Post image for Alexandra Acker, University of Oklahoma/USA Trials, Pole Vault

Alexandra Acker, University of Oklahoma/USA Trials, Pole Vault

by carmine on March 12, 2013


 

 

My Testimony!

            I grew up in a Christian family. We went to church every Sunday, and I went to Sunday school. During my elementary years I attended a private, Christian school. Needless to say, I had a strong walk with the Lord throughout this time of my life. It was when I entered the real world that I really began to struggle.

            I competed in gymnastics for 13 years of my life, and I had always planned on competing in college as a gymnast, but God had other plans for me. When I left my small, Christian school to go to a public school it gave me the opportunity to try out different sports. Gymnastics was all I knew. It was the only thing that I had done my entire life. For those of you who do not know, gymnasts sleep, eat, and breathe gymnastics. That’s all you have time for. It is truly that intense. I decided it was time for me to use my talents elsewhere just to see what I was capable of.

            My father was a Professional baseball player. He was a minor league pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox, and the Kansas City Royals. He always expressed to me that I had God given athletic abilities. One day my father had a conversation about me with Bill Ross who was a track and field coach that he knew from Allegheny College. Ironically he was coaching pole vaulter and 2012 Olympian Jeremy Scott who was attending Allegheny College at the time. Bill Ross suggested that I try out pole vaulting since gymnasts already have a lot of the strength and body awareness that vaulters need. As soon as I watched Jeremy vault, I knew that I wanted to become a vaulter.

            I started going to McDowell High school where I was coached by Joe and Cindy Sanford. Things were going great, and I became one of the best and youngest pole vaulters in the U.S. at the time. I had cleared 12 feet as a freshman. As time went on, my walk with the Lord wavered. I had become very well-known and liked at my school for being a good athlete at such a young age, and that sort of consumed me. Transferring from a small, Christian school to a huge, public school was definitely a shock that I was not prepared for. I became more concerned with people liking me and making friends than I was concerned in my walk with the Lord. Soon that was all I really cared about. It also showed in my athletics. I was still one of the best high school vaulters at the time, but I never really improved during this time, and I truly believe it was because my heart was not in the right place. But like all good things, I know that God allowed me to struggle during this time, so I could eventually learn to grow.

            After I graduated from McDowell, I headed to West Virginia University. Yet again, this was another very difficult transition for me. My first year of college at WVU was probably one of the darkest times of my entire life. I became extremely depressed as I continued to make bad choices. God was nowhere to be seen in my life. Finally, I realized that I needed to make some big changes. I realized that I needed to surround myself with people that would encourage me in my walk with the Lord. When you aren’t strong enough in your faith, it’s important to be around people who will lift you up and help you with that, or else you will be pulled in the wrong direction. Eventually, you will become strong enough in your faith to lead others to Christ, but I wasn’t at that point. I was very easily swayed in the wrong direction.

            I was very fortunate to have a Christian coach, Tim Sullivan. He would invite all of his athletes to church without forcing it on them. I began to go to his church with a few of my teammates. Tim was probably the biggest mentor and positive influence that I had during this time. I was also invited by some newly found relationships to attend Campus Crusade for Christ. I still felt like I was living two separate lives. I was going to church on the weekends and partying during the week. Finally, I decided things needed to change and that this life was not how I wanted to live. I began praying for God to help me change. A girl named Sydney Cummings joined the track team at WVU who was a strong, Christian, and I immediately became attached to her hip. I also started meeting with a girl, Maggie Morris, who discipled me. Little did they know that they would become two of my biggest reasons for changing my life. They both showed me that no matter what I had done, God still loved me and still wanted me. It was so hard for me to believe that I was worth God’s time. I remember watching Sydney invite people to Fellowship of Christian Athletes almost every week. God’s light shined through both of these girls every single day, and I am so thankful that God brought them into my life because they brought light back into mine.

            I don’t think that it was an accident that around this time, I began improving tremendously in the pole vault. In the fall of 2010, I made a very difficult decision to transfer to the University of Oklahoma. My coach had received a position there, and I felt like I could not be successful without him. I prayed every day about this decision, and God kept telling me to take the chance, and that he had plans for me. So I did. Unbelievably, I felt such a peace about moving halfway across the country to a school that I barely knew anything about. Sometimes I think God’s way of showing you that something is right is by giving you a peace about it.

            I moved out to Oklahoma in January of 2011 and officially became a Sooner. I became friends with a lot of really great people. I felt like OU was where I was supposed to be at. I found a church that I absolutely loved and became involved with it. I also attended something called Lifestream which is a college worship experience for students. It was probably one of the best things to ever happen to me. By being involved at Journey Church and Lifestream, I met so many wonderful people who filled my life with joy and happiness. I felt extremely welcome being apart of this church.

            During the 2011 season at the University of Oklahoma, I broke the OU pole vault record three times, placed third at Big XII Championships, and qualified for NCAA Regionals. At NCAA Regionals, you must finish top 12 out of the 24 competitors in order to go to NCAA Nationals. OU competed in the West Region, but there is also an East Region (WVU was in the East Region at the time.) At both East and West Regionals, they take the top 12 to NCAA Nationals to have a total of 24 collegiate women competing. NCAA West Regionals in 2011 was held in Eugene, Oregon. This had been a dream of mine to qualify and compete at NCAA Nationals.

            It was a rainy day in Eugene, and during the warm ups, I slid down my pole into the metal box below. I was taken off the field on a stretcher. I was absolutely devastated knowing that this meet was my only shot at qualifying for nationals. As they took me to the medical tent in the stretcher and ensured that nothing was broken, I asked if I could still try to compete. The trainers stated that it would be extremely difficult to try to run down the runway barely being able to walk, but that it was my choice. I prayed about it, and decided that I was going to give it a shot. I had nothing to lose, but at the same time I felt like I had everything to lose. This was my dream. I ended up clearing a few heights somehow, but I did not end up qualifying for nationals. When I was finished, the entire stadium of Eugene cheered for me knowing that I just attempted to compete while I was injured. That season ended in brutal heartbreak especially knowing that I was supposed to be there competing at nationals, but a series of unfortunate events took that away from me. I remember asking God, “Why?” I didn’t physically hear anything, but just somehow knew that God was telling me, “I have other plans for you.”

            The following season in 2012 I broke the OU pole vault record two more times in the Spring. I qualified once again for NCAA West Regionals, and still sought out my dream of going to NCAA Nationals. I was so nervous at this competition because I knew that this was going to be the final time in my career to qualify for NCAA Nationals since I was a senior. I was terrified. It was supposed to be an easy jump for me to get into Nationals this time around, but as all athletes know, not everything always goes as planned. My coach even told me that it would be simple for me to qualify because I had jumped 14’1 not too long ago. Again, they only took the top 12 vaulters to nationals from our region. We assumed it was going to take around 13’8 to be in the top 12. Well, of course, it didn’t end up being so easy… I thought that I had just blown my last chance at going to NCAA Nationals when I realized there had been a tie between three of us. There were already 11 other girls over the necessary height to go to Nationals, but three of us had yet to clear the height. What happens in this situation is what is called a “jump off.” The three of us had a jump off, one of the girls missed the height, and then it was down to two of us. Normally a jump off consists of one or two jumps to declare the winner, but not my case. It took us eight jumps up to as high as 14’1” which was higher than the other competitors had to go to qualify for nationals! I was astounded when I took my final jump and clearance and was declared the winner of the jump off. Finally, I was going to NCAA Nationals.

            I was ecstatic to have qualified for Nationals for the first time in my life due to many injuries that had prevented me from going in the past. I ended up breaking the OU record for the fifth time with a jump of 14’3 and earned my first All-American Honors placing fifth at NCAA Nationals. It was the highest jump ever in NCAA history to earn fifth place. This jump also qualified me for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. It was one of the best days of my entire life. I got to compete in the Olympic Trials with girls that I had watched on television growing up. I was experiencing my dream, and I fully believe it’s because I finally trusted what God had been telling me the whole time, that I can do all things through Him who gives me strength. It just took me a lot longer to listen to Him.

            I ended up breaking the OU pole vault record a total of five times, became an NCAA First Team All-American, and qualified and competed for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. The journey was not at all easy, but with God all things are possible. Now, I am working as a Graduate Assistant in the Athletic Department at the University of Oklahoma while finishing up my Masters degree. Also, I am currently still training and plan on continuing to train for the Olympics in 2016 which will be held in Rio.“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

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