May 12, 2012
Robby Fegles has gotten a lot of mileage out of the unconventional route. Pole vaulting in and of itself is off the beaten path, but Fegles was introduced to the sport by an older cousin, and gave up more typical high school sports to concentrate on the vault. He won the Oregon 3A state title but had no offers at the next level. The Reedsport, Ore. native talks about the oppotunity he received at Lane Community College in Eugene and how that led him to Washington, where Fegles scored at the Pac-10 meet last year and advanced to NCAA Prelims. Fegles has raised his PR again during this, his senior season, and he and fellow Oregonian J.J. Juilfs will vault for the conference title this Saturday at Hayward Field, where he trained and competed for Lane. Fegles talked to GoHuskies.com this week about his passion for the sport and where it might take him next.
GoHuskies.com: You've got your last Pac-12 meet coming up this weekend and it's back in your home state. How big is this weekend for you?
Robby Fegles: Oregon is basically my home track, I went to Lane Community college and our track wasn't really up to standards, so we always competed at Hayward, that was really our home track. I am really excited to go back and see family, they are not really able to see many of my meets since I'm up here. I am just really excited. It has been a good two years in the making.
GH: Will you have many people coming to support you?
RF: My mom and my stepdad and my dad and my stepmom, grandparents, my girlfriend, and other family that are pretty close. There are usually some surprises, too, with people bringing cousins along; it is just a big group from where I went to high school, where my family still is. It is really nice to go back.
GH: Imagine you'll grab a big dinner after?
RF: Yeah, probably to celebrate Pac-12s, I think we are thinking about going Olive Garden. It is one of my favorites.
GH: What are you looking to do at this meet?
RF: I just want to go out and jump my best, this is kind of my last hurrah. I want to go out and do what I am capable of doing which is anywhere between 17-18. It is all about the day, if I can control my emotions and pay attention to what Pat has to say and take it in I really think I have a shot to do well.
GH: So you feel like you are close to a possible breakthrough type of jump?
RF: Yeah, I think I have kind of had a breakthrough these past few weeks when I learned how to put my last few steps down and keep leaning forward and not let my left heel touch the ground, that has kind of been my main focus. It just kind of clicked all of a sudden and I have been able to put some good jumps together, it could be a PR meet, but I don't want to get ahead of myself, I just need to go out there and do what I am capable of doing, which is anything.
GF: You should be set for a second NCAA Prelims meet, I'm sure moving on from there to Iowa is the next step.
RF: That is definitely my goal, last year I got close, but I was kind of dealing with some injuries. I gave my best shot at the regional meet and 16-7 was just not enough, it was a good jump. I feel like this year I have been consistently around the 17, 17-3 mark. If I can just go and do that in the heat of the moment I think that will get me through. That is kind of a high pressure meet where everyone wants it too much and kind of break down to their old habits, I just want to stay in my jump. Me and J.J. have been working real hard and trying to compete against each other. So in high pressure situations we will just look at each other to make it feel like a practice environment. I think if we can keep rolling off of each other then we will have a really good shot.
GH: Working close with J.J., how would you say he's handled the adjustment to college?
RF: He has been good. I trained with J.J. in Eugene when I was at Lane Community College and had kind of the same coach as he did and really got to know him as an athlete and a person really before he came up here. He has adapted real well, I am excited that he is here but then kind of bummed that I will have to go back to Eugene when he is up here for the next 3-4 years. I think he is just going to be that kind of role model, he is already revered here as an athlete, I really think everyone looks up to him, I even look up to him. I think he has a lot to learn and a lot to share. Just a good teammate.
GH: Coming out of high school, what led you to the community college route?
RF: I jumped 14-9 and I was a consistent 14 footer, so when I did jump that 14'9" no one really saw it coming and I had zero offers. I was just kind of looking for something to do. My cousin and I were talking and I was just going to go out in the woods and fell trees, be a logger like we talked about growing up. But, I get this call from Dan West at Lane Community College, he is a great coach, coached the `92 Barcelona Olympics, coached my cousin Cody who was at the university of Oregon which inspired me to go. But when I got that call from him I just couldn't turn it down, it wasn't an offer for any money or anything, just to be able to go there and train, I was honored, I decided to take advantage of it and just the way Dan coaches inspires a lot of athletes. He just inspired me to keep going and always had a lot of faith in me. I wouldn't be here without him; I have to give a lot of credit to him. I was actually there for three years, I ended up redshirting. I jumped 14-9 my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college I ended up jumping 16-feet even. I was getting on bigger poles now. My third year there I ended up jumping 16-8, just made a couple breakthrough just working on the run and technique. After I jumped 16-8 I was just kind of contemplating what schools to go to and we already had Oregon out of the question, just because it would not have been a great fit. The transition from Lane to Washington just looked right. Dan was guiding me and letting me know that he had a lot of faith in Pat, that made me have a lot of faith in him. It looked like a great program to go to.
GH: Obviously there's a lot of enthusiasm for the vault here with all the post-collegiates mixing with the current crew.
RF: It is very fun. With the amount of energy that Pat brings to it just really gets us going, he kind of just looks at you and sets out a program. It is not only Pat, but there is a lot of credit due to all of the athletes involved. I have learned just as much from the athletes here as I have from Pat. Pat is just the mentor that guides us all. I feel like that is forgotten a lot, this awesome training group that I am in has really allowed me to thrive.
GH: What types of technical changes have you made with Pat?
RF: Pat's main specialization is the run and the take off. So right when he saw me, he said we have a lot to work on with the run. And even from the first time he saw me, my step moved back five feet, which is a big deal. We have always been working on my run. I was hesitant at first, because I thought it was all about the air, but once I realized that it was the beginning to get takeoff into the air, I was a believer. Without Pat and him building my run mechanics, teaching me how to run, then I wouldn't be where I am today, I wouldn't have a chance to go on at the next level, I would just be around the mid 16s just kind of wondering what's up. Pat really matured me and showed me where the key was, that 90% of the vault is the run and the takeoff, and once you have transferred that energy that is what allows the vault to work. Kind of a mindset change, new goals and everything, it is for the good.
GH: What have you majored in at UW?
RF: Anthropology right now. I have taken a lot of anthropology at Lane CC but I was also doing a lot of manufacturing technology, it was just like in the manufacturing world and then I came up here and needed something that would help me with people skills, talking to people. I can do the mechanical part, but Anthropology was really interesting to me. I was always told to do something you are interested in and I do not know how much it will help me later in getting a job, but it has really helped me so much already, can't wait to see where it will take me in the world.
GH: Is there an ideal job in your mind after college?
RF: I want to always pole vault, my dream job would be what Pat is doing, coaching pole vault. My dad has always been working at paper mills and that is kind of where I am leaning after I get out of college, maybe in HR or purchasing department where I can utilize both skills, and then also I have been offered the job at Lane CC for assistant coaching. I would like to be able to help my brother who is there right now pole vaulting, it would be cool to coach and help him out, just be a role model at Lane while I continue vaulting.
GH: How is your brother doing with the sport?
RF: He is doing pretty good. Yesterday he texted me and said that he broke his first pole, there were two consecutive vaults where two different vaulters broke a pole, kind of scary and very rare. He has been jumping 14 feet and for him, coming back from an ACL injury, 14 feet his first year is excellent coming back. He is jumping better than he has ever jumped, he has a pretty big future ahead of him. He could easily jump high 16s or 17 I am just really proud of him getting back and how he is doing.
GH: What was your first involvement with the vault?
RF: Just seeing my cousin vault in college, at the University of Oregon the same time as Brad Walker. Just seeing him made me interested in pole vault. It was just trying to balance other sports with the pole vault, I was always pole vaulting even though I was playing football, swimming, and track and baseball, I was always just balancing pole vault on top of that. I always had Sundays off that was the day I went down and pole vaulted with track club. Pole vault was something that I could do no matter what and there wasn't a coach that could tell me I couldn't or that I had to sit on the bench. Every time I was sitting on the bench it just motivated me more to work extra hard on the vault, because it was truly something I could take hold of and do. They kind of told me at first that I couldn't vault in high school, but I didn't take no for an answer, kind of did it anyways. Nobody pole vaulted there, the record was 14-8, set in 1968. I was one of the first pole vaulters that was really making something out of it. We never had anyone who knew anything about the vault. My mom helped me find Stan Sullivan at the Prefontaine Track Club, he allowed me to go down there and train with them once a week, that really helped me build my base and break the school record.
GH: So you cousin vaulted at Oregon?
RF: Cody Howell. He jumped in 1998-2002. He was slow, but he ended up jumping 17-2 and that was my college goal. Having that set goal really allowed me to excel. When I jumped it outdoors I got sole bragging rights in the family. 18-feet is the next goal for me and making the Olympic Trials. Realistically four more years will be the goal for me.
GH: Sounds like you're pretty set for another big four year commitment.
RF: It definitely takes dedication, being able to balance family life, work and pole vaulting. You just have to find time everywhere. I just read a book, "Above and Beyond" by Bill Livingston, and it was about (U.S. pole vaulter) Tim Mack and how he balanced everything out. Seeing a lot of people go out and do it has really made me see that it is possible. It keeps the belief going that I can actually do it.