Breathe in, and out.
A former gymnast runs with a pole down a runway, as she attempts to throw herself upside down, over a bar, 13 feet into the air.
Kinetic energy springs through the pole and into Virgi Scardanzan, a senior majoring in kinesiology, planning to graduate and pursue her master’s degree Summer 2021, while competing in pole vaulting at Washburn.
Scardanzan shares her unique perspective of the world, and the sport of pole vaulting.
“I started pole vaulting my freshman year of high school,” said Scardanzan. “I was a gymnast. Then I had to quit because I broke my ankle many, many times. I decided I wasn’t going to be in sports anymore. After a month of being at home, my mom decided to bring me into track. But my coach, knowing that I was a gymnast, told me I should try pole vaulting. Then I never left it.”
In Treviso, Italy, Scardanzan lived and grew up into a family tradition of gymnasts. Her grandparents, mother and mother’s sisters are all gymnasts. Competing in nationals since she was ten in gymnastics, then making the pole vaulting Italian national team at 16 years old, she moved to Los Angeles, CA to compete at California State Northridge University after her U20 European championship in July of 2017.
“I went to Nationals when I was 18, then I moved to America with a dream of becoming a great pole vaulter,” said Scardanzan. “Last year, when I hit 12-(feet)-10-(inches), we made it to Nationals. Then 10 hours before we competed, they decided to cancel everything, and that was Covid-19.”
The rest of her season was cancelled. An opportunity missed. Washburn coach Rick Attig supported and encouraged team bonding while getting back to work on the track and field this Spring of 2021.
“We never really gave up during quarantine; training during quarantine like if it was normal. Finally things this year are getting back together. This is just the start.”
Scardanzan states that pole vaulting is a physical challenge of strength and courage, making it one of the most difficult and intricate sports to compete in.
“It’s a combination of different skills that collapse into a beautiful movement. There’s a lot that goes into the vault and it’s really bringing the best out of an athlete.”
With the flexibility and physical training of pole vaulting, a whole world of biomechanics and physics goes into the vault.
“You gotta be fast. You have to have a high take off. Your hands are going to be in a position for the pole to bend,” said Scardanzan. “That bending is going to allow you to get upside down. Then as soon as the pole releases its energy, all of the energy is going to transfer from the pole to your body so you can fly over the bar. The faster you are at takeoff, the higher you can grip, the more you can jump.”
Scardanzan will compete next year, having a full year of eligibility to work her way up while training and competing. Knowing she will work hard in her studies while pursuing her MBA, she begins a new chapter of her life in the business world, exiting her studies in rehabilitation and exercise science.
“This is finally the first year where things are going great in coming together, especially with pole vault,” said Scardanzan. “I’ve been a hard worker since I was very young, in gymnastics. I have always worked my butt off.”
After practice one day, Coach Attig pulls Scardanzan into his office for a meeting. Scardanzan looks around the room, noticing a quote on the wall that said: ‘Train like you’re 2nd, but compete like you’re the 1st.’
“So have the mentality of a hard worker, but when you have a chance to show off, show off and be a champion,” said Scardanzan. “Keep your head down when needed. Show off and be a champion when you can. I think that is pretty much my life.”
Not only is pole vaulting a test of physics, strength, agility and flexibility, but a mental test of will, trusting yourself to fly to Mars.
“Pole vault is a huge part of our event in which you have to be brave enough to carry the pole and run straight into a box, thinking that you’re going to be upside down in the air, flying over Mars, hoping it’s going to throw you in the right direction.”
Edited by Donna Whipple, Matthew L. Self