Friday afternoon at the New England Championships at MIT was a strange day.
“Hey,” I said to one of the long jumpers for the UMass men’s team, “Happy Graduation Day.”
A handful of us seniors were missing our Commencement ceremony to compete that day. This was something we all expected when coming into our senior year, but I didn’t expect the mixed feelings that came along with our decision to compete instead of attending Commencement. What if I don’t do well today? Will I regret missing the big hurrah of Commencement? Even though New Englands is my favorite meet of the year, there was still a part of me that felt a pull back to Amherst. A part of me wanted to experience the fun energy of a huge Commencement Ceremony, to feel like all the other students.
The weather was awful during warm-ups. It was windy and had passing showers. I was finally able to jump well on 13ft poles during practice that week, but with the wind and my wrist still being injured I had a hard time controlling the pole during my approach. It was painful. I got nervous. What if I couldn’t do this? Is this really how I was going to end my college career?
Oddly enough by the time competition started, the sky cleared. The afternoon sun was shining. The wind died down. I had gotten my wrist taped up and by the time I started jumping the worries melted away. I came in at 11’2″, cleared it first attempt–already the highest height I had jumped all season. My confidence was back up and I was having fun. I jumped 11’8″ that day for 7th place, the highest height I jump all season, an outdoor PR, and moved up to 4th all-time in the UMass record books.
After my last attempt at 12’2″–a height I’d desperately wanted since beginning my college vaulting career–the waterworks began. It wasn’t because I didn’t get 12ft, but it was the end. As vaulters, we all know the bar has to fall eventually. We know the phrase, “All good things must come to an end”, but it doesn’t take away the reality of the moment when you do realize that it’s over. In a strange fit of laughing, smiling, and crying, I hugged my parents and thanked them for coming to the meet.
I also looked around at the other coaches and officials–many of them who still cheered me on and supported me throughout my college career despite wearing different school colors. Many of these folks had watched me grow into the young woman I am today from the little Fitchburg High School freshman. It was special to me. Here was a network of people that I loved being a part of and enjoyed seeing season after season. Even though I was missing Commencement, I still brought my cap and gown to the meet. It was my own little graduation. It seemed fitting to have not just my family, but my pole vault family there to celebrate with me.
Strangely enough, it still didn’t hit me that it was over until the UMass Athletics website did a write up of Day 1 of New Englands. When I read the sentence, “Chrissy Silvar finished her career…” it felt like a punch in the gut. Wow. That’s it. It’s over.
Reflecting back on my time vaulting in college, I could easily be disappointed in not achieving all my goals–especially not getting 12ft. But I’ve still done so many cool things:
- Scoring in every single conference championship I’ve ever competed in, Northeast 10 and Atlantic 10.
- Scoring at the New England Championships 3 times.
- 2009-2010 Indoor NE-10 Conference Champion in the Women’s Pole Vault.
- Breaking the UMass Lowell school record for indoor (11’2″) and outdoor (11′)
- Sitting at 4th All-Time in the Women’s Pole Vault record books in both indoor (11’10″) and outdoor (11’8″)
But pole vault isn’t just about the numbers. I’m not walking around with my statistics posted to my forehead. I’ve gained so much more from vaulting in college than I ever would if I was just a regular student…
- The importance of your attitude
- Balance–mental & physical, work & rest, school & track…
- Happiness–taking charge of a situation and changing it to what you need.
- Communication–especially through athlete and coach relationships
I’ve also gained a great group of friends from both universities I’ve attended and the support of many others from different schools along the way.
Even though I felt like I wanted to attend Commencement just like every other student graduating that day, I realize–I am not like every other student. My college experience was not like those students. As much as I would like to give words of wisdom at the end of my college career–I can’t. The only thing I can stress is that your experience will not be like mine. It will not be like anyone else’s. It will only be your own. It’s what you make of it. And I’ll be checking back to read those posts.
Now here’s the time for the thank yous:
To my family: Thank you for traveling to meets whenever you could. I can only count on one hand the number of meets you have missed. Thank you for always believing in me and supporting me no matter what–and being my own personal cheering section!
To the coaches at UMass Lowell: Thank you for seeing potential in a scrawny little sprinter from Fitchburg and welcoming her to your team. Even though it didn’t work out due to injuries and changing priorities, thank you for supporting my decision to go to UMass Amherst and still being some of the loudest cheers at the meets.
To Coach Jackson, UMass Amherst: Thank you for being the most incredible coach and person I have ever worked with. You have not only made me into a better athlete and pole vaulter, but also a better person. Thank you for investing your valuable time and energy into my development on and off the runway. I hope to be just as passionate and committed to coaching as you are one day.
To my teammates, UMass Lowell & UMass Amherst: I was blessed with the experience of being a part of two teams representing the state of Massachusetts. I’m grateful for the lessons you all have taught me at different points in my college experience. I am very happy to call many of you my closest friends.
And last but not least, to Patriot Pole Vault Club: You are the backbone to my vaulting experience. Without your support, the whole structure would crumble. Allowing me to attend practices when I didn’t have a coach, giving me the opportunity to explore my own coaching abilities, and going above and beyond in every way possible. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story for five years with this blog. I always used these posts as an opportunity to gather my thoughts and take away learning experiences from each meet, injury, struggle, and accomplishment. Thank you for your help in creating such a huge network of support throughout New England and helping pole vault grow.