The first time fifth-year senior Sophie Gutermuth watched pole vaulting, an ambulance was called.
She was in eighth grade watching the pole vault at a meet. She said she remembered the vaulter ran up and completely missed the mat with his pole. She later learned he dislocated his hip.
“Me and my sister were standing there saying, ‘Now that’s one event I’m never going to do,’” Gutermuth said. “Now I’m in college for it. It’s funny how things happen.”
Gutermuth has the IU school record in pole vault for indoor track and ranks third in school history for outdoor track. She’s progressed throughout her IU career to get to that point, IU Coach Ron Helmer said.
“It just took her some time, as it does most athletes, to transition,” Helmer said. “But once she got going, then she really took off. What she’s done is she’s matured and become an adult. Some of the things that got in her way early on she’s really learned to manage. I’m really proud of her as a result.”
Gutermuth has been close with senior pole vaulter Sydney Clute throughout their time together at IU. She said their relationship has been important to her and she feels confident asking Clute for advice about anything.
At the beginning of this season, Gutermuth went through one of the most difficult stretches of her IU career. She failed to clear a height at the Texas Relays and the Tiger Track Classic, the first two meets of the season. Two weeks ago, at the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, she ended the drought, but said she still thought she could’ve done better.
She had her best performance of the season at last week’s dual meet against Purdue. She won her event with a 4.32 meter vault, the highest mark of anyone on the team this season.
The initial struggle was unlike anything Gutermuth had dealt with previously. It was a mentally trying time for her.
“It can be kind of a hard cycle,” Gutermuth said. “When I’m not doing well, it upsets me, and when I’m upset, I don’t do as well. And it just keeps going downhill. If you don’t try to stay positive about it, that could be your downfall.”
Helmer pointed to the way she rebounded from that early-season struggle and said that’s what great athletes do. He said he doesn’t know if the younger athletes look up to Gutermuth, but he hopes they do.
“I hope to heck they’re smart enough to look at the athletes that are being very successful, look at the athletes that have gone through struggle and come out positively,” Helmer said. “I know some do, but I know some are oblivious to it, and that’s unfortunate for them because there’s great lessons to be learned when they look at what people like Sophie have gone through in order to get to where they are.”
Gutermuth said a big goal she still needs to meet is getting to nationals this season. The last two years, she put up marks during the regular season that should’ve gotten her there, but then she failed to clear a height at regionals.
She’s trying to draw motivation from ending her early-season struggle, to show herself she’s capable of getting a monkey off her back.
“Going into regionals this year, I just need to have the mindset to do what I’ve been doing so I can actually make it to nationals,” Gutermuth said. “I can’t think about the no-heights the last two years. If you’re thinking about no-heighting instead of what you’re supposed to be doing, chances are you’re going to no-height.”
Helmer said one of Gutermuth’s strongest traits is how much she looks out for others and shows respect for others.
He said after the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, he emailed her some photos that were taken of her competing during the meet. Helmer added whenever he does something like that, he can always count on a nice reply from Sophie thanking him for the photos.
“I’ve always been like that,” Gutermuth said. “I like to put other people before myself. If it were me in certain situations, I would hope that people would do the same thing for me.”
Gutermuth qualified for the Olympic trials this summer, which was one of her major goals. She said she’ll have to step up her game from the rough start to the outdoor season if she wants to make it out of the trials, but she’s very excited for the experience.
“It’s just crazy thinking of myself there, competing with the best in the nation,” Gutermuth said. “It’s going to be exciting.”
But again, she initially was turned off by the sport. She said her cousin was a pretty good pole vaulter and that helped her get into it.
“Also, one of my favorite teachers was helping coach, so I thought, ‘I guess I’ll try it out,’” Gutermuth said. “That was in eighth grade. I ended up doing really well for my eighth grade year, so I thought, ‘Maybe I should stick with this.’”