Melissa Gergel talks about the glamorous life of being a professional athlete.
The track and field athlete says it tongue-in-cheek.
“Real glamorous,” Gergel said. “You really have to love what you are doing and have a purpose, because there is not a lot if any money.”
Gergel is a pole vaulter and was the 2011 NCAA champion while competing for Oregon. She holds the program record of 14 feet, 7 1/4 inches. In high school, the 2007 Marian Catholic grad was the 2007 Illinois Class AA champ with a vault of 12-6. That year, she and Marian boys pole vaulter Mitchell Erickson became the first female-male pole vaulters from the same school to win the event in the same year.
So why does she do it.
“I want to try and make the 2016 Olympic team,” Gergel said. “It is a dream of mine and I love putting in the time and sure, there are some sacrifices, but you look at your goals.”
Gergel, who grew up in Glenwood, remembers winning at Charleston, but wanted more.
“I was a little upset that I didn’t break the record (13-3),” Gergel said. “I wanted to do that real bad, but I won and it was cool.”
In the 2011 NCAA meet at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Gergel said her NCAA title was bittersweet.
“I was happy that I won the title because it got points for my team,” she said, “but I feel as if I didn’t win because we got second and didn’t win the NCAA title. It kind of put a damper on my day.”
The seven-time All-American trains at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo with her former Oregon coach Jenni Ashcroft. She competes as an independent, but uses the Team Pacer name because Pacer supplies her with her poles.
For now, she works 30 hours each week for an online shoe company in sales, then trains in the afternoon. She competes for prize money at the bigger meets and recently was eighth in the vault at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Des Moines. The prize money went out to eight places.
“I was spoiled in college because the university handled all the travel and we just got on a plane and competed,” Gergel said. “Now, I book all my flights, rooms and you can only fly on certain airlines because of my poles.
“Southwest (Airlines) is pretty good, but a lot of airlines won’t let you on or you have to get it confirmed in writing.”
While there is big prize money and shoe contracts, few athletes sign them, but she is not complaining.
“I choose to compete and you just have to put that aside and concentrate on doing your best,” Gergel said. “There is a big discrepancy in who makes money. That is why it is so important to finish in the money.”