‘Dream year’ for Virginia Tech pole vaulter Rachel Baxter | Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG — Remaining a pole vaulter is both physically and mentally challenging.

Even for a winner these types of as Virginia Tech’s Rachel Baxter.

“It’s undoubtedly tough to throw by yourself more than a bar and belief your existence on a pole,” she said in a the latest job interview.

“You’re holding on to a thing that’s bending. Persons have died pole vaulting. A good deal of points can go completely wrong. You can land in the box. You can land back on the runway. You can overlook the pit.”

“Because it’s enjoyable. It is a obstacle. I adore flying as a result of the air,” she mentioned. “It occurs brief, but when you experience a perfect bounce, it’s nearly gradual movement — just kind of likely above the bar and seeing it keep up there. It is a truly enjoyment feeling to know that you did it correct.”

And there is constantly a new top to conquer.

“Sky’s the limit,” she said.

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Baxter graduated from Tech in May well 2021, but she returned as a graduate pupil to use the excess calendar year of eligibility that the NCAA gave Division I athletes since of the coronavirus pandemic.

That conclusion paid out off at the ACC indoor track and discipline championships in February, when she grew to become the very first male or feminine pole vaulter to at any time earn 4 consecutive ACC indoor titles. She vaulted 15 feet, 1 1/2 inches, breaking the ACC record and her very own school mark.

She topped herself at the NCAA indoor championships in Birmingham, Alabama, final month, when she grew to become the to start with Hokie to ever earn an NCAA title in the pole vault. The 5-time very first-staff All-American vaulted 15-1 3/4, breaking her have ACC and university documents. It was the fifth-finest top in NCAA history.

“I inspire myself in some cases [with] what I have been ready to accomplish,” she claimed. “It’s a aspiration yr.”

Former gymnastBaxter grew up in Orange County, California. She lived about 20 minutes from Disneyland, so she went there a lot as a kid.

Her passion was gymnastics. She was a gymnast for 11 yrs.

Her large school’s track and subject mentor needed to include a pole vaulter to his team and approached Baxter soon after mastering she was a gymnast. She took up the pole vault as a ninth-grader.

“A good deal of gymnasts go into pole vault,” she reported. “Vault is one particular of the activities in gymnastics in which you are operating down the runway and managing onto one thing. So just adhere something in your hand and form of go from there. It was sort of an simple transition for me.

“Running at an object is a minor disconcerting for some individuals, … [but I already had] that from gymnastics — you begin at just one location and you are kind of aiming and you want to stick the landing.”

She discovered her new sport additional attractive than gymnastics.

“I really don’t have to be great. An unattractive jump, as lengthy as the bar stays up, it counts,” he claimed.

She stop gymnastics after her ninth-grade yr, figuring there were a lot more university scholarships for pole vaulters than gymnasts.

Baxter turned so excellent that in the summer soon after her sophomore 12 months of significant faculty, she competed in the planet under-18 championships in Colombia. It was the initially of 5 moments she has competed for Group United states in her career.

Right after her junior 12 months of high school, she competed in the entire world under-20 championships in Poland. At the meet, she satisfied Hokies pole vault coach Bob Phillips and then-Tech pole vaulter Deakin Volz.

“Seeing Deakin gain gold [at that meet] definitely put Tech on my radar of a faculty I must be intrigued in,” she stated.

She fully commited to Tech in the tumble of her senior 12 months, reaping a partial scholarship provide that has due to the fact been upgraded to a comprehensive grant. She was the program’s 1st recruit from California considering that Dave Cianelli turned the director of monitor and discipline and cross nation in 2001.

“I’d lived in California my complete existence, so I form of preferred to experience a little something else,” she said. “I variety of fell in adore with Blacksburg.”

‘Struggling mentally’The 5-foot-4, 125-pound Baxter has thrived even though she is not as tall as most standout pole vaulters.

“There’s minor things right here and there that make the pole vault a tiny bit extra advantageous for taller folks,” she stated. “But I try out to make it work for me. … I’ve been building my toughness. I have been attempting to be a minor little bit more rapidly. … And my takeoff’s been having a small improved.”

“She’s truly labored on her technique … and her pace,” Cianelli stated.

As a Tech freshman, Baxter finished fourth at the 2018 NCAA outside championships.

As a sophomore, she began her string of 4 straight ACC indoor crowns and concluded sixth at the 2019 NCAA indoor meet. Her out of doors year was lower quick when she injured her leg in a bicycle incident.

At the 2020 ACC indoor fulfill, she not only won an additional title but assisted the Tech ladies claim the staff championship.

In March 2020, she arrived in New Mexico to compete in the NCAA indoor championships. But the working day in advance of that satisfy was to commence, the championships have been canceled simply because of the pandemic. The total out of doors time was canceled as very well.

Past 12 months, she gained her 3rd straight ACC indoor title and took fourth at the NCAA indoor satisfy. She had difficulties with the wind at the ACC outside meet up with, coming away with third location. She was not able to distinct the bar even the moment at the NCAA outside meet.

She said she struggled with her self-confidence very last year.

“I’ve been battling mentally a minor little bit the final few a long time in the course of follow, through satisfies,” she mentioned. “It seriously confirmed at [outdoor] nationals.

“I wasn’t robust mentally past year. I’m however struggling a tiny bit. I know I have turn into a countrywide winner, but I nonetheless have lower days.”

Baxter reported operating with Tech sports activities psychologist and affiliate athletic director Gary Barnett has assisted her be a lot more assured this year.

“He’s form of just reminding me, ‘You know how to do it. You know what you are doing,’” she claimed. “It’s learning to trust myself once again … and make that kind of self-confidence back again up.”

At the ACC indoor satisfy in Blacksburg in February, Baxter reached her goal of winning a fourth straight ACC indoor title. She also helped the Tech girls tie Duke for the crew championship.

She then gained the NCAA crown.

“I realized if I just retained executing what I experienced carried out all time, sort of have faith in myself, rely on Bob, have confidence in my training, I knew I experienced a authentic shot at successful it. And I did,” explained Baxter, who aided Tech complete sixth in the women’s workforce standings at the NCAAs.

Phillips has coached many All-Us residents in his 37 many years as Tech’s pole vault mentor, but this was the initial time a person of his pupils had gained an NCAA title.

“It was a definitely exclusive minute to grow to be national champion and gain it for Bob,” she mentioned. “Through the highs and the lows, … he’s normally believed in me.”

“She’s unquestionably the finest vaulter which is appear by the system,” Phillips claimed. “That’s just a scarce combination of athletic means and perseverance and emphasis.”

Baxter plans to end perform on her master’s diploma in human nutrition, meals and workout in December.

Baxter, who took 14th at the U.S. Olympic trials previous calendar year, has her sights set on the 2024 trials. She strategies to live in Blacksburg for a different two many years so she can proceed to coach with Phillips.

But she is not done competing for the Hokies just nonetheless. She not long ago commenced the final out of doors year of her college vocation.

She created a triumphant return to California final weekend. Competing in entrance of relatives and friends, she completed initial in the Usa Observe and Discipline Golden Game titles at the Mt. SAC Relays.

Perhaps she can increase ACC and NCAA out of doors titles to her selection.

“I’m hoping for large points this out of doors time,” she mentioned. “But I’m just trying to have entertaining.”