Freshman pole vaulter Brooke Tjerrild has been one of the Mustangs key contributors this season. Joe Schutz | Mustang News

As she stepped up to the podium at the 2017 California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) State Track & Field Championships, then-high school senior Brooke Tjerrild was overjoyed. She was being recognized as one of the state’s best female pole vaulters in front of her friends and family in her hometown of Fresno, California.

With a second place overall finish to cap off her career at the athletically prestigious Clovis North High School, she knew things would change as she headed off to college to start a new chapter in her life.

Coming into a new environment and balancing all the new changes freshman year brings, it would be natural for any athlete to not succeed right away. But that was not the case with kinesiology freshman Tjerrild.

So far this season, she has five wins under her belt. These victories came when she won four straight meets before taking second place at the Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner-Kersee Invitational April 12. She also took another win at UC Santa Barbara in a Blue-Green Rivalry Dual Meet April 28.

Confidence is key

Tjerrild preparing to practice pole vaulting with a GoPro strapped to her forehead. Joe Schutz | Mustang News

Having experienced immense success so early on in her collegiate career, Tjerrild has surpassed the expectations of many — except her own.

“I’ve kind of been surprised in some ways, but I also know what the work I put in leads to, and I think that’s what really pushes me,” Tjerrild said. “I’ve seen, in a lot of people, a very direct correlation between how hard they work and the results they get. I think a lot of people have the tendency to kind of drop off their freshman year just because there’s a lot of new things to get used to in college and a lot of distractions, so my goal has been to try and improve, but also to just stay focused on track and field.”

One of the people who has aided her training during her stellar season has been track and field assistant coach Brad Pickett, who oversees pole vault and high jump. As a former Mustang pole vaulter and NCAA competitor himself, Pickett understands the nuances of the sport.

“I think that she’s exceeded our expectations in that it’s never easy for a freshman to come into a program and just pick up where they left off and keep doing well because there’s a big lifestyle adjustment from high school to college,” Pickett said. “It’s never an automatic thing for any good athlete to all of a sudden come into college and expect they’re gonna do well, but I expected [Tjerrild] would be based on the tools I saw she was working with and her mentality. But she exceeded my expectations in how consistent and tough she’s been and really how nothing has phased her.”

By qualifying for the NCAA Regionals and being named Big West Conference Athlete of the Week twice in her rookie season, she has drawn some attention with the heights she has cleared and the wins she has racked up. Tjerrild’s marks are among some of the best in the country. She is also within the top four amongst collegiate freshmen. 

“I think in some ways there is [pressure], but I think I put the most pressure on myself rather than other people putting pressure on me just because I really like the taste of winning and I just want to make sure that all my work pays off,” Tjerrild said.

Freshman pole vaulter Brooke Tjerrild prepares to sprint down the runway before launching herself over the bar. Joe Schutz | Mustang News

Leaving a legacy

Success is nothing new to Tjerrild. She was amongst the highest-ranked pole vaulters throughout most of her high school and collegiate careers.

Tjerrild, who qualified for USA Track & Field National Junior Olympics last summer, has consistently surpassed the 13-foot mark throughout the season. At the Cal Poly ShareSLO Invitational March 24, Tjerrild earned a personal record (PR) by clearing 13 feet, 7.25 inches, just 3/4 of an inch away from breaking the long-standing Cal Poly record of 13 feet, 8 inches set by NCAA champion Paula Serrano almost 20 years ago.

Whether it is lifting, sprinting or pole vaulting several days of the week to maintain her level of fitness, Tjerrild’s main goal is improvement.

“Honestly, clearing a new bar as a PR is probably one of the most amazing feelings in the world and I think anyone in pole vaulting that has done that can tell you how great it feels,” Tjerrild said. “There is so much work, blood, sweat and tears that you were willing to put in just for that 5 to 10 seconds when you know as you’re falling into the pit.”

Tjerrild has a good chance to continue improving with the help of a track and field program that has a history of building successful pole vaulters. In fact, alongside the family atmosphere of the team, Tjerrild chose   Cal Poly for its strong program despite being highly coveted by other
large schools.

Although she has not been a Mustang for very long, Tjerrild’s career goals, along with the goals of the coaching staff, remain at the high standard she has set for herself throughout her time in the sport.

“Our goal is to have her be NCAA champion and preferably multiple NCAA champion over a couple of years, and that’s absolutely realistic for her. I mean, she’s well on her way,” Pickett said. “And as far as after, competing professionally and possibly in the Olympics, she has all the physical tools and I’d say, because of her mentality, she has everything possible to go to the Olympics at some point in the future.”

Tjerrild dreams of becoming a physical therapist one day, but she also looks to continue her sport.

“I’m definitely open to continuing my track career after college, but it’s going to depend a lot on how well I do these next four years,” Tjerrild said. “But I love the sport right now and I don’t really see that changing, so the Olympics would be great. I would love to be a sponsored athlete and be able to compete at the highest level.”

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