It seems fair to say that Melinda Owen is a small town girl, having grown up in Polson, Montana with a population of just over 4000 people. In school Melinda participated in softball and also track and field where the rules “limited” her to competing in only seven events. As early as her freshman year in high school, Melinda found and fell in love with the pole vault.
But the stage that Melinda stands on today as she prepares for the 2012 Olympics in the women’s pole vault is anything but small town. At only 27 years old, Melinda has uprooted her herself and put her personal life on hold to train at the US Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. Since 2009, Melinda has spent 9 months out of every year at the center, training anywhere from six to eight hours daily.
The hard work has certainly paid off. Melinda now has a personal best pole vault of 4.55 meters (14 feet 11.1 inches). The women’s world record, currently held by Russia’s Yelena Isinbayeva now stands at 5.06 meters. When I asked Melinda about Isinbayeva, she said, “She is an extremely talented athlete, who has held the world lead for an unbelievable amount of time having won her first Olympics in 2004. With that being said though, I think it is time for someone else to step in and start taking over that lead. I work hard every day with that in mind!”
Unfortunately Melinda suffered a serious injury earlier in 2011. Here is Melinda’s description of what happened.
At the end of indoor season I had some ankle pain that didn’t seem to go away. After 5 MRI’s and countless doctors, I still had no answers for what was causing the pain. I decided to rehab, took a total of about 14 weeks off, trying to make it back in time for US Nationals. I participated in the New York Adidas Meet two weeks before Nationals and could not walk after. So I took more time off and attempted to compete at Nationals to no avail. I gave it a shot, but had to withdraw from the competition because the pain was too great.
Directly following the competition I saw the surgeon who had done my last ankle surgery and made the decision to go in and scope the joint. He found a big bone spur off the tibia that was essentially breaking into the bone below it.
Thankfully, Melinda is on the mend and focused on her goals for next year. Below are several specific questions that I was able to ask Melinda about her sport.
Can you give us an overview of the different phases of a single pole vault?
Pole vaulting takes a very well rounded athlete. We need to be fast, have strong lower and upper bodies, and have core stability for the dynamic movements we do in the air. Our first phase involves sprinting with the pole. Once the pole has been planted into the box, we use gymnastic-like dynamic movements to ride the uncoiling of the pole up and over the bar.
What do you feel like you need to improve upon the most to give yourself an opportunity to be on the US Olympic team and to have a chance to medal?
The focus for this year is spending as much time pole vaulting as possible. Having sat last year out, I just need time in the air to get that confidence that it will take to soar to new heights.
Given that you are no longer in college and receiving a scholarship, how difficult is it financially to pursue an Olympic dream, and who has been there to help?
Financially, I am more fortunate than some. I have received a grant from the USA Track and Field Foundation and am able to train at the US Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. In addition, Gill Athletics and Team Pacer have been fantastic by supplying my poles – each pole costs around $500 and I travel with up to 12 poles, in my bag at a time.
Coming from such a small town in Montana, I have so many proud neighbors wanting to help me. Last year, Polson put on a 5K run benefit with the proceeds going to help my training. Added on top of that, a local pasta company (Country Pasta) decided to become a big sponsor! With this help, all last year I was able to focus solely on training without worrying.
Again this year my hometown is doing a fundraiser to see me into the final year leading up to the 2012 London Olympic Games. I am so very thankful for their help, and love having so many people in my corner!
Has working with former world record holder Stacy Dragila helped you grow as a professional athlete?
Getting to work with Stacy was one of the greatest contributing factors of my increased success. I have never met an athlete with greater mental game then Stacy, and while I trained with her I tried to focus on learning how she did it. I truly believe that what separates the top athletes is the mental side of things, and her mental strength is why she was as successful as she was. I do think that is something you either have or you don’t, but some have to work harder to bring it to the forefront. Stacy helped me do just that!
What is a typical day of training like for you?
7:00 a.m. – I wake up to a good morning call from my long distance boyfriend. (This really starts the day off on the right foot!)
7:30 a.m. – I head to breakfast at our dining hall.
8:00 a.m. – I head to the track to start warming up and foam rolling and pre-hab.
9:00 a.m. — Start workout #1.
12:00 p.m. – Break for lunch.
2:00 p.m. – Begin Workout #2
5:00 p.m. – Head back to the training room for therapy and an ice bath for an hour to an hour and a half.
Then I take a quick shower, eat dinner at 6 p.m. and I’m in bed by 9:30 p.m.
Many of our readers have had to deal with injuries that have sidelined them for a period of time. Can you elaborate on what the recovery process has been like, how you have been able to train, and how this injury effects your mental preparation?
Injury is a very tough thing to deal with. The one thing that my coach has taught me is that injury doesn’t stop you from doing EVERYTHING. With my ankle injury I was not able to run, so we hit gymnastics 5 days a week. We also are fortunate enough to have an Alter-G treadmill that can take up to 90% of your body weight off – this way I could do my running workouts on the treadmill without pain. Mentally I had to just focus on the things I was able to do, and not dwell on the things I could not. I am a very firm believer in visualizing, and I never took a day off of vaulting in my mind. That way my vault is perfect every time 🙂
I have learned that the most important thing when being injured is to keep a positive outlook no matter what. I truly believe this injury has been a blessing, and that I will be an even better vaulter because of it.
Will you continue to participate in competitive athletics after you decide that your professional track and field career is over?
I most definitely will always participate in something competitive. Some of the things I miss partaking in are volleyball, softball, and basketball. Some others that I am very excited to try when I am finished vaulting is hockey, and maybe sprint triathlon.
As a parting thought, Melinda has a job that many of you CrossFit folks would likely be interested in – for the past year she has been an Elite Athlete Ambassador for Lululemon.
On behalf of the My Athletic Life community, best wishes to Melinda for success in 2012.