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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jul. 23, 2014 4 years ago

Pole vaulter on the ascent after qualifying for Jr. Olympics

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by: Steven Ryzewski Senior Sports Editor

Schafers_HORIZONTAL

Littered around the home of the Schafers family is a collection of motivational signs.

They include a variety of motivational messages — things like “Bigger. Faster. Stronger.” and the like —but many of them simply say ’13.’

The number has a particular importance for Summer Schafers, a rising junior at Olympia High School, as it represents a goal that she often trains more than five days a week toward.

Summer, an All-American pole vaulter for the Titans, is already among an elite class of prep pole vaulters who can clear 11 feet and has gone as high as 12 feet in competition. She placed second in the state in Class 4A at this past spring’s FHSAA Track & Field Championships and placed fourth in the nation this past summer at USA Track & Field’s Junior Olympic Nationals.

Thirteen feet, then, is the goal representing the elevated level the local teen aspires to. More importantly, it is a motivating factor that helped Summer overcome a navicular stress fracture in her right foot.

The injury, which famously derailed the NBA career of center Yao Ming, slowed her down a bit but did not prevent her from second place finish in the state and, more recently, from qualifying for the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Iowa later this month.

Through it all, Summer says the support of her parents — Jurgen and Kortney Schafers — as well as the little motivation signs sprinkled across her home, have helped her persevere to get back on track.

“I definitely had points where I can say I slipped and got really frustrated and probably wanted to like rip a pillow in half,” Summer said. “Sometimes I know I get frustrated so [the motivational signs] just kind of bring you back and help you be more confident …

“You’re always looking in the mirror … so why not look at motivational stuff while you’re getting ready?”

Jurgen, who along with pole vaulting expert Jim Metzger helps coach Summer, believes his daughter will flourish as she continues to train and compete following her rehabilitation process because of her competitive nature.

“Sometimes those setbacks make you hungry — it’s not always what happens to you, it’s how you respond to it,” Jurgen said. “I believe, because this is how Summer is, I think it [the injury] will make her that much better and stronger in the long run."

In addition to being a father who believes in his daughter, there is also some evidence to back-up Jurgen’s belief. As a competitive gymnast who rose to compete as high as level nine during her gymnastics career, Summer trained hard and often — displaying a remarkable focus and work ethic for a youth athlete.

The grind of high-level gymnastics began to wear on her, though, and when it became apparent that pursuing the sport into high school would likely require home schooling, Summer sought a new avenue for her competitive spirit.

“I think that she wanted a high school experience,” Kortney said.

It could be argued that much of Summer’s athletic ability and success is a product of good genetics and environment. The Schafers all have backgrounds in athletics, with Jurgen having been a high jumper at Florida State and Kortney having a background as a professional dancer.

It was her brother Kendall’s chosen sport, though, that seemed to have the greatest impact. Kendall took up pole vaulting and had an impressive career, clearing as high as 16 feet and competing at the collegiate level for the University of South Florida.

Seeing her brother take to the sport in the way that he did inspired Summer to give it a shot — and affirmation that she had made a solid choice wasn’t far off as she immediately began setting middle school records.

And though Summer chose to leave gymnastics because she said she began to feel burnt out, it would serve her well as she progressed into a new challenge.

“I credit a lot of her success [in pole vault] to her gymnastics background,” Jurgen said. “In gymnastics, I think, because she had that background with all the tumbling she did — all the twists and turns and backflips — it took away a lot of that initial fear that pole vaulting can instill in a lot of people.”

Summer has also seemed to have retained the work ethic she developed as a competitive gymnast — something Metzger says is a big help as she aspires to soar even higher.

“Her worth ethic is incredible,” Metzger said. “It’s one of the reasons she does a good job, she has her parents that help support her and help push her. …

“It’s the middle of July and there’s 95 percent humidity and she’s out there working — that’s what separates an athlete.”

The hope for “Team Summer” is that her work ethic and her impressive athleticism will continue to help separate her from the pack. In addition to the Junior Olympics, Summer has her sights set on winning her first FHSAA Championship next spring as a junior.

And then, of course, there’s college to consider. Summer is sure to attract several Division I programs and she’s excited for that process to play out over the next two years.

“My options are completely open,” Summer said. “It’s all about what opportunities present themselves at the time. “

And as for her parents, who have cheered her on as she has cleared challenge after challenge, the feeling can’t help but to be that the best is yet to come.

“She has the potential and she has the physical attributes,” Jurgen said. “I don’t think she has any limits … I think she can go a long way in this sport if she wants it.”

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