For UW-River Falls pole vaulter, 13 may be a lucky number

Posted April 6, 2016

It takes a different breed of person to compete in pole vault, and for the UW-River Falls outdoor record holder Riley Claude, the mold is perfectly in place for her.

Claude began pole vault early in high school after competing in gymnastics for 15 years and was the first girl at River Falls High School to vault over 10 feet and 11 feet.

“A lot of good pole vaulters, Olympic pole vaulters, started out as gymnasts,” she said. “When I got into high school, I really wanted to try something different, so I switched to high school gymnastics, and I had that for one season and I had two other seasons to do other things. So I stared doing track.”

Claude competed in the state track and field meet at UW-La Crosse in 2013 and cleared 11 feet at the meet, tying for ninth place in division one. Claude said she set a goal after competing at the state meet in 2013.

“When I came here, and all through high school, my goal was to vault 13 feet. When I went to state for the first time my senior year in high school, I watched these girls vault 13 feet, and I told myself that I was going to get 13 feet. I’m still hoping by the end of college I can get up there,” she said.

Claude came to UW-River Falls in 2014 after being recruited by then head track and field Coach Aaron Decker. Since joining the Falcons, Claude has seen two head coaching changes, but has had one trainer as a constant: pole vault Coach Jason Briggs.

“I’ve been super luck to have a coach here consistently throughout my college career,” she said. “It’s been good to have different coaches, and to learn different things from each of them. It’s been a slight challenge just to come in and have different workouts from different coaches. Getting used to the different things that they expect from you.”

Briggs, who has vaulted since his junior year of high school, is in his third year coaching Claude and said Claude has become strong in more ways than one.

“Mentally and physically,” he said. “She much more solid technically. She doesn’t let things bother her like she used to. When things don’t go as perfectly as she wants them to, because she is a perfectionist, she has gotten better in that way. Every single vault that you take, and that she has ever taken in her life, is unique, they’ve never been the same.”

Claude did not attempt a jump in the Falcons opening outdoor meet on April 2 at Hamline University in St. Paul, but was seeded as the favorite of the meet. Claude said this year she is focusing on the little things, one at a time.

“It is a lot of mental toughness for me,” she said. “This year working on all the little things, I’m just trying to get all the little things together. Sometimes I just need to let myself vault and do what I know how to do, what I’ve been doing for the last six years. Just let my body do it.”

Both Briggs and Claude said that pole vault is a unique event in the sense that it takes a special person to propel upside down using a pole to clear a bar, and that the mental aspect of the event is just as tough as the technical side.

“Pole vault is tough, for every action, there is a reaction,” Briggs said. “If you change one thing in your vault it’s going to change the feeling at least a little bit in every single point throughout the rest of the entire vault.”

Claude added: “I think you just have to come in and realize that every day is a new day. Think about the good things you’ve worked on, but not think about the bad. When you do, it continues to build up. And doing the same thing over and over again. I know for me, when I first came in as a freshman, I kind of struggled with doing the same thing over and over again, and you forget that you’re focusing on fixing things. You start going through the motions.”

This year, she is slated as the Falcons’ top female pole vaulter and likely will compete in the WIAC championships on May 6-7, but Claude said she has higher aspirations.

“I really want to get back to the national championships again,” she said. “Ever since I went and saw David (Paynotta) and Jordan (Crockett) and they got their all-American medals, I made that a goal for myself. I want to get back there, and I want to be able to get my metal and become and all-American.”

Claude said that after college, she doesn’t anticipate vaulting, but has interest in coaching. She had assisted in gymnastics coaching and also has helped Briggs in his annual vaulting camps.

“I like being able to teach and see and show them (athletes) something and it works,” she said. “Maybe one day things will work out someday and line up and I’ll being doing that somewhere.”