Stephanie Colby in pole vault comeback eyes W40 USATF records

Stephanie EARNED her deca gold at late June nationals.

At 39, Stephanie Colby had her “welcome-to-masters” moment late last month when she ruptured her left Achilles tendon a few steps from a pole plant. She was hoping to set a W35 American record in the decathlon at the USATF Masters Combined Events Championships in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Steph asked meet maven Jeff Watry if she would get credit for completing the decathlon if she scratched the last two events. “He said no.” So she said, “Let’s go.” And with help from a golf cart and others, she took a one-legged javelin throw and hop-started the 1500. Her score of 3585 may ultimately be recognized as an age-group AR. Recently, she had surgery. Her rehab will take months. But I suspect she’ll be the latest example of a masters star making a stellar comeback. When she turns 40 this September, she’ll have extra incentive to soar in the W40 group. Intrigued by her story, I wrote her, and she graciously responded to my Q&A request. (My apologies for sharing her painful moment.) What’s your track history? All-time bests? Major honors?

Stephanie Colby: I had a scholarship to the University of Rhode Island and graduated as a fifth-year senior in 2000. I was recruited to compete in the pentathlon with a specialty in high hurdles. Women’s pole vault became available at our conference level (Atlantic 10) my junior year of college (1997/98), so upon completion of my sophomore year I asked my coaches if I could do the event the next year.

They said that if I went to a camp over the summer to learn that, I could. Summer between sophomore/junior year I attended two PV camps to learn the basics and came away with a PR of 8 or 8-6.  My junior year, my first-year PV’ing, I ended up clearing over 11 feet by spring/outdoor season and A-10 conference champion. I was also Penn Relays champion

By the next indoor season, I cleared 12-5¼ and qualified for NCAA D1 nationals as well as top spots at A-10’s ECAC’s and New England championships (I forget exact placements).  This was the inaugural women’s PV event at NCAA’s. 

Stephanie, shown in 2016, was a national-class collegiate vaulter as Stephanie Maugham.

We decided to red-shirt my outdoor season my senior year so that I could have more time to train in what had turned into my best event.  During my fifth year, I injured my back during the offseason, so I didn’t end up exactly where I had wanted. But given the trajectory of my overall improvement in a short time, I decided after graduation (2000) to move to California to train with the women’s Olympic development PV coach Bob Fraley, who was head track and field coach at Fresno State University. 

Over the next two years, I improved to my best of 4.30 (14-1¼), competed at USA outdoor nationals twice while also representing the USA at competitions in Taiwan and Japan. [She also jumped at Mt. SAC in 2003.]
Where do you live? What’s your line of work? 

I currently live outside of Baltimore, Maryland (Catonsville).  I am a senior account manager for a large health insurance carrier.
Tell me about your family: Hubby, kids, cats, dogs?

I have one husband, one little girl and one dog! My husband and I have been married since 2012. My little girl is 3 and was at the meet in Slippery Rock with me. She tells me I have to be “more careful” when I run next time and not run “so fast.” 
When did you resume track training and competition?

I have jumped in a few competitions in the past seven or eight years, but nothing serious.  After having my daughter, I really wanted to get back into shape, so I started CrossFit. 

CrossFit gave me the variety and strength training base that many workout “routines” are missing once you stop practicing with a team. I am in the best shape I have been since “retiring” from elite competition over 15 years ago.  That and me turning 40 in September of this year, (see below goals) led me to get more serious back on the track/runway. 

I cleared 12 feet this past indoor season after a handful of practices. The national combined events meets came up on a whim. There has been more chatter lately around establishing the women’s decathlon at all USATF and NCAA levels of which I am a supporter of. I did some research and saw that one other 35-39 woman (reported by you actually!) had previously competed in the decathlon and established the American record, but her score was never ratified. I came into the event looking to establish the American record, with a confirmed DOB, before I move up in age categories!
What are your goals in masters track? What are your big meet plans in coming years?

For fun, Stephanie also does circus trapeze act.

My first two goals are to break the American records for women’s PV in the 40-44 age group.  [outdoor 3.45 (11-3¾”) by Jill Starkey and indoor 3.52 (11-6½) by Jill] Both records were well within reach, at least prior to my Achilles injury. I still plan on breaking both, but the timeline will be pushed back. I was hoping to break the indoor one at the indoor national championships in 2018, which is in my neck of the woods in Landover, Maryland. 

I definitely plan on attending world competitions in the future. But again, with long road to recovery now, I don’t have anything on the books. Malaga isn’t out of contention with the event in September 2018.
What are your best events now? 

Pole vault is my best event, but I really liked the discus throw [at nationals].  It was the one event that I have never even practiced before and think my long limbs benefit me.
Was the injury at 11 feet a surprise?

The injury was a complete surprise. I didn’t have any Achilles pain prior, even though my ankle was a little sore from HJ the day before, which was on the side from running the turn. 

I had to wait for a while before they got to my opening height, but that isn’t unusual for me and I stayed warm and was able to rest a bit. My opening height was 10-6 and it wasn’t the prettiest of jumps, but I just wanted to get it out of the way and get a mark.  10-6 is actually lower than I would have come in at for just a PV comp, but again, just wanted to get points on the board. 

My first attempt at 11 feet, I actually committed to a good jump and blew through my pole, which was expected. I had already lined up a stiffer pole in anticipation that would happen, and for my second attempt I was going to use that. 

All looked good as I started down the runway, but about midway through, I felt a “pop” and would have bet money that I stepped into a hole on the runway.  We were running on the raised board runway, so my mind first went to that I must had punched a hole in it! 

Split second later I was leaning against the front mat of the pit and yelling in pain.  Hearing friends who have had this same injury, I knew exactly what I had done when I was sitting there. 

After things settled a bit and the campus police, etc., were called, I asked Jeff if I would get credit for completing the decathlon if I scratched the last two events. He said no, but if I wanted to attempt javelin and the 1500 run they would help make it happen. 

They took me in a golf cart over to the start of the javelin and I took a one-legged standing attempt. To everyone’s surprise, including myself, I actually had a decent throw!  Next they carted me over to the 1500 start and they brought the starter over, where on the gun, I hopped once across the start line. I got a DNF, but didn’t have to scratch!
How is the injury now? 

I just had surgery to fix my ruptured Achilles yesterday [July 5]. Surgery went well and they do expect me to have a full recovery, but it is a long process:  four weeks nonweight-bearing, followed by progressive weight bearing and PT up through 5-6 months. After six months is when they expect I may be able to start more plyometric type activities. It is all very early, though, of course, so time will tell!
Do you compete for a club? What is your support system? 

I do not compete for a club. I used to volunteer coach at a local vault club in the area, which also afforded me the opportunity to PV from time to time. …  My support system is my family! I also do/will continue to CrossFit, which allows me to weight train and maintain my strength.  The track work is lacking, and I will need to focus on that more than ever in the coming months.
Anything else my readers should know about you or or your masters track ambitions? 

Although I may be considered young on the masters scale, I truly believe that we get old because we stop moving, not the other way around.  After I stopped training in PV in Open competitions, there was a void for a while, left from the many MANY hours on and off the track that was now free time! 

The worst thing I did was stop moving all together, but typical workout classes just didn’t excite me or didn’t keep my interest.  I was never a runner, so to speak, although I have done a 5K here and there. I needed something different! 

I have found that trying new things works for me. I have done rowing classes in 8-man boats in the Inner Harbor, which was the best cardio I have ever done. I also excelled at flying trapeze, (yes, like the circus) which I started as a hobby and ended up performing in a local show, the Capitol City Circus. 

CrossFit and getting back into track is taking up that time now. In spite of the injury, I have a renewed enthusiasm for track and field and plan on participating in as many events as I can!

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July 11, 2017

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