Mary Saxer is a professional pole vaulter from Buffalo, New York. In her early years she was a gymnast, which transformed into an interest in track and field. At Lancaster High School in Lancaster, New York she was the first high school girl to EVER clear 14 feet! She went on to break the high school national record seven times and the American Junior record during her high school career. She currently continues to hold the New York High School state record at 14’2.
Saxer went on to the University of Notre Dame to continue her track and field career. She placed 3rd in the 2009 Outdoor NCAA National Championships and won three Big East Conference Championships. She is still the current record holder at Notre Dame in the pole vault. During her college career she was also named a two time All-American.
Clearly, Saxer wasn’t ready to hang up her pole and spikes after such an incredible college career. After graduating from Notre Dame she continued to compete in the pole vault at the professional level. Saxer served as an alternate for the 2012 Olympic team after a heartbreaking tiebreak for fourth place. In 2014 she won the National Championship to qualify for her second World Championship representing Team USA. Saxer was twice named to the Team USA World Championship Team. After serving in the top 10 pole vaulters worldwide in 2013, she has held a top 20 worldwide placement in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, and most recently in 2017.
I recently had the honor to interview Mary about PR’s, life lessons, advice for female track and field athletes on body image and one of my favorite things—food!
Tell us about a time you learned a lesson from a failure? Missing the 2012 Olympic team based on a tiebreaker. I placed 4th, jumping the same height as 3rd. So close to the Olympic dream, yet so far away. Gut wrenching. I used the heartbreak from missing the team in such a close way to fuel my 2013 season. I came back with fire under my butt and had my most consistent and confident next year!
What is your favorite PR moment? 4.71m (15’5.5) at the 2014 Indoor National Championships to win my first nationals title and punch my ticket to my second World Championship!
What are your goals for future in track and field? To see that my journey and interactions have an impact on others, especially the next generation of vaulters. If I can make a difference in the life of even one person, that means more to me than any height.
In my last post about the Female Athlete Triad I discussed how female track and field athletes are more likely to have body image issues because of the “aesthetic” nature of the sport and the belief that being lighter leads to faster times and higher jumps. Have you ever struggled with body image issues? I have struggled with body image throughout my career. I realistically know that I have a great figure and I work hard for my figure. However, in our sport women wear very small, tight fitting clothes, which make it hard to hide anything you might be insecure about. In a world full of social media and photography it’s impossible to hide. Everywhere we look there are cameras zooming in as we run full speed down a runway. Of course things are going to jiggle and not look “perfect” like models on a beach that are being photographed in perfect lighting while remaining motionless.
How did you overcome this and what would you say to female track and field athletes who are battling body image issues? I have always struggled to love my legs. I have thought my thighs are on the bigger side, especially compared to a lot of my competitors. Over time I have come to recognize that my legs are beautiful and muscular and allow me to have the horsepower that I do to get down that runway and soar to the heights that I have. I have grown to embrace my muscular legs for everything they are and be thankful for them as opposed to picking myself apart. We are all unique and I think that every person must embrace her own beauty. Do your best not to compare yourself to others because we are all different and comparison gets you nowhere. I embrace the fact that I am a woman, with curves, and badass muscles! I embrace the fact that I represent the fact that #strongisbeautiful
If you could do another track and field event for one day what would you do? High jump because I’d want to see how I could jump without using my poles.
What is your favorite food to prepare for a big meet? It’s hard to eat consistently before a meet because of all the travel, but my dear friend Katie loves dessert the night before a meet and I often join her. So I would say a little something sweet as a treat right before laying it all out there the next day! What about celebratory meal after the meat? Pizza or sushi.
What is your biggest track meet pet peeve? The smell of biofreeze…ugh.
If you had to give your 18 year-old self advice, about to graduate from high school and truly enter “adulthood,” what would you say? Take chances and embrace every moment along the journey because you never know what’s around the corner! Time flies so soak up every single moment, good or bad, and learn from it.