COLUMBIA — It can be difficult for high school track and field athletes to find motivation to train in the cold winter months.
It can be especially difficult if you're a pole vaulter.
But for five Rock Bridge pole vaulters, the Big River Running High School Indoor Track & Field Series gives them a reason to work at their sport.
MU teamed with Big River Running Company to host the indoor series at Hearnes Center. Three qualifying meets were held in January. The championship meet is Feb. 16.
"It's tough to be a coach in the offseason," said Patrick Sasser, a Rock Bridge assistant track and field coach who is in charge of pole vault. "We're not allowed to give sport-specific instruction."
Because coaches can't hold practice in the offseason, the athletes must find their own motivation to continue training, Sasser said.
In the past, MU and Big River Running held just one indoor meet rather than a series. Getting athletes interested in competing became easier with the additional meets, Sasser said.
However, there was still the question of training. While runners can train virtually anywhere, pole vaulters face a unique problem — they can't use school-issued poles.
The Rock Bridge pole vaulters solved this by driving to Just Vault, an indoor training facility close to two hours away in Excelsior Springs, Sasser said. Here, Todd Cooper, an experienced pole vaulter who established the facility, gives the athletes guidance.
"He has every pole you'd ever need," senior pole vaulter Erica Beck said. "He's a really good coach."
Although it's a time commitment, the athletes recognize the importance of training.
"It can be hard to motivate yourself this early in the season," senior Matt Bush said.
Bush competed in both long jump and pole vault. After vaulting 13 feet, 1/4 of an inch, he has the potential to qualify for the championship meet if not enough people reach the 13-foot-3-inch qualifying mark.
Another Bruins athlete, junior Maddie Wipfler, qualified in both the long jump (at 15-7), and the triple jump (32-11 3/4). She also faces challenges without formal coaching or indoor facilities. She jumps at Rock Bridge's sand pit with friends in her free time, she said.
"Winter training is incredibly crucial to being an elite athlete," Sasser said. He acknowledged that the athletes have been "super committed."
Besides Bush and Wipfler, other championship qualifiers are junior Luke Darrough in the triple jump , senior Chas Barbee in the triple jump, and sophomore Makayla Jones in the long jump and the triple jump.