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Olympic hopeful trains at ND

Notre Dame’s track and field season ended last weekend, but the track hasn’t been completely deserted for the summer yet. Irish alum Mary Saxer will be working out on the South Bend campus for the next two weeks as she prepares for the Olympic Trials in late June.

Irish alum Mary Saxer is currently ranked among the top 20 women's pole vaulter in the world.

Saxer graduated from Notre Dame in 2009 as the school’s record holder in the pole vault and a two-time All-American. She stuck around in South Bend to continue training and pursue an Olympic career. Saxer said she start training full time for the upcoming trials earlier this year. She is currently one of seven female vaulters with a clean shot at making the three-person team that will go to London in late July.

“I know that I am more than capable of doing what I need to do to be on that team,” she said. “The tough part is you can never predict how things are going to play out that day. I could have a personal record day and so could three other girls. I could end up fourth, and that would be really hard, but I have as good a shot as anyone I think.”

Saxer has cleared just under 15-feet-2-inches as a personal best, which puts her fourth among the top qualifiers that will be in Eugene, Ore., at the end of the month. Earlier this year she took second place at the national indoor meet and earned a trip to the world competition in Istanbul, Turkey. Saxer’s coach, Danny Wilkerson, said that international experience will be one of her greatest assets at the trials.

“She has had some great experiences traveling around the world vaulting,” Wilkerson said. “She’s competed against the No. 1 vaulter in the world (a Russian woman who tops out at 16-feet-2-inches) on several occasions. It’s just another meet for her. …I’m going to remind her it’s a box, it’s a bar and your job is to clear it.”

Wilkerson and Saxer met during her senior year at Notre Dame and started working together after she graduated. He coaches the Bethel College track and field team in nearby Mishawaka, Ind. Wilkerson was working with U.S. champion vaulter Mark Hollis, who also happens to live in the area, at Notre Dame’s track when he first met Saxer.

The southern United States is normally known as the nation’s hotbed for producing track and field talent, especially on the college level. For some reason, pole vaulting has found a home in the Midwest. Saxer and Hollis are only two of many northern Indiana residents that have been Olympic hopefuls at some point in their career. Notre Dame senior Kevin Schipper came up just short of joining them this year in his final collegiate season. Schipper grew up outside of Fort Wayne, Ind.

“I’m not really sure why there is just a lot of good culture up here,” Wilkerson said. “I think some of it is you learn to vault in adverse weather training up here. That holds well when you have to go compete. It makes her tough and it helps us a lot.”

Saxer gives more credit for her recent success to Notre Dame than its geographic region. She said overcoming obstacles early in her career helped get her ready to make a run at the Olympics on her own. Saxer is a volunteer assistant coach for the Irish now and helps give some of the young pole vaulters pointers on technique when she sees them during her workouts.

She said decided to come back to campus to train was a no-brainer.

“When I finally decided to continue pursuing pole vault I was like, ‘Well, what better place to train than where I already had success?’ There’s so much support here at Notre Dame. It was an easy answer to that question,” she said.

Saxer will take her next step in Oregon on June 22 in the qualifying round of the Olympic Trials. If she advances, she’ll get a shot at making the team on the 24th in front of roughly 20,000 spectators at the iconic Hayward Field. The women’s pole vault event at the London Games is scheduled to begin on Aug. 4.

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