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'You're in charge of your destiny' - Auburn pole vaulter Jessie Johnson
April 7, 2016

<em> Auburn's Jessie Johnson vaults to victory at Texas Relays</em>
Auburn's Jessie Johnson vaults to victory at Texas Relays

By Jeff Shearer

AUBURN, Ala - Jessie Johnson is so fond of Auburn, she chose it twice.

First out of high school in Argyle, Texas, where Jessie was a three-time state pole vault champion.

Then again last fall, when she briefly considered other options for grad school, before deciding to remain on the Plains.

"Auburn's been nothing but great to me," Jessie says. "Even when I was looking at transferring. (Auburn track and field) Coach (Ralph) Spry said, `We'll do anything and everything for you. Whatever you need.' But then I decided to stay, he said, `Alright, let's go from here.' I wouldn't have chosen anywhere else. It's been amazing."

With a win last week in the Texas Relays, Johnson qualified for this summer's Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon.

"I really want to have that experience for the future if I'm able to pursue that," Jessie says. "Just learn the ropes, get to officially jump with all of these world champions, and Olympians."

This season, she's already cleared 14-5.25, a school record.

"I'd like to jump at least 15 feet by the end of the year," Johnson says. "I don't think that's unreasonable."

Johnson's track career began in fifth grade running sprints.

The next year, her coach asked for pole-vaulting volunteers. Jessie raised her hand.

"Most pole vaulters will say you have to be a little bit crazy to be a pole vaulter," she says with a laugh. "You're running at a pit with a pole, a giant stick in your hand. How is that normal?"

Rated as the No. 2 pole vaulter in the nation in high school, Jessie finished second in the SEC as a freshman in 2013. She redshirted in 2014 after a shoulder injury, then enjoyed a breakout season as a sophomore last year.

Winning at Texas Relays further raised the bar, to put it in pole vaulting terms. She defeated a field of a half-dozen All-Americans, including the reigning NCAA Indoor champion.

"She's certainly making a name for herself, and she ranks among the elite collegians right now," assistant coach Scott Richardson says.

Johnson enjoys the solitude and self-discipline that come with her event.

"Being alone," she says. "I know that sounds weird. I played team sports, I did every sport. But track, while it's a team sport, you're in charge of your destiny. If you do badly, you've got to fix it. I really like that about the pole vault."

Having earned her undergraduate degree in Fitness, Conditioning and Performance in just three years, Johnson is on pace to leave Auburn in 2017 with bachelor's and master's degrees.

Jessie says she "unintentionally sped up my major" by taking summer classes while staying in Auburn to train.

She plans to continue pole vaulting after college, with her sights set on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, and perhaps the 2024 games.

When the last bar has been cleared, Johnson might follow in her father's footsteps and become a strength and conditioning coach.

Jessie says she has a heart for obesity prevention after studying its physical and emotional consequences.

"To me, there's no excuse not to be good to your body," Jessie says. "I think that would be a really cool project to take on."

Johnson will be competing outdoors in Auburn for the first time this season in this weekend's Tiger Track Classic.

She'll likely be the one soaring high above the rest.

"The whole jump is like six seconds. It's a blink of an eye. It's so fast. When you see the bar stay, it's like, `Yes, we're going to the next one.' So it's really just that relief," Johnson says.

"I don't really notice it going over. A lot of people will cheer as soon as they're over it. I'm more of that, `I'm now laying in the pit and it's still up there. Okay, we're good.' It's just a really good sense of relief. There's all my hard work paying off. That's what I've been waiting for, so it's awesome."

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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