Before Emily Brigham could even fathom the idea of collecting gold medals as a collegiate pole vaulter and jumper, she dedicated her life to a much different sport — gymnastics.
“I was a gymnast for a long time, until I heard gymnasts make good jumpers,” Brigham said. “My friends started track & field and ended up getting me into it freshman year of high school.”
The transition was smooth, Brigham said. However, little did she know that in 2012, she would enter her senior year as the top-ranked pole vaulter in the U.S. with a height of 13 inches and six and one-fourth inches.
By the time she left high school, the Shawnee, Kan. native would hold the Kansas high school record with a height of 13 feet and seven inches.
Once she broke the state record in her junior year, Brigham said that’s when she realized she might be able to take her talents to the college level.
“I knew a couple of good pole vaulters that go to USD. I liked Vermillion, it isn’t too small of a town, but didn’t feel huge. So I made the call to come here,” she said.
Fast-forward to present day, Brigham is a sophomore at the University of South Dakota, and the acclaimed jumper is making an impact as a member of the Coyote track & field team.
So far in the 2015 outdoor season, Brigham has netted a pair of first place victories at the Sioux Falls Duals and a second place victory in the pole vault at the Bobcat Invitational last month.
This came after a successful indoor season, capped off with a pair of bronze medals in pole vault and long jump at the Summit League Indoor Championships.
Brigham said juggling her studies while trying to remain on top of her game, as well as intermittent shifts as an EMT in Vermillion, comes down to perseverance and admiration for the sport.
“I love it. I like pole vaulting a lot. Everyone has days like, ‘Why why am I doing this?’ Then you have a good day, and you jump high and it starts clicking,” she said. “You have to get through the hard times, but when you do them, you realize it was all worth it.”
When it’s all said and done, Brigham said jumping is all about the microscopic technicalities leading up to a jump, which poses an intriguing, distinct challenge that keeps her on her toes.
“The littlest thing can make a jump go wrong, your step is four inches. It’s such a technical event that a slight misstep can ruin a jump,” she said. “When I’m running, I can always tell.”
(Photo: Sophomore USD pole vaulter Emily Brigham prepares for a run during the Holiday Inn Invite in Lincoln, Neb. Feb. 6-7. Submitted photo / The Volante)