DURHAM, N.C. -- Megan Clark has posted an outstanding sophomore campaign competing in the pole vault, highlighted by a school-record clearance of 14-3.50 (4.36) at the Virginia Tech Elite Meet. Clark’s school record currently ranks her tied for third in the nation. GoDuke.com caught up with Clark to discuss a number of topics, including her start in the event and her international experience.
GoDuke.com: How did you start pole vaulting?
Megan Clark: It’s actually a really funny story. I started off with track in high school my freshman year, and I did every event besides throwing, and my coach let me pick. I thought I was going to get out of running, and the pole vault coach had popsicles, so, that’s basically how I made my choice. It was a really small decision, but it works out, because I was a gymnast, and that translates well into pole vault. I used to be a six-event athlete, and now I get to focus on pole vault, which is great.
GoDuke.com: How do you prepare (both mentally and physically) for your competitions?
MC: Physically, we used to take the day off before meets, until this year at the Tar Heel Open. I convinced Coach [Shawn] Wilbourn that I should be able to vault two days in a row, and we were really hesitant about the whole thing, because the second day we thought would be iffy, and were kind of undecided on whether or not it would happen. I got there, and felt so much better than I did the day before, and vaulted a PR, which was great! So now, we do a little bit more physical activity the day before we compete. Mentally, it’s just reminding yourself that you’re there to vault for you. There are other people there, but it’s you against the bar. The spirit of pole vault is that we want everyone to do well – it’s not so much that I’m competing against this athlete or someone else, it’s more that I’m competing against my best, and I want to do better than I ever have before. So, just keeping that in perspective is huge.
GoDuke.com: That’s interesting – so the dynamic of the competition makes it so that if somebody clears, say 14’ 3 ¼”, you’re thinking “oh, that’s good for them, I’m glad they did that well”?
MC: Yeah! I mean, a lot of us have that attitude, and the pole vault community is small, so most of us know each other. Like Cameron Overstreet, who vaults at UNC. I competed against her as a freshman in high school. So we all go way back, and we just want to see everyone do well. On a day where everyone PRs, if you finish last, and you vaulted better than you have before, you still have a reason to be excited. It’s not so much like the sprinting events, where you’re very openly competing against each other – you’re competing against what you’ve done before. It’s always nice to win or to beat other people, but it’s more about improving and progression than it is about winning.
GoDuke.com: Going back to some of the physical preparation that you were talking about, what would you say is your favorite workout that you have?
MC: Oh, vault workouts, easily. We vault for at most 2 and a half hours two times a week. That’s my favorite because I love pole vaulting! Lifting is fun, running is marginal, but I love vaulting and I could do it all day. Ask Coach Wilbourn! If he would let me, I would.
GoDuke.com: What does a pole vault workout look like?
MC: We start off warming up. It’s about a 30-minute warm up. Then, we’ll do some accelerations to make sure our legs are warmed up. Part of the vault is making sure your steps are exactly the same every time, so that’s really important. We then work on slide box, so we’ll do the whole approach and just plant into a box that moves, and just work on that aspect. Then we’ll transition to actually vaulting, and we start from a shorter approach to work on technical things and move back so we can work on timing on our bigger poles, and just make sure that we’re all ready for meets that way.
GoDuke.com: Is it a lot of muscle memory, or is more just timing like you said?
MC: I think it’s a lot of timing. Some of it’s obviously going to be muscle memory as well, and just understanding what you’re supposed to be doing and when you’re supposed to do it. We work on that because we have a video feedback system, so we’ll watch the vaults we just did. It’s one thing to hear coach saying “oh, you’re not planting with your arms on top, you’re planting with them in front of you,” but it’s another thing to hear him say “oh, I see Justin [Amezquita] doing it right, and this is what it looks like right, and this is what you’re doing.” So, just having that comparison is a huge help to fix technical errors.
GoDuke.com: So, what would you say, if you have a least favorite, is your least favorite workout?
MC: My least favorite workout is tempo, by far. We run at a tempo pace, which isn’t that bad, but we do it for a while, and the cardio kind of stinks. It’s all worth it, but that’s easily my least favorite workout.
GoDuke.com: What changes, if any, have you made this season that led to this early-season success that you’re seeing?
MC: I think a couple things have contributed to it. One was being able to compete all through the summer. I didn’t go out of season last year until August, so I didn’t lose anything during the summer. I was able to train the whole time. Coach Wilbourn was here, I was here, it was really great. No one has that opportunity, and I got to do that. Just the amount of work that I’ve put in during breaks has helped a lot. My parents live here now, so when we go on “vacation,” I’m still here! So I just call Coach Wilbourn, and he’s always very receptive to getting practices in. I’m pretty sure we had practice on Christmas Eve. If I call, he will be there, and that support has been great, and I think really leads to what’s happened so far this season.
GoDuke.com: You competed internationally this summer. Was that the first time you competed internationally? How has your international experience helped you compete this season for Duke?
MC: It was! It was really cool, I won junior national championships in June, so I got to be on the Pan-American team for Colombia, on Junior USA team with Kendall Gustafson, who’s also a freshman here. That worked out in my favor big time, because a) I got to compete and practice all summer, and b) because my poles never made it to Colombia. Dealing with that was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I vaulted on one of my friends who’s on the Canadian team’s poles, broke one, such a traumatic experience! I’ll never have as stressful of a meet as I had over the summer. It makes competing a lot easier knowing, like, oh at least my poles are here!
GoDuke.com: What happened to your poles? Were they just lost in transit?
MC: They were in customs for days and days, and Team USA’s poles were the only ones that didn’t make it. So, don’t know what happened there! It took a little while but luckily they made it back here!
GoDuke.com: What’s been your greatest pole vaulting memory so far?
MC: I think my greatest vault memory will have to be UVA last year. It was our last chance meet outdoor right before regionals, and there were only three vaulters competing. It was just me, Emily Mattoon, and a girl from William and Mary. We all showed up to the meet. There was a 100% chance of rain. Emily and I almost didn’t bring our vault spikes because we were so sure it wasn’t going to happen, and then all three of us PRed that day by a lot. That was the first time I jumped 13’7”. Emily cleared 13’5”, and the other vaulter cleared a lot as well. Coach Wilbourn was coaching sprints and multis and vaulters at the same time, and he was standing in the middle of the field making ninety degree turns to coach different events, which was hilarious. Not so funny at the time, but looking back, it was pretty comical. It was probably my favorite memory, just because everyone had such a great day, and it was a phenomenal experience.
GoDuke.com: If you were speaking to someone who had absolutely no idea about pole vault, what are some things you would tell them about the event?
MC: I would say that it’s a really fun sport that not enough people realize exists. If we can get exposure out there and get people to start vaulting, it’ll become a lot more competitive and it’ll become a much better atmosphere. It’s one of those sports where we’re all in it together and like I was saying earlier, we’re not rooting for each other to fail. We want to see everyone succeed. It’s a great environment, but it’s hard. It’s incredibly frustrating sometimes, but overall it’s incredibly rewarding and one of the most humbling sports. Regardless of how much you PR by, you fail three times at the next bar, and that’s just the way it works. I think you’ll find a lot of really great personalities in pole vault. We’re all a little wacky, but it’s a phenomenal sport, and I think everyone should try it at least once.
GoDuke.com: What advice would you give younger pole vaulters looking to compete in the event?
MC: I would say just don’t give up. Commit to it! I went from being an 11-foot vaulter to a 13-foot vaulter my junior year of high school, so it’s entirely a reflection of how much work you put in and how dedicated you’re going to be.
GoDuke.com: Finally, can you describe the feeling of breaking that 14-foot barrier? How’s that feel mentally and physically?
MC: Oh the falling is the best part! When you first go over the bar, and I always let go of the pole too late, I always do, so I think I’m over it and brush it off right at the top. It’s happened twice this year at PR height, and just that feeling of “oh my god. I just did that!” as you’re falling to the mat and just watching the bar stay is so phenomenal and just the adrenaline rush is great. Probably the best part of pole vault is falling to the mat on the other side of a PR!