For Bridget Guy, It's Still One Jump At A Time

From the ground up.

One jump at a time.

In many respects, that's the mantra by which Bridget Guy has lived her life, athletically and otherwise, for the past 10 years or so.

"Looking back now, kind of as my life has played out and I've exited college and doing what I'm doing now, I think I'm attracted to self-starter things," Guy said.

However, it's her skills in the air that took Guy from Hempfield Area to the University of Virginia. And from Pennsylvania's Class AAA state champion to one of the top young pole vaulters heading into life as a post-collegiate athlete building on a solid resume.

"I have been really blessed with all of the coaches who have worked with me, not only have my athletic interests at heart but they also have my personal development and who I am as a person at heart, too," Guy said of one of the keys to her almost textbook, goal-by-goal progression in one of the most competitive events in women's track and field. "They look out for my best interests as a person not only as an athlete."

4.61m (15 feet, 1.5 inches)

"It was just the next step," Guy said of registering another lifetime best for a victory over friend and rival Rachel Baxter on Feb. 22 in the Virginia Tech Challenge. "Internally, I knew what I was capable of. I believe that as an athlete, you know when you've tapped out.

"I have had the feeling in me forever, that's why I'm still training, that I haven't tapped out of my capabilities. My technique is not where it needs to be. It's gotten better, but it still needs to get better and I haven't exhausted every avenue to get better. Therefore, that's what keeps me going inside."

It turned out to be the last - and best - of six indoor meets for Guy in 2020. Bolstered by the familiar surroundings of her "second home", VT's Rector Fieldhouse, Guy scaled her opening height of 13-7.75 (4.16m) en route to eyeing up bars that she had never challenged before.

Guy and Baxter, who were teammates and medal winners representing the U.S. at the 2019 World University Games in Italy, traded the lead in Blacksburg before the former Cavalier took control with what would be a short-lived PR of 14-9.5 (4.51m). Baxter bowed out at the next height, and Guy was all alone for her second-attempt over at her current PR, which was worth No. 5 in the U.S. and tied for No. 16 worldwide indoors in 2020.

"To have a 4.61 jump, that was just an extra confidence boost but also reassurance, validation you're in the right spot," said Guy, who also now is tied for No. 16 all-time indoors for the U.S. "Also justification for everybody else who looked at me like 'What are you doing? Why are you doing that? Why didn't you just get a job? Why didn't you hang 'em up?' Not saying that was a lot of people, but there were definitely people who were looking at me, 'I don't know if you're going to make that work.' "

Building for the Future - From PA to UVA

Mario Wilson, who became UVA's new assistant coach for jumps/decathlon two years before Guy started classes in 2014, remembers when the then-future PIAA champion visited Charlottesville and the world-renowned campus.

"You could tell that she was not intimidated to be in the environment," Wilson said in recalling Guy's official visit in October 2013. "She loved her visit, and I could tell that UVA was where she wanted to go to school.

"Her dad felt really good about it. Sometimes you just have those visits, it's exactly what they expected, and she's exactly who I expected when she came in on the visit. Then it became this kind of a fairy tale of a progression over the next six years I've been working with Bridget."

Months after her visit, Guy put together a consistent indoor season that featured a majority of meets at or over 12-0. Her senior outdoor season at Hempfield Area was hampered by shin splints, forcing the vaulter and her coach to create pool workouts rather than runway work.

"She was there every step of the way because she knew I needed that extra support during that time, going through those struggles," Guy said of Spartan coach Melissa White. "She's the one who taught me how to pole vault in middle school ... and then my senior year she was my coach, too. So she started and finished with me from middle school to high school, which was super cool to come full circle with her."

With just one meet left in her prep vault career, Guy had not been able to up her PR or rise above 12 feet. That changed in the 2014 PIAA final at Shippensburg as the senior topped 12-6 to add 10 points to Hempfield Area's team-title performance.

"I honestly think that PRing and winning states was just the cherry on top," White said of Guy's effort. "She had grown as a person so much over the years that even though that number and that medal were a goal, it wasn't the only thing in our mind. She was fixing things on the vault all season and building her confidence and self-belief."

With Guy admitting that the state title helped her "realize my trajectory was trending upward," she set out to help make Virginia one of the top vaulting schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the nation. However, her new coach noted the transition from high school to college didn't come without some growing pains.

"Honestly in the fall of her freshman year, it was not pretty," Wilson said. "Bridget's got a lot of foot speed, but in terms of the type of mechanics that were involved with running on the runway with a pole in your hand, she was not very efficient. There's speed but can we get the technique to be a way that's going to be more conducive to helping her jump.

"I remember asking her if she wanted to redshirt the indoor season because I wasn't sure if she would be ready to get going. The first couple meets it was pretty rough. She's like 'I don't ever want to jump like that ever again.' I said, 'Alright, let's turn the corner then' and she literally did. From there, it was much better for the rest of her freshman year. She overcame it, and she's continued to overcome stuff over the course of these six years. She's never satisfied with anything that she does from a training perspective. And from a competition perspective, she always wants to jump higher."

ACC Titles and All-American Jumps

It didn't take long for Guy to put the rough start behind her. After her first year at Virginia, the now 24-year-old was the freshman and varsity record holder indoors and out, a status that she still maintains.

"What attracted me the most to UVA was Coach Wilson first; second, great academic school so I would have a good balance between athletics and academics, but I was also attracted to the fact that UVA's pole vault program wasn't overly established," Guy said. "I saw that as an opportunity for me to kind of make a name for myself there and grow that program.

"I never thought that maybe I would be the one to do it, but I thought maybe that could be really cool to be a part of. It wasn't just me. It took all of the girls that I came in with. We just fed off each other and made a name for UVA and put UVA pole vault out there together."

Continued improvement in 2016 was followed by a bulging disc in her lower back that forced 10 months of relative inactivity and redshirting all of 2017. Guy noted that, in hindsight, the injury and rehabilitation was a blessing in disguise. 

"At first, I didn't want to accept it, but after realizing OK, this will get better, this is a time to reset," she said of being out of action. "I hadn't had a rest ever in my life. I had been training since high school or middle school even, whether it be gymnastics or track. And I never had a time period where I wasn't training.

"That whole third year was spent working on a lot of weaknesses, inconsistencies and imbalances that I had from a strength standpoint and rehab to get back into the right physical state that I needed to be in to jump. I couldn't run right, I couldn't jump ... I could barely bend over without being in a lot of pain. I had time to rest mentally and physically."

Her first-ever 14-plus clearance in Miami to open the 2018 outdoor season catapulted Guy to her first ACC outdoor crown and a share of fourth at the NCAA finale at Hayward Field as a redshirt junior. Her final season as a Cavalier included indoor and outdoor All-American finishes and another conference title on her home track.

"I think right from the start (Coach Wilson) had a plan of what he wanted to do and how he wanted to re-create my jump and my run," Guy said of her UVA career. "He helped in numerous ways from a technical standpoint. I was fast and I was strong, but I needed some technical changes in my jump and my running, too, to be more efficient on the runway. He was able to do that for me."

Currently back with family in Pennsylvania, Guy has transitioned back to a "creative" fall training cycle as most if not all options to vault have been put on hold because of the coronavirus lockdown. The next major goal for Guy, when competitions return, is clearing the Olympic standard of 4.70 meters and continuing to move up the ranks of America's best women vaulters.

"For someone like me, I understand fully that there's a long way to go," Guy admitted. "The U.S. team is one of the hardest teams to make. We have an incredible group of female vaulters in our country who are way better than me, but I feel like I'm right there.

"There's no reason why I can't be in that mix. To have 4.61, it not only opened a ton of opportunity for me, but it also put my name on the board as like an up-and-coming jumper for our country. That was just the biggest reassurance that I could have asked for in terms of you're exactly where you need to be in your jumping career at this moment."