It was during his senior year at Bishop Carroll in 2002 when Tyler Fraizer realized his dream of becoming an Olympic track and field athlete was finished after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
He would still go on to throw the javelin in college at Hutchinson and then later Memphis, but it was during those months of sitting out when Fraizer discovered his passion for coaching. After graduating from Memphis in 2007, Fraizer was offered a job as the pole vault coach, the event that his father, Denis, had coached for years.
Fast forward nearly a decade later and the 32-year-old Wichita native is currently in Rio, living out his Olympic dream as a coach. One of his pole vaulters from Memphis, Pauls Pujats, hit the qualifying standard for his native country Latvia and decided to bring Fraizer along as his coach instead of a Latvian coach.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet that I am going to the Olympics,” Fraizer said shortly before his flight to Rio. “A lot of people have asked me, ‘Are you nervous?’ I’ve coached in some of the biggest meets, NCAA, conference, regionals, the US trials, and I’ve never been nervous for those. But I’m not going to lie, I think once I get down there in Rio and walk into the Olympic stadium I may get a little nervous.”
Denis Fraizer said he always thought his son had a little coach in him, but he wasn’t certain until Tyler injured his knee. He still came to track practices to be around his father and the pole vaulters. And on days when Denis couldn’t make it or was a little late, Tyler would be in charge leading his peers in practice.
“They hated him because he would have them do so much ab work,” Denis said laughing. “He would almost kill them. But you could already tell at that age that he was going to be a good coach.”
When Tyler arrived at Memphis as an athlete, throwing the javelin, the program didn’t even have a pole vault coach. Every day at practice he would find himself gravitating toward the pole vault pits to help out any way he could. The head coach noticed and offered him a job as soon as he graduated.
Since taking over as coach, Memphis has essentially rewritten its entire pole-vault record book. He’s coached conference champions, regional champions, and 10 All-Americans with Pujats being the most successful of the bunch.
When Pujats hit the qualifying standard, he said there was never any question who he was taking as his coach.
“Tyler really believes in me and he has a huge trust in me,” Pujats said. “Back home, it was a little different and the coach there wasn’t as sure about me. I think it’s very important for a coach to have that belief. We have that trust in each other and I think that helps insanely.”
But when another Latvian pole vaulter qualified for the Olympics, Fraizer was worried they would use the same coach for both of the vaulters. Pujats remained adamant Fraizer was the coach he wanted and the duo has been working together to improve Pujats’ personal-best vault of 18 feet, 8 1/2 inches.
“Ultimately, it was up to Pauls and my only job was to get him prepared to be the best he could be,” Fraizer said. “It was never about whether or not I was going. Great if I am, but I always felt like it was my main job to prepare him and get him ready for these Games. He’s the one doing the work and he’s the one competing, I’m just trying to get him ready.”
Fraizer arrived in Rio last Saturday and has found a way to make the most of his time in Rio, holding a Memphis Tigers flag in the background of the Today Show on Thursday morning.
Fraizer said he’s still trying to comprehend what the event will be like. He will be in the same stadium as Usain Bolt, Allyson Felix, and Justin Gatlin, athletes he’s used to watching from home on television.
“It really is going to be a dream come true,” Frazier said.