May 7, 2018

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — The back injury she suffered in February 2017 kept Bridget Guy out of competition for nearly a year and necessitated a long period of rehabilitation and physical therapy.

That was the downside. But the experience was not all negative for Guy, a redshirt junior who’s the finest pole vaulter in the history of University of Virginia women’s track & field.

Because she was unable to compete last spring, and thus could not qualify for the NCAA championships, there were no complications when Guy traveled to France to spend four weeks studying in Lyon as part of a summer program offered by UVA.

A French major who minored in entrepreneurship, a McIntire School of Commerce program, Guy will graduate with a bachelor’s degree this month.

“It ended up being a blessing in disguise, if you can say that for being injured, because a part of her requirements was to go study abroad, and it just happened to work out that she could do it,” said assistant coach Mario Wilson, who works with UVA’s pole vaulters.

Had she competed at the NCAA meet last June in Eugene, Oregon, Guy said, she might still have been able to go to France, “but it would have been really rushed.”

That was Guy’s first visit to France — her first time outside the United States, in fact — and she said it was “very different learning from American professors that speak the language rather than learning from native French-speaking people. But overall it was a great experience.”

After withdrawing from a February meet at Liberty because of back pain, Guy was diagnosed with an L5-S1 disk injury. No surgery was required, but she ended up redshirting in both the indoor and outdoor seasons in 2016-17.

Not until Guy was in Europe did she test herself physically again, and then only briefly.

In Lyon, the UVA students stayed in a hotel atop a large hill, Guy said, and “towards the end of the program, I wanted to see what it felt like to run, so I did, and it was fine. I did a hill workout. I think I did maybe 10 sprints.”

When Guy, who’s from Greensburg, Pa., about 35 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, arrived at UVA in the summer of 2014, the school record for the women’s outdoor pole vault was 12 feet, 6 inches.

She quickly established herself as a special talent. As a freshman, in the spring of 2015, Guy set a school record in the women’s outdoor pole vault by clearing 13 feet, 5.75 inches. She already held the UVA mark for the women’s indoor pole vault.

At the ACC outdoor championships, Guy placed fourth in 2015 and again in `16, and she expected to improve on those performances last spring. She’d steadily progressed and “was just doing some really good things, in terms of how she was vaulting,” Wilson said. “She had evolved.”

Then came the injury, after which Guy “didn’t do anything track-related for” close to 10 months, Wilson said.

Last fall, Guy ran and lifted light weights, slowing increasing her workload. She returned to competition during the indoor season and placed seventh at the ACC championships in February, jumping 13-7¼.

“Not what I wanted,” Guy recalled.

She’d opened the indoor season in January at the Larry Wieczorek Invitational in Iowa, “and I felt like I was ready to jump a huge PR and pick up kind of where I left off my sophomore year,” Guy said.

“That didn’t happen. I no-heighted, so it was a huge blow to the ego. I think from there I was doubtful of my abilities and not very confident on the runway, and that showed. I concentrated more on what bar I was trying to clear rather than perfecting the technique or focusing on the things I could control.

“So it was nice to come back outdoors and just kind of get rid of all the rust and put that aside and say, `That was not the pole-vaulter I am.’ ”

In March, at the Hurricane Invitational in Coral Gables, Fla., Guy cleared 14-1.25. That school record was short-lived. Last month, at the Virginia Challenge at UVA’s Lannigan Field, Guy cleared 14-7.5.

Among women’s pole-vaulters in the ACC, Guy ranks second. She’s fourth nationally, with another season of eligibility remaining both indoors and outdoors.

Her time away from the sport ended up benefiting Guy, said Wilson, who oversees a pole-vaulting group that also includes Katie Freix, Madison Masloff and Tedi DeMaria on the women’s side and Sam Young on the men’s.

“She definitely continued to be hungry,” Wilson said of Guy, a graduate of Hempfield Area Senior High School. “She didn’t lose the desire to train hard. She understands the event, I think, a little bit better. She understands, I think, that it’s not a guarantee that she’ll be able to stay healthy.

“Everybody thinks that they’re invincible until you get that injury, and then it’s a check on your resolve. So she suffered through that. She takes care of herself, which is not to say that she never took care of herself before. She was always a good eater, great in the weight room, warm up, cool down, training room. She did everything right. It was just a freak [injury], a part of her body that just couldn’t take it. So now that she’s healed, she’s even more diligent, which is hard to believe. I think that’s a positive for her moving forward.”

Guy has been pole-vaulting since she was a seventh-grader, and she steadily improved before her injury. Still, she said, “I think the fact that I was injured just kind of instilled a greater determination or desire to do better.”

The ACC outdoor championships are this weekend in Coral Gables. Two weeks later comes the NCAA East Preliminary Round in another Florida city, Tampa. The NCAA championships are June 6-9 in Eugene, and Guy hopes to qualify for the first time.

Her ceiling as a pole-vaulter?

“I don’t know, man,” Wilson said, laughing. “Four years ago, I wasn’t thinking that she was going to jump 14-7.”

Guy said her “immediate goal is to reach consistency over a 14-foot bar, preferably 14-7. If I would be able to repeat that a few times, that would be great. But as far as the rest of the season goes, I want to be an ACC champion. I feel like if I jump to the best of my abilities, I could even win nationals.

“I know that I can jump higher than 14-7. I don’t know necessarily if it’s going to happen right this second, but I know that that’s coming.”

She’ll compete for the Wahoos as a graduate student in 2018-19. Guy is enrolling this summer in the Curry School of Education and will pursue a master’s degree in higher education, with a concentration in intercollegiate athletic administration.

Her injury was no fun, but Guy is glad her college career will continue past this season.

“It’s been kind of nice to fall back on the fifth year, because a lot of my friends are graduating,” she said, “and I feel like I get anxiety from them, watching them end track, and I’m not ready to give it up yet. I feel like I’m just finding my groove again and starting on that incline.”

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