Rachel Fisher: From champion gymnast to BYU pole vaulter

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Imagine training in a gym six hours a day, six days a week while trying to balance school and homework.

Imagine spending all that time mastering certain skills for one sport for over 10 years.

Imagine spending the time in the gym under the instruction of a demanding coach who had experience coaching Olympic-caliber athletes.

Rachel Fisher lived that life. She began gymnastics when she was three and it became more and more a part of her life through her early years. Her coach was Yevgeny Marchenko, who was the 2004 U.S. Olympic Women’s head coach.

Fisher was an outstanding gymnast. She won over 80 medals and earned first place as the All-Around Champion at the Regional Junior Olympics at age 14.

At age 17, her life changed. Fisher was plagued by a back stress fracture and realized she wanted to do something other than gymnastics.

“It was like giving up my whole life,” Fisher said. “That was everything I did and it defined me.”

It was no small decision. This was a lifestyle change, but one she wanted.

“After much thought and prayer, I felt like it was something I needed to do so I moved on,” Fisher said.

She spent some time away from gymnastics, but quickly became bored. There was still a desire to challenge herself as an athlete. Her father had talked about the possibility of utilizing her talents in another sport.

“He had been bugging me about trying pole vaulting the last two years of gymnastics,” Fisher said. “I think he had read about pole vaulting and that ex-gymnasts make good pole-vaulters.”

Pole vaulter Rachel Fisher competes during an indoor meet. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey.)
Pole vaulter Rachel Fisher competes during an indoor meet. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey.)

 

After having “blown off” the idea of pole vaulting for a couple years and quitting gymnastics, Fisher changed her mind.

“I needed something to work on and needed something to perfect,” Fisher said.

Pole-vaulting became Fisher’s new passion and she began dedicating her free time to vaulting. But transitioning from sport to sport can be a difficult process.

“The first time I actually planted the pole in front of the pit, I missed the pit,” Fisher said. “My coach had to catch me.”

But the rough start did not deter Fisher. She simply learned from her first attempt and made changes.

“The rest of the day went better,” Fisher said. “Shortly after, I began picking things up quickly and I really enjoyed it.”

Within one month of taking up pole vaulting, Fisher broke her high school’s record in the event. Later that year, she placed second at the Junior Olympics. She earned the No. 1 ranking in the nation at the beginning of her senior year and earned first place at the AAU Junior Olympics that summer.

A spot on BYU’s track and field team followed her brief, but outstanding high school career. Her success continued her freshman year as she broke BYU’s indoor pole vault record.

Victor Weirich, a pole-vaulter on the men’s team and one of Fisher’s coaches this year is never surprised by her successes.

“I think the number one thing is her desire to improve,” Weirich said. “That’s her main drive. She hates doing bad and she hates losing. Another thing is her background. She knows how to maneuver her body in the air.”

Fisher’s success in mastering her own skills may not even be her most impressive attributes.

Amy Moffat, a walk-on sophomore and fellow pole-vaulter on the track team was immediately touched by Fisher when she showed up for tryouts.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” Moffat said. “I had no idea where I was supposed to be. Rachel gave herself as a resource to me every day.”

From that day on, Fisher helped Moffat become acclimated with the team and helped her with vaulting.

“She gave off the feeling this was not a competition between athletes,” Moffat said. “It was her trying to help me get on the team,” Moffat said.

Fisher, with one year of eligibility left, has become the top pole-vaulter on the women’s team and recently competed as one of the top pole-vaulters in the West at a regional meet in Texas.

“I love that there is always more that you can do,” Fisher said. “You can always jump higher or fix your take off. The feeling of having that perfect jump and setting a new personal record is just amazing.”

Fisher’s determination and commitment to perfection continues to lift herself and her teammates to greater heights.

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