World-class athletes compete in Lyndonville

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 June 2013 at 12:00 am

‘We wanted to bring the pole vault out here so people don’t have to travel and spend tons of money to see it.’
– Jenn Suhr

Photos by Tom Rivers – Jenn Suhr is the best women’s pole vaulter in the world. She cleared 15 feet, 7 inches today, the same height she topped to win a Gold Medal in the 2012 Olympics.

LYNDONVILLE – When he watched his sister-in-law win Gold in the 2012 Olympics, Harold Suhr had his own Olympic-sized dream.

He would use the second fairway of his golf course, the White Birch, for a pole vaulting competition featuring Jenn Suhr, who is married to Harold’s brother Rick. Harold pitched the idea after the Olympics, but Jenn first chose pole vaulting events at her hometown in Fredonia, her alma mater at Roberts Wesleyan College and with the Buffalo Bills.

On Friday, she made Harold’s dream come true, competing with five other top vaulters in front of about 300 people at the golf course as part of the New York Invite Series. The competition will be back this Friday beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the White Birch with 2 p.m. Sunday the rain date.

The six vaulters in the New York Invite Series are pictured after the meet. The group includes, front row, from left: Erin Champion, Jenn Suhr and Claire Dishong. Back row: Linda Hadfield, Janice Keppler and Heather Hamilton.

“I’ve been pushing for this since she won the Olympics,” said Harold Suhr, owner of the golf course since 1980. “It’s great for Orleans County. For Jenn, it’s about giving back to the community.”

Suhr’s brother Rick was a kid when he first tried the pole vault on the ninth hole of the golf course, setting up hay bales for the landing.

His wife won the competition on Friday, clearing 15, feet, 7 inches, the same height she surpassed to win Gold last August. She is gearing up for the USA outdoor track and field championships on June 20-23 in Des Moines, Iowa. She just won first place a week ago in New York City at the adidas Grand Prix.

“With Lyndonville, it fit into the schedule well,” Jenn said after the meet. “Here I can practice things with timing and different techniques and get ready for nationals.”

Jenn was greeted by many fans, and she accommodated their requests for autographs and photos.

“We wanted to bring the pole vault out here so people don’t have to travel and spend tons of money to see it,” she said. “It’s enjoyable to come and perform and put on a show, but also to work on some things before you go into a big meet.”

Friday’s competition was a first for Suhr and the vaulters – competing on a golf course with a chicken coop next door. Suhr said the setting was good for the athletes, making them work on their mental game.

“With people watching you get out of your safety zone,” she said. “Anytime you come to some place unfamiliar, you really have to focus. It puts more focus into the jump and you really have to concentrate.”

Jenn Suhr gets ready to vault in warmups before Friday’s competition in Lyndonville, on the second hole of the White Birch Golf Course.

Janice Keppler sprints down the runway in Friday’s pole vault competition in Lyndonville, where she was second behind Gold Medalist Jenn Suhr.

Janice Keppler of Medina finished second in the competition, which included the top Canadian vaulter, Heather Hamilton. Keppler is currently the fourth-ranked American woman.

The 26-year-old has been working on her family’s beef farm when she’s not competing or training. She tied her outdoor best with the jump of 14 feet, 6 inches. Her all-time best is 15’1’, an indoor jump. Keppler is only one of eight American women to clear 15 feet in pole vaulting.

“I’m very proud of her,” said her father Phil. “She works so hard. She has a rural work ethic, where she never says no.”

Keppler has travelled all over the country to watch his daughter compete. He brought along a contingent of family and friends to watch Janice on Friday.

“It’s cool that the Suhrs did this, bringing a world-class event to Orleans County,” Keppler said.

Albion junior Justyn Haines cleared 14 feet at Sectionals to qualify for the state meet next weekend. Haines praised all the vaulters at the Lyndonville event for their form, their technique and their core strength.

“They make it look like a walk in the park,” Haines said.

The event was capped by loud fire trucks escorting the Lyndonville baseball team up Route 63. The team won Sectionals on Friday. The victory was announced during the pole vaulting competition and drew loud applause and cheers from the crowd.