Dec. 12, 2005
Pole vaulting originated in Europe, where men used the pole to cross canals filled with water. The goal of pioneers in pole vaulting was obviously distance, but current Yale track & field athletes such as Molly Lederman are aiming for the rafters of the famous Coxe Cage.
Lederman, a senior from Newton, Mass., owns both the indoor and outdoor women's pole vault records at Yale and has garnered attention for the program by her accomplishments in the big events. When Lederman reached 12-feet and 8.75 inches to win the 2005 Outdoor Heptagonal Championships, she not only broke the event record but became Yale's first women's pole vault champion in the seven-year history of the event.
Like the guys in Europe looking to catapult over canals, Lederman is a true pioneer in Yale women's track & field. She is clearly one of the most decorated field event athletes in the program's history with six All-Ivy certificates,six All-East honors and three Heptagonal titles.
She also rises to the occasion at big events. Just go back to last May's NCAA East Regional at Icahn Stadium on Randall's Island in New York. Despite less than optimal conditions, Lederman soared to a school-record 13-3.75 (4.06 m) to earn a second-place finish and become the first Yale pole vaulter, male or female, to qualify for the NCAA Championships. The only reason she finished second at the regional to Georgia's Kierney Hiteshew (also a 4.06 best) was the Southeastern Conference star had fewer misses. Interestingly enough, Lederman broke her own Yale record from her freshman year.
Lederman, who attended New Jewish High School only a few train stops from Yale's rival in the Bay State, could have followed her brother to Harvard. He was her athletic role model and the one who got her interested in sports.
"I had been around Harvard a lot, so I had a pretty good sense of the campus and life there in general," said Lederman, who is also the Yale captain. "When I visited Yale I expected to find pretty much the same thing, but I was shocked by how different it was... the atmosphere, the people, the residential life. Yale boasts a strong sense of community, something that was evident to me from just a short two-day visit. Coming from a small high school, I felt very comfortable here [in New Haven]. I fell in love with Yale and here I am still pretty smitten."
It's easy as a youngster to get into sports like soccer, basketball and other more mainstream youth athletic activities, but pole vaulting would not be considered one of them. Ironically, Lederman might not have found pole vaulting if she had not been drawn first to soccer, a sport -- along with gymnastics -- she had played since she was five.
"A friend on my soccer team had just started vaulting and invited me to come try it when I was in seventh grade. At the time, I really did not know anything about the event," said Lederman, a psychology major from Saybrook College who has worked in psychology labs and clinical settings at Yale as well as the Yale Child Conduct Clinic. "I think the extent of my exposure to the sport was having seen that bank commercial on TV during the 1996 Olympics where the guy vaults over 30-story skyscrapers to get to the ATM."
It wasn't long before she was vaulting over her own buildings on the way to setting the national indoor scholastic record for the indoor pole vault four different times while competing for Airtime Athletics in Natick. Her high school did not have a track & field team, so Airtime was one of the few means for her to progress through the ranks in her chosen event.
It is possible that she was meant to be a vaulter long before she came across the sport of her future.
"My parents came across a pretty funny picture of me from when I was three. In my nursery school picture, I'm wearing this bright red dress that says `JUMP' on the front," said Lederman.
Maybe it should have been blue and said "into the Yale record books" on the back.
Lederman's parents certainly must have had an idea there was something special about their daughter's abilities.
"There were definitely periods where I would give up walking and just tumble around the house," said Lederman. "For a while I remember somersaulting from one room to the other, so often that I think I had to tell myself to slow down a bit because it was getting to be too much of an irresistible habit."
However, it was her brother who became a sports role model and someone she could throw a ball to and play against at times.
"Looking back on it now, I have no doubt that my interest in athletics developed as much from an innate compulsion as it did from the example that my brother set for me. More importantly, I believe that any athletic ability I inherited from my parents was exercised early on by the relationship that I had with my brother and the opportunities that he afforded me to learn about physcial activity and my passion for it," said Lederman.
It's amazing she has had time to get all of this practical experience in her field of study while carrying a full load of classes and training in her field of play. In addition to the clinics and labs, Lederman, a 2005 academic All-Ivy selection, volunteers weekly at the Yale Pediatric Emergency Room, the kind of place she was able to avoid having to visit as a child despite her household acrobatics.
"As the captain of the 2005-06 women's squad, Molly has done a tremendous job of galvanizing a large team and focusing them on what we can accomplish this year," said Mark Young, Yale's Director of Track & Field and Cross Country. "It is truly unique in this day and age to have an athlete of her ability and accomplishments as selfless as she is."
Track & field is the only varsity sport where you have a schedule of indoor events followed by a slate of outdoor contests. They are two very separate seasons (winter and spring) though many of the events are the same. Lederman feels there is a difference between indoor and outdoor meets for her.
"In general, people do tend to vault higher outdoors. I tend to vault the same, but indoors is obviously more consistent because there is no wind or rain to contend with. The outdoor season in the Northeast can be pretty unpredictable weather-wise, but when we have a nice day, there's nothing better than vaulting when it's hot and sunny," said Lederman, who has competed at three NCAA regionals and finished 20th at the 2005 NCAA Championships at Sacramento, Calif.
"As the high school national indoor record holder, Molly came to Yale with high expectations both from herself and the coaches and has exceeded every one of those and we know that the best is yet to come," said Dave Shoehalter, Yale's Associate Head Coach for Track & Field and Cross Country. "As talented and successful as Molly has been, she's as modest as they come. She shys away from the attention that her success has brought and often focuses on the overall success of the team."
Young and Shoehalter are excited about the prospects for this season.
"I feel like last year was a breakthrough for Molly. Finishing second at the regionals and making it to the NCAA's served to solidify in her mind how good she really is. She now understands that she's among the nation's elite in her event and can compete with them on any given day," said Shoehalter.
What makes someone who is really into gymnastics and soccer drop all of that to go for pole vaulting?
"I love that in pole vaulting there is always something to work on, always something to improve. While it is crucial to have speed and strength, it is equally important to work on technique, balance, flexibility, and body awareness," said the Yale senior. "Every vaulter is presented with the unique challenge of figuring out how to put all of the pieces together and problem-solve in order to makes strides not only in terms of achieving new heights, but also in terms of developing a deeper understanding of the event and all of its processes."
Lederman's primary goal heading into the new season is consistency, something she has felt was lacking - even with all of the success -- the first three years of her collegiate competition.
"In order for me to build on last year, improve and reach new heights, I need to have a firm foundation from which to progress. One of my main goals for the season is to nail down certain parts of my technique so that I can try and get on bigger poles by mid-season."
When Lederman achieves this consistency, look out because this Yale pioneer may try something new like trying to cross Long Island Sound.
Report filed by Steve Conn, Yale Assistant AD & Sports Publicity Director