett and Chloe Anderson also have roles.
Athletes from small college powers Northern Arizona, Adams State and Grand Canyon are also here.
Menke, who hopes to improve on her run this week, says while competing indoors eliminates worries about the wind, it has other considerations.
“You know at bigger meets everyone’s going to do their best because you don’t have weather interfering with the vault,” Menke says.
“Outdoors, if there’s a headwind, it takes a little more courage to pick up the pole and go. If you can learn to jump in bad weather, you have an advantage.”
Has she secured that courage?
“It depends on the day,” she says, then laughs.
She finished second at last year’s Mountain West Conference indoor meet with an effort of 13 feet, 5 3/4 inches.
“I would like to jump 14 at some point this year,” she says. “I feel like it’s possible.”
The Lobos have a stable of good pole vaulters, and Menke says she feeds off her teammates.
“I feel blessed to have some of the most wonderful teammates,” she says. “We’re really supportive of each other. We compete a little in the weight room or running. It’s nice to have that push.”
Menke, a biology major, hopes to become a physician’s assistant.
“I originally wanted to go to medical school,” she says. “Then I learned about being a PA. It’s less schooling before you get an actual job. And the schedule is way better. It’s nicer to have a family, to be there for your family. You have set hours and make it home for dinner every night.”
It’s very smart and practical. She saves the daring for the track.
Pole Vaulter Seeks To Soar Higher