The Girl Loves To Fly

Q&a Sasha Smallwood, Pikesville, Track And Field

April 23, 2009|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,

Ever since she was a little girl bouncing off the furniture, Sasha Smallwood has liked flying through the air. Now, as a sophomore pole vaulter at Pikesville, she does it almost every day - reaching a Class 1A state-record 11 feet, 1 inch in winning the state indoor championship two months ago in only her second year in the sport. Small for a pole vaulter at 5 feet 2, Smallwood, 15, hopes to reach the Olympics someday, but first she wants to qualify for the Junior Olympics this summer. She will be vaulting Thursday at the Penn Relays. Also in the drama club, Smallwood had a major role in A Raisin in the Sun.

Why did you want to try pole vaulting in the very beginning?

I wanted to do it because it was just something new and it sounded exciting and fun. It was this crazy thing, pole vaulting. Why not?

What did you like about it?

I really liked the challenge of so many things to do at once. It's not so many super-complex things; it's simple things you have to do extraordinarily well. I got that from Alan Launder, who is a coach. It's just so much fun to fly through the air. That's what I love the most about it.

What makes you good at it?

I think it's not even me. I mean I'm built like a pole vaulter, I've had gymnastics experience and I have a lot of upper body and abdominal strength, but I think it's more my determination and my drive to get better at it. It's not like I just practice a couple times a week. I go to four-hour practices. I've gone miles to pole-vault camps. I'm really into it. I think that's how I got good at it.

How much of this sport is mental?

Pole vaulting is completely mental. Yeah, there's the physical. You have to be strong to do it, but if you can understand what you're doing and how to do it in your mind before you jump, then everything should go smoothly. ... If you mess up something and then you get down on yourself, it's hard. You have to build back up.

Have you learned to get over that mental catch of getting down on yourself?

I'm probably the only person who puts a lot of pressure on myself. Everyone else is very supportive. ... I used to be horrible and I would cry and be all upset and stuff, but after a while and talking to a lot of people, I just need to keep moving on and say, "Ooh, I did that wrong. Now let me do it better."

How do you mentally prepare for a jump?

All day before a meet, I will envision all my vaults. I'll envision myself going through what I need to do, all day leading up to it. I'll doodle on my paper, doodles of pole vaulting. Right when the meet's going, sometimes you may catch me meditating, kind of sitting there with my legs folded and I'm just quiet with my eyes closed, envisioning what I'm about to jump. Before each height, as I'm standing there, that's what I do: I see myself getting over it.

What goal have you set for outdoors this spring?

Outdoors, I definitely need that 12 feet very soon, like very soon. Other than that, it's more just getting up there. ... I have so many goals.

Are you ever afraid?

Not really. I get nervous, though, before meets. ... After my first jump, I'm normally cool. I haven't been scared of it. I started out not being scared of it. Now going higher, it's kind of nerve-racking. I don't want to fall or anything like that. If you go at it scared, then you'll mess up and you'll get hurt. So if I go at it with an open mind, like I'm Superwoman, it'll just be easier to break through.

What does it feel like to go over that bar?

It is almost indescribable. You feel light as air, like nothing can bring you down. Of course you're falling, but it's a really great feeling. It's such a relief. You put so much power and energy into it and as soon as you go over, it's the biggest relief. It's the most amazing feeling.

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