March 6, 2014
By Staci Gasser
Even though her days at the University of Notre Dame are over, Mary Saxer isn’t close to hanging up her pole.
The former Notre Dame All-American pole vaulter won the USA Indoor Track and Field Indoor Championship on Sunday, Feb. 23, in Albuquerque, N.M. with a winning jump of 4.71 meters (15 feet, 5.5 inches), beating her personal best by one centimeter and punching her ticket to the world championships.
“Oh my gosh, it feels amazing,” Saxer confesses. “I knew I had that height and higher in me, it was just a matter of putting it together at a meet. I’ve been on Cloud Nine all week.”
Since graduating in 2009, Saxer has been competing in some of the top track and field competitions all over the world, including the prestigious Diamond League meet in Shanghai, the Colorful Daegu (South Korea) Pre-Champions, the Harry Jerome Classic in Vancouver and Europe’s top meet in Luzen, Switzerland. She broke the 15-foot barrier in 2011, and she barely missed an automatic berth to the London Olympics in women’s pole vault after finishing in a tie for third at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. Fellow third place finisher Lacy Janson had fewer misses than Saxer.
“It motivates me because I know how awful it felt being so close yet so far from that dream,” Saxer says. “Last year for the world championship, I was an alternate as well. So I’ve been in that situation twice, so I know how hard it is and that I don’t want to feel that way again. So it gives me that extra boost every day.”
Saxer has propelled herself to the No. 9 spot in the world rankings and has her eye on the 2016 Olympics. And with her during every jump along her journey, she has a part of the Fighting Irish with her that is represented by a pink Notre Dame wristband.
“Even though I’m not an athlete anymore there, Notre Dame is still such a big part of my life,” Saxer explains.
Saxer, a Buffalo, N.Y. native, became a three-time BIG EAST Conference Pole Vault Champion, a two-time NCAA All-American and a school record holder during her time with the Irish. She ended her senior year on a high note with a third place finish at the 2009 NCAA Outdoor National Championships under coach Jim Garnham, a fellow Buffalo native.
“Coach Garnham is still one of my biggest fans,” Saxer says. “I was getting a lot of encouragement from both [Garnham] and outside sources to continue to pole vault as my senior year was ending. I had never thought about it until then, I just thought, ‘Well why not give it a go. I’ll give it two years and see how I develop.’
“It’s a lot different. I miss being a part of a team. That was a tough change for me. I’ve improved a lot since Notre Dame, so I feel Notre Dame was a building block to where I am currently.”
Chasing down her Olympic dreams has turned into a year-round gig. The fall is her training time where she practices for four hours day pole vaulting and doing gymnastic-based techniques, running workouts and some heavy lifting to build up her stamina and muscle mass for the season. Once January hits, Saxer competes almost every weekend through August with a little break in March. The only time she really has to rest is on her travel days.
Saxer trains in Boston, Mass. at MIT under her personal coach Danny Wilkerson. She will represent the United States at the International Association of Athletics Federations Indoor World Championships in Sopot, Poland on March 7-9.
But Saxer has her sights on medaling in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and hopes to compete in the 2020 Olympics as well.
“I know I have accomplished a lot, but I know that there is more in me. I want to see how far my ability and training can take me. I want to be the best version of Mary Saxer I can be, whether that’s a world-ranked pole vaulter, an Olympian or whatever it is.”