How I Got Here: Nicole Lester ’22

How I Got Here: Nicole Lester ’22

Record-breaking pole vaulter finds that her happy place is in the air.

I remember the first day I ever vaulted: March 28, 2015. Getting off the ground and holding on to the pole upside down, it’s the coolest feeling, like you’re flying.

Before each jump, I look at the runway, take a deep breath, and push off to start my run. As I get closer to the pit, I throw my hands up over my head, stay as tall as I can, push up off the ground, and keep my form while staying tight to the pole. As I’m going upside down, I point my toes over the bar. After that, it’s just enjoying the fall back to the ground.

The poles are made out of fiberglass and vary in length. The ones that I jump with are 13 feet, but they range up to 17 feet. Each pole is relative to the athlete and his or her ability, technique, and size.

My best height is 12 feet flat, which I hit during high school. My freshman year at TCNJ, I jumped 11 feet and 11-3/4 inches and broke the school record.

I had two partially herniated discs in my back and compression in my spinal cord my freshman year at TCNJ. I was out for the whole spring season.

My sophomore year, after coming back from my injuries, is one of the best memories I have of vaulting. I realized that I couldn’t take the sport for granted. You have to get everything out of every single moment.

With the 2021 season starting so late and no in-person training during the past year, a lot of the pressure to hit certain milestones is essentially gone. Pushing myself to reach new heights, literally and figuratively, is something that I look forward to doing my senior year. The track is my happy place, so if I can go there now to practice, smile, and laugh with my teammates, and compete a few times, then I can truly say I had a successful season.

I’ve always been a science nerd. When I was little, I got a microscope for Christmas and would take leaves and bugs from the backyard and put them under it. I want to work in a cancer research lab. The disease is close to my heart because I’ve had a lot of people in my life affected by it, so that’s a field I want to pursue.

Photo: Bill Cardoni

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