Sprinting down the ramp, Desiree Freier launches into space at the end of a fiberglass pole, defying gravity and capturing imaginations as she reaches to new heights.
The two-time 5A state champion owns the American high school girls’ indoor and outdoor pole vault records of 14-2.75 and 14-3.25. At her area meet in April, she cleared 14-6 and added another medal to her extensive collection. But as the Northwest senior and four-time regional champion heads to Austin for the final vault of her high school career next week with a chance for a third gold medal, she’s on a single mission to raise the bar higher.
“I never go for a medal,” Freier said. “I go for height and what’s the next bar I can clear.”
That next mark to clear at Mike Myers Stadium at the University of Texas in Austin is 14-9, which would break the outdoor record she set on the same track in March at the Texas Relays.
“I’m really excited. I’ve had a routine where I’ve PR’d at every other meet since March,” Freier said. “I went 14 and then 14-3. Then 14 and then 14-6. At regionals, I went 14. At state, I want that PR.”
Another record and medal would put an exclamation mark to a near-unapproachable career.
“Desiree is a great competitor and hard worker,” said Northwest girls track coach George Lutkenhaus. “Any time you see someone reach that level, it’s really impressive.”
Freier started vaulting at 10 years old.
“My stepdad owns a pole vaulting facility,” Freier explains as she points to the new facility in the family’s backyard. “I thought it’d be neat to try it. Not many people do it, and I kinda caught on to it.”
She had tried gymnastics but didn’t last long.
“I tried gymnastics for three days but said this is too much of a perfectionist thing and I can’t do it,” Freier said.
Gymnastics’ loss was track and field’s gain. She quickly became a student of vaulting, capitalizing on her ability with a relentless work ethic.
“It takes passion, work ethic and the x-factor – God-given genetics,” said her coach and brother Devin Rodriguez. “She’s blessed to have it all.
“You have to have the passion and desire. You can have the strength and speed and not go anywhere. You have to have that passion to work every day to be on top.”
Freier herself said it takes three main characteristics to be a great vaulter – speed, strength and height.
“I have two of the three. I lack the height, but I’ve got the other two,” the 5-foot Freier jokes.
The lack of height is also what she claims led her to the sport.
“I’m not very tall and always wanted to be a little bit taller,” Freier said. “By vaulting you can throw yourself up that much higher, and it makes you taller than everyone else.”
Her brother quickly points out that height is overrated.
“She doesn’t need the height. She’s proved that’s not a factor.”
Rodriguez has coached her for three-and-half years and watched her gain more than two feet from her second-place finish as a freshman at state, when she went 12-3. He credits her consistency.
“There’s not been a change. It’s consistency in her training and coaching. She’s always there practicing and working,” Rodriguez said.
Going more than a story into the air at the end of pole, Freier is not scared. She’s only had a few crashes, one during a street vault where she landed with her neck and back. Her other crash came when a pole snapped in practice.
“That wasn’t that scary. I just landed in the pit and said ‘What just happened?’”
Ironically for the frequent flyer, she claims to be scared of heights.
“I’m terrified,” Freier said. “I love roller coasters, but I scream like a baby when I go on them.
“When you look down, what if you fell that far? It’s pretty scary to think about.”
But falling from nearly 15 feet after letting go of the pole there is no fear.
“You free fall, It’s breathless in a way,” Freier said. “It’s all really quick. I don’t know how to explain. In a vault it happens so fast. You don’t have time to think about.”
In competition, she strives to win but Freier also praises her competitors and urges them on.
“I try to be as friendly as possible,” she said. “I ask are you ready to PR? We’re all going to PR.”
It’s part of returning the favor that Round Rock McNeil’s Kaitlin Petrillose did for her at the state meet Freier’s freshman year.
“I was a nervous wreck,” Freier recalled. “Kaitlin calmed me down and told me it was just another meet.”
Since then, vaulting has taken Freier around the world. She’s competed multiple times in New York this spring and last year she competed in the Ukraine.
“That was a really cool experience,” Freier said. “I didn’t like the food. The food was gross. Their meat was just lamb, and I don’t like lamb. I got to meet Sergei Bubka, and I got to shake his hand. My brother got mad that I washed my hand.”
After completing her high school career next week, Freier is headed to Arkansas, where she will join the perennial national championship contender.
“I chose between UT and Arkansas,” she said. “I chose Arkansas because I felt more at home there. They have eight vaulters, just girls. They all felt like sisters.”
While she is looking forward to competing at the next level. She also has her sights set on competing on the world stage, including a possible run at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro. It’s not far-fetched for the vaulter who is ranked 11th in the United States among all female vaulters – professional, college and high school.
“That’s weird. I still can’t make sense out of it that I’m that good. It’s not real to me,” Freier said. “I look at video and say I didn’t do that. There’s something else inside of me that is doing that. It’s not me.”
But the goal of making to Rio is very real.
“That’s my goal – 2016 in Rio,” she said. “If I can get up another foot then I should be good. That’s another two years.
“I want to go to the Olympics.”
Rodriguez agrees that it’s possible, pointing out that she is within three inches of making the U.S. Track and Field Outdoor Championships standards.
Pros in the sport already know about Freier, sending her Tweets saying they are looking forward to competing with her in the future.
As she closes out her high school career, Freier is proud of the legacy she will leave at Northwest. She hopes it will inspire other Texans.
“Greatness can come from anywhere,” Freier said. “Anyone can be great as long as they work at it. It’s just a matter of how bad you want it.”
Some can even defy gravity.