In preparation for the 2012 NCAA Division III National Championships, host Grinnell (Iowa) College had a Sports Journalism class write previews of student-athletes for the meet. Below is a story on Moravian College's Abby Schaffer written by Grinnell student Jayme Wiebold.
Continuously Jumping Higher (By Jayme Wiebold)
When Moravian College senior Abby Schaffer lines up to pole vault at this weekend's NCAA Division III National Indoor Championships, she will be focused on one thing: jump high.
As she gazes down the runway and takes her opening strides toward the bar, you will see this singular focus in her eyes.
What you won't see is the journey she's taken to make it to this point. You won't see that she's competed at three different schools during her collegiate career. You might not even know that she's a reigning national champion, or that she's struggled so far this season. You'll just see her jump high.
In fact, you'll see her jump really high. Her personal record is 13-8 1/4 and she won both the indoor and outdoor pole vaulting championships last year. This year, she enters the 2012 indoor championships tied for second nationally with a jump 13-1 ¾. Her ultimate goal is to jump an astonishing 14 feet.
It has been an unconventional journey for Schaffer as she's reached these heights. Heavily recruited out of high school, she spent her freshman year competing at Division I Virginia Tech University. Schaffer transferred to Widener University her sophomore year, in order to move closer to home of Easton, Penn., continue her course of study and take a break from pole vaulting altogether. She ended up competing at Widener, but decided to finish up her vaulting career with her lifelong vaulting coach at Moravian, where she finally found the perfect fit.
Throughout these transitions, she has stayed focused on her family and her studies, as well as "continuously jumping higher." While most students transfer because they are unsure of what they want, Schaffer made each of these choices because she did know. With each decision, she came closer to the balance between pole vaulting, academics, and friends and family that she knew she wanted.
During her final year of high school, Schaffer was recruited to vault by several Division I schools and made official and unofficial visits to four of them. She found a home on her visit to Virginia Tech: as she explains, "I loved the atmosphere, and knew right away (that Virginia Tech would be my choice)."
Schaffer has fond memories of her experience at Virginia Tech, and she is especially grateful for the lessons she learned and the people she met. She credits the year at Virginia Tech with helping her learn how to manage her time, saying that "balancing track and school has helped me out with balancing the rest of my life."
Additionally, Schaffer has nothing but good things to say about the people she met during her time with their program. "I really enjoyed the people on the team, and the coach was awesome" she said, explaining that Coach Bob Phillips helped her improve tremendously. With Coach Phillips's help, Schaffer jumped 13-7 3/4 her freshman year, which is just a half-inch under her current personal record of 13-8 ¼, which she recorded in 2011.
Despite her appreciation for the program and the lessons it taught her, she cites the time commitment to track and academics at Virginia Tech as a challenge. Though she learned how to balance these things, she realized that she "wanted (her) life to be about more than just track" and ultimately decided that the intensity of a Division-I program was not for her. She also points to homesickness as a struggle she faced at Virginia Tech, and thus decided to look for a school closer to home. She considered Moravian, her current school, but ultimately decided on Widener in order to continue the communications major that she had enjoyed at Virginia Tech.
Schaffer's departure from Virginia Tech also came with a decision to take a break from vaulting altogether. Of the end of her freshman season, she says, "I wasn't really jumping the heights I wanted to be jumping." Frustrated, she decided to take a break in order to test whether she wanted to jump and still enjoyed the sport. Schaffer took the summer off and went back to school in the fall, as she puts it, "thinking I was going to be a normal student without having to go to practice every day."
Soon after school began, however, she realized that she was missing a big part of her life. "Going from having practice every day for such a long time in your life to all of a sudden not having anything to do with pole vaulting was a huge shock," Schaffer says. Although she was continuing with her major, classes were going well, and she was enjoying her time with her friends, she found herself bored without the extra challenge of pole vaulting.
As soon as she started jumping again, she knew that she wanted to stick with it. Of her move to Division-III vaulting she says, "Coming to the D-III level was a good choice for me because it is still very competitive. I'm jumping just as high, and I have a perfect balance between my sports schedule and friends. Plus, being closer to home allows me to see my family a lot more often."
Schaffer did well at Widener and enjoyed her experience there, but knew that to keep improving she needed to make another change. "I knew that if I wanted to be a serious contender for winning my junior year" she said, "I needed to fix my form, approach and running style to make it all click back into place."
That summer, Schaffer volunteered at a camp at her old club Vertical Assault and everything did "click back into place." Of the experience, she says "simply being around a bunch of the Moravian vaulters, who are all my really close friends from high school, I just realized that coming to Moravian would be the best fit for me and would make me the happiest."
Not only was Schaffer back with her old coach and teammates, but her academic situation came together as well. When she spoke with the admissions official at Moravian about her desire to keep her communications major, she was informed that she would be able to accomplish her goals with a marketing major instead. Additionally, Moravian had recently decided to implement a marketing track within their management major, which Schaffer says "was so much more appealing to me, and was helpful in making my decision."
Schaffer's results from her junior season make it obvious that she finally found the right place for her. She stepped up her training regimen with her lifelong coach Mike Lawryk, sprinting, lifting
, and working on her form. Though she "didn't expect to win both championships," she was indeed the indoor and outdoor Division-III National champion with jumps of 13-8 ¼ and 13-7, both meet records.
Perhaps more importantly, she also set a new personal record, 13-8 1/4 surprising herself as "setting a new personal record was something I didn't think I was ever going to do again." Additionally, she was selected as part of the NCAA Division III All-Academic Team. Of her successes last year, she reflects, "I am already satisfied with how I've been doing. I won't feel like I never accomplished something I wanted to do."
In light of the successes of her junior year, her goal for this year is, of course, to jump higher. Her senior season thus far has been an admittedly frustrating one, as Schaffer says that it is hard to try and do as well as last year. Her highest jump this season is more than six inches lower that her personal record set last season. In addition, she reports that there is not much competition in her area until the Regional meets. Her focus on jumping higher pushes her to meet the challenge of motivating and competing against herself.
She remains optimistic despite her struggles this season, defining her goals as winning another national title, and ultimately to exceed the 14 foot mark. Looking ahead to this weekend, Schaffer is excited to jump against the tough competition.
She currently sits behind Catherine Street of Linfield, who recorded a height of 13-9 ¼ in early February. Acknowledging the tougher competition this year, she says that she is particularly excited to jump against Street. Schaffer says that she is "waiting for that time in my season to kick in to start jumping high again," and with any luck that time will come this weekend.
With her balance of school, family; and vaulting, Schaffer is the embodiment of a Division-III student-athlete. Refusing to define herself solely as an athlete, she has sought a place where she can strike the right balance of her priorities, and found that place at Moravian College.
And at the 2012 NCAA Division-III National Indoor Track Championships, she aims to once again jump high.