Alysha Newman rediscovers her love for pole vaulting, returns from injury

Alysha Newman rediscovers her love for pole vaulting, returns from injury

For years, Alysha Newman woke up each day wanting to pole vault. Usually upbeat, happy and full of life, her feelings began to change at the beginning of the 2018 indoor season.

For three months, the Canadian-record holder and 2016 Olympian couldn’t understand why she didn’t want to jump.

“I was telling my coaches I didn’t love it anymore. I think I was going through a little bit of a mental health issue,” Newman said in an interview Saturday. “It felt more like a job than something I loved to do.

“It got to the point where I felt, ‘Oh, I have to go and jump’ and I would be scared.”

But the “itch” to compete has returned for the 24-year-old, whose season was cut short in late May after hearing a pop in her left knee during warmup at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League track and field meet in Oregon.

Although Alysha Newman’s appearance and Twitter feed sometimes makes headlines more than her results, Canada’s top pole vaulter is committed to being one of the best vaulters to ever live. 2:50

Later diagnosed with a six-millimetre tear in the middle of the patellar tendon, which attaches the bottom of the kneecap to the top of the shinbone, Newman opted not to have surgery, given the approximate six-month recovery time so close to the world championships next September and 2020 Olympics.

Monday marks a “reset” for the 2019 season, following months of rest and extensive physiotherapy, as the London, Ont., native resumes full training with coaches Doug Wood and Zeke Krykorka at Bolton Pole Vault.

“I’m really excited,” said Newman, who followed a seventh-place finish at 2017 worlds by setting the women’s record at the Commonwealth Games in April with a winning jump of 4.75 metres. “I was running and hiking with friends the past two weeks and didn’t think about [the knee] once. I’m going to kill every workout.”

CBC Sports spoke with Newman about how she improved in 2018, kept busy while recovering from a serious injury and her goals for 2019.

CBC Sports: What were you on the verge of accomplishing at the time of your injury?

Alysha Newman: My coaches and I found something critical in my technique at worlds. They thought my grip was a lot longer than it was and too narrow. When we changed that, my whole jump changed.

We thought I would jump so high after breaking through at Commonwealth Games and then I got hurt. I was on some new poles and ready to so some damage at meets. I would have jumped higher and broke my Canadian record [of 4.75 metres] again, for sure.

CBC Sports’ Anson Henry features the champion Canadian pole vaulter, who is trying to get accustomed to a brand new set of poles, after her original ones were destroyed en route to a competition. 2:09

CBC Sports: How did you perform better in competition in 2018 than previous seasons?

AN: I always used that pit-in-my-stomach feeling as a negative, of being nervous, but for some reason this year I decided I would make that feeling positive. It now means my body is ready to go. I think I was able to handle the pressure of competition. I tell myself I’m an actress and show up to an event ready to perform. I want to be No. 1 and you have to walk into competition like a No. 1 knowing you’re going to win.

I changed that whole mindset after worlds and the first time I felt it was in Australia [at Commonwealth Games].

An elated Newman is pictured here celebrating her victory at the Commonwealth Games in April. A month later, a left knee injury ended her season, forcing the 24-year-old to miss the Canadian track and field championships, Diamond League final and NACAC championships. (Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images/File)

CBC Sports: What regrets do you have about the injury?

AN: I don’t have any. It happened for a reason. This year was crazy for testing my mental strength and I got through it. At my last practice at the end of August I rolled by left ankle and the following week I got an airborne virus and one day I couldn’t see.

Having this aha moment made me realize pole vault is what I should be doing. This is my life and I want to break barriers, make the impossible possible and show people you can finish your story the way you want it to end. That’s why I keep pushing.

CBC Sports: What goals have you set for the 2019 season?

AN: Every year I go up five to 10 centimetres with my goal. I wanted to jump 4.80, 4.85 metres this year so I’m going to keep it at 4.90 for next year.

‘I challenged myself differently away from the track’

CBC Sports: You travelled to Miami in mid-July for an open casting call to find the first rookie of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2020. Describe that experience and what else kept you busy during your recovery?

AN: There were about 5,000 women trying out and they only took 16. I enjoyed the experience but realized I would prefer being known as an Olympic gold medallist or world-record holder first and then a feature model, not a full-time Sports Illustrated model who’s also an athlete.

I did a lot of pop-up shops and got to know the fashion influencers and creators in Toronto. I love fashion and dressing up. I went to Toronto Fashion Week in early September and took six days to go to the Bahamas and swam with dolphins. I also did a full kitchen renovation for a family friend, so I challenged myself differently away from the track.

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