There are three ingredients to being a successful pole vaulter, according to Pioneer’s Vanessa Woolley – practice, drive and a good coach.
“You have to really want it,” says Woolley. “In order to succeed you need to be willing to put the time on task. You have to vault through being mediocre. Because in the beginning that is truly where everyone is at. It’s the people who stick out the tough days that make it far. But I guess that’s true of anything you put your mind to.”
The Pioneer senior was willing to put the time on task and vaulted her way not only to the state finals last week but into the Pioneer HS record books earlier in the season. Back on April 27 at the Brighton Bulldog Invitational, Woolley cleared the bar at 11-feet and landed in the school’s record books.
“The school record was one of those things I had always seen as a concrete goal,” says Woolley. “When I first broke the indoor record I was already going up to a PR so it was a good day no matter what. I took my attempt and went over. I was falling and I just screamed.
“This outdoor season when I broke it, it was a hard meet. I had just run the 4×1 so I ran back and the bar was going up. I went right over the 10-foot bar and then the 10-6 all on the first attempt.
“At 11, I had taken my first two, then I had a moment when I decided this was the day. I got over the bar and just jumped up yelled to the people watching ‘school record!’
“Having my name up on that board has just solidified the legacy that I will leave.”
That legacy didn’t exactly begin in record fashion. While she has been a member of the varsity track team at Pioneer since her freshman year, Woolley admits that she was not exceptionally good at the beginning.
“But I was willing to do the events that other people didn’t,” she says. “So there were always spots for me at the track meets.”
During her sophomore year at the conference championship, Woolley vaulted a personal-best 9-6. “The bar went up to 10 and it was me and a Saline senior,” she recalls. “We both missed it so it came down to attempts. We had taken exactly the same amount of attempts, so we had to have a tie breaker. We each got another attempt and then the bar would be moved. I tried my best but unfortunately got second. But I look back at that and I am proud of my perseverance.”
Last year’s SEC championship was cold and rainy, not exactly ideal conditions for pole vault. “Most of the other vaulters hadn’t even made it over the first height clearance,” she says. “As the bar went up I found myself to be the only vaulter left, it was not pretty vaulting and certainly not the kind of meet you look back on and wish you could relive. But going through the horrible weather has put many other meets in perspective.”
Track & field is both an individual and team sport and Woolley loves being a part of a very successful Pioneer program. During her four years, Pioneer has never lost a conference meet and have won every Regional, including last Friday’s at Lincoln.
“I couldn’t do anything without the amazing coaching staff at Pioneer,” Woolley says. “This includes my father who is my vault coach and has supported me every step of the way. I am so grateful for every opportunity that I’ve been given and I hope that everyone has people who care for them as much as the people in my life care about me.
“I look back and the moments I’m most fond of are of people being genuinely happy to be around each other. Each year one of our big fundraisers is the dash for cash. We run 10 laps and after the whole team just gets to goof around and eat together. I am so happy to have had the opportunity to meet so many people over these years. People who not only love what they do but also are just kind people.”
She also is proud of the Pioneer work ethic. The Pioneers have a lot of fun but they also work very hard and it’s that effort that usually lands them in the winner’s circle.
“This team works so hard,” Woolley says of the 2019 Pioneers. “Track is one of the hardest sports to be a part of, there is so much work and so many technical aspects that it’s not something that many people are great at in their first year. I commend so many of the freshman who just started vaulting this year and have stuck with it through the difficulty.
“And for as hard as we work, we joke around and have just as much fun. When I’m vaulting at a track meet and a song that we listen to a lot comes on I’ll look over to the hurdles and see Jayla dancing in my direction. There is nothing as amazing as that.”
Vanessa, the daughter of Renne and David Woolley, didn’t have to look far to find a pole vault coach. “I was first introduced to track through my dad who was the pole vault coach at the University of Michigan,” she says. “I would go with him after school to the track. I remember being so excited to see all the athletes practice, build forts with mats and dig holes in the long jump pit. I have photos of me when I was probably 10 pretending to pole vault on the Michigan pit. It has always been something I wanted to do. And when the opportunity came I ran.”
Or in this case, vaulted!
Woolley says with her dad being a coach there isn’t really an off-season. She spends all year running and lifting weights and twice a week working on technical vault training.
“Hurdling is a key part of my training because it helps me keep a strong rhythmic run,” she says. “There is always a new drill to be done so on relaxing summer days when others are doing nothing, my dad and I are on the track working on one aspect or another of my vault. The traditional off-season of the summer I spend training for the Canadian national meet. This meet is something I do because I am a Canadian citizen, this year it will be in Montreal.”
When she finally lands at the state meet on June 1, Woolley plans on vaulting over to the University of Michigan where she will major in Environmental Engineering. She has a 3.956 GPA at Pioneer and has been involved in a number of groups including Student Council (board member and senior co-chair of philanthropy), NHS, Pioneer Reads, PiHi Engineering (president) and Ceramics.
“I picked U-M because it’s been my dream from day one,” she says. “I have been and always will be a Michigan Wolverine. I am not sure if I will vault in college. I hope to but I will have to wait to see where the cards fall.”
Wherever the cards fall, Woolley will land on her feet. She qualified for the State Finals on June 1 after finishing third on Friday at the Regionals at Lincoln. She went 10-9 to earn a trip to the finals for one last lap around the track representing Pioneer.
“Pioneer has afforded me opportunities unmatched,” she says. “The programs offered – everything from arts to science to athletics – is unparalleled. I also will miss my time learning and creating art. I also will miss all the people who made track so amazing including my coaches and all the friends I’ve made. I hope that those who come after me continue the legacy.”