By Mercedes Montoya
SEATTLE - Sophomore pole vaulter Jax Thoirs began his second season at Washington shortly after becoming the fifth Husky ever to vault higher than 18 feet. A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Thoirs continues to increase the Scottish National Record indoors and outdoors with each new personal best. Now heading to his first NCAA Indoor Championships, Thoirs would love nothing more than another Scottish record coinciding with an NCAA title.
To chase success, Thoirs had to be willing to leave behind his hometown, country, and continent, but Thoirs is an avid competitor who does not want only to participate, but looks to win.
Thoirs’ interest in pole vaulting came after his time in gymnastics had run out due to his size. Despite his great talent, a sudden growth spurt was making new moves quite difficult. Thoirs’ knowledge and skill in gymnastics has certainly not gone to waste, for the awareness and strength components he learned are necessary for pole vaulting.
“We did all events, cause we were only ten years old, but I was best at high bar and rings,” Thoirs recalls. “Gymnastics helps because you know more than most people where the bar is, you’ve got good spatial awareness. And you’re used to getting upside-down which is obviously helpful.”
Now standing at 6’5”, as a tough rugby player and someone who loves a rush of adrenaline, this choice of track and field events does not come as much of a surprise. Thoirs took on the challenge of learning a new sport that was uncommon in his hometown, where there was only one local coach.
“Vaulting is the most dangerous sport in track and field and I think that is partially why I like it,” says Thoirs, who tried it for the first time at 14-years-old. “There’s a little bit of fear involved in it which makes it a little bit more exciting. I liked it straight away, I thought it was a lot of fun.”
As the United Kingdom School Games Champion in 2009 and runner-up in the 2012 British Junior Championships, Thoirs was an excellent recruit for the Dawgs. Having been inspired by Husky great Brad Walker, a two-time World Champion who is similar in size and build to Thoirs, it seemed only fitting that Thoirs would end up competiting at the same university and under the same coach as Walker.
Assistant coach for 17 years, Pat Licari has developed some of the nation's premier pole vaulters, including the two-time Olympian Walker, one of three NCAA champions from UW. Licari has had five Pac-12 champions and 11 different All-Americans. Thoirs hopes to add to this list, with his ultimate goal of winning an Olympic gold medal.
I just wanted to get away, when the chance came up I was just excited, I never thought it would be a bad choice, and what’s happened so far has proved that.
Thoirs had a strong freshman season after some early hiccups. He no-heighted several times indoors, but began to put it together outdoors, raising his personal-best and setting the Scottish record for the first time at the UW-WSU Dual Meet, going 17-7 ¼. He surpassed the 18-foot mark for the first time at a meet over the summer in Finland.
Thoirs has already taken steps toward reaching his goal of gold by competing at the 2012 British Olympic Trials and also having represented Great Britain at the Youth Olympic Trials in Moscow in 2010. Over the summer, Thoirs competed in Europe and worked hard to be ready to come back to school for his second season at Washington.
The past year has seen improvements both technical and mental.
“I think a lot of it has been my mindset going into competitions,” says Thoirs. “I’ve just learned that I do better when I’m relaxed. Last year I was getting hyped up so much thinking that was the best way to go into competition, but from trying different things I’ve realized that being relaxed and almost trying to not care what happens is how I jump high. Then we’ve just been working on my take-off technically, so I think my take-off’s improved a lot and that’s helping me get on bigger poles and jump higher.
Coming from a family of athletes, Thoirs’ father played soccer and mother was on the track and ski team at St. Andrews University. One of the differences he saw when coming to Seattle was the combination of athletics with academics, for collegiate sports are not as prevalent in Scotland. Focusing his studies in sociology, Thoirs is kept very busy juggling his time between course work and his practice schedule.
The decision to head to the States was actually a pretty easy one, Thoirs says with a chuckle. “Honestly it wasn’t really that tough. I did a year in Glasgow University so I knew what it was like to be at university back home, and honestly I just wanted to get away, when the chance came up I was just excited, I never thought it would be a bad choice, and what’s happened so far has proved that.”
After some trial and error, Thoirs has also found himself gravitating towards Sociology in the classroom.
“It took me a while to sort of figure out what I wanted to do. I went between the arts and the sciences without really finding something I was best at, and sociology combines the arts and the sciences so it’s perfect for me,” he says.
Although he is coping with a sore achilles, as the NCAA Indoor Championships approach, Thoirs says, “I am feeling good about the competition and I just want to get a few more practices under my belt before I leave.” The Championships will take place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the same spot where he jumped his season-best. The sophomore Scot will just relax and take flight.