GVSU - Kristen Hixson Eyes Second Outdoor National Championship After Rigorous Offseason

GVSU - Kristen Hixson Eyes Second Outdoor National Championship After Rigorous Offseason

Provided by GVSU

Allendale, Mich. - Failure is one of the best motivators in competitive sports. Just ask Grand Valley State senior pole vaulter Kristen Hixson.

After winning individual titles as a sophomore at the 2012 NCAA Division II Indoor National Championship and Outdoor National Championship, Hixson cleared career-best marks at the same events in 2013. Unfortunately, those vaults of 4.25 meters (13', 11.25") and 4.20 meters (13', 9.25") only took second and third place, respectively.

Having to watch someone else accept the championship medals she fully expected to win for a second consecutive season ate away at her.

"It was pretty devastating. Being on top for the whole year and then getting knocked down and not being the best anymore," Hixson says. "That really pushed me."

The six-time USTFCCCA All-American could not allow the same thing to happen again in 2014.

So, despite accepting an internship at Stryker - a medical devices & equipment manufacturing company in Kalamazoo, Mich. - the finance major, who graduated from the Seidman College of Business with a 4.0 grade point average, made the decision to live in Allendale for the entire summer.

Every day, Hixson would wake up at 6:30 a.m., make the 66.2-mile drive down US-131 and log a nine-hour workday in the business department. When all of her co-workers took a lunch break, she went to lift weights. Once she got home, a quick meal and running hills were on the agenda. Following a grueling workout, she would get to bed around 10 o'clock and repeat everything the next morning.

All. Summer. Long.

"It was hard. I'm not a morning person," Hixson says. "I had the option to stay in Kalamazoo, but I really wanted to stay at Grand Valley Sate, use the facilities and run all the hills around here we use for qualification so I could be ready."

To anyone that has either coached her, or knows how competitive she is, this decision did not come as a surprise. Although the three-time GLIAC Outdoor champion does not outwardly express her emotions, internally, she is smoldering to atone for last season.

"She is an intrinsic competitor," head coach Jerry Baltes says. "Very quiet and goes about her work. She has that inner fire that really motivates her to do well."

Pole vaulting is always on Hixson's mind. When she wakes up, she thinks about practice. In the evening, she goes over everything she did that day and what she must do roughly 24 hours later. Thoughts of competition do not stop when she sleeps either.

"I had a dream about pole vaulting two nights ago," she says. "It is always there, but not in a bad way. It is there in a good way."

For the most part, the sacrifices she made over the summer have paid off this season. Hixson won the 2014 GLIAC Indoor Championship and GLIAC Outdoor Championship with vaults of over 14 feet. The Indoor National Championship, however, did not go as planned.

Hixson attempted to clear 13 feet and seven inches - a height she had no issues with during the season - to open the competition.

She failed to get over the bar all three times.

Initially, the result left her heartbroken. Keep in mind, prior to that day, this was the same pole vaulter who had finished worse than fourth place at the GLIAC or National Championships one time in her career.

"It was just a bad day, a fluke," she says. "That was the low of my entire career because I worked so hard the past four years.

"I have a lot to prove on Thursday."

Thursday (May 22) is the pole vault final for the Division II Outdoor National Championship, which GVSU will be hosting at the Laker Track & Field Complex. With a school record qualifying mark of 4.38 meters (14', 4.5"), which ranks sixth across all divisions and is .25 meters (8") higher than the next-best vault in Division II, Hixson is whom everyone will be gunning for.

A win would make her just the third athlete in GVSU history to claim an individual title in the same event of multiple Outdoor National Championships. It would also make amends for the no-height finish at the Indoor National Championship earlier this year.

Her family is making the 90-minute trip from Remus, Mich. to see her take flight one last time.

While she says getting a chance to close out her illustrious career at home will be amazing, it is also going to be bittersweet. If everything according to plan, though, it will be a day of celebration, not sadness.

"I feel great. I've hit some big bars the past four meets without a problem," she says. "I definitely trust in my capabilities more than I ever have in the past four years.

"I think I am physically and mentally more ready than I ever have been."