By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Imagine yourself running at full speed down a runway with the intention of planting a pole in the ground in an effort to propel yourself up and over a bar more than 10 feet high in the air.
Sound scary? Think about doing it with one eye closed.
That is the situation facing Fairfield High School senior Sophie Brown every time she competes in the pole vault. The three-time regional and two-time state qualifier hasn’t let a childhood injury slow her down and she has been rewarded for her efforts with a full-ride scholarship to the University of South Florida.
“When I was little I fell on a pencil. It went between my nose and eye,” she said. “One of the surgeries has left me with double vision. Because of that I close my right eye when I vault. Closing an eye takes away my depth perception and that is really scary. It’s kind of a hassle, but I deal with it.”
Closing an eye can be dangerous when vaulting.
“People don’t always look when they cross the runway and I might not see them,” she said. “It has taken awhile to get used to closing one eye. I have gotten used to it and doing so has made me mentally tougher.”
Brown’s outdoor personal best is 12-0 and she vaulted her career indoor best of 12-6 in December at Indiana Wesleyan. She holds the Warsaw sectional and the Fairfield records.
“Sophie had surgery last fall to correct the situation,” Fairfield coach Darin Holsopple said. “The surgery was partially successful, but left her with double vision As a result of this she has to close one eye while she vaults. This makes it extremely difficult for her to judge distances as she is running on the runway.”
“Sophie has overcome a major obstacle in her track career,” Fairfield Athletic Director Mark Hofer said. “Closing one eye while she vaults makes it extremely difficult for her to judge distances as she is running on the runway. It becomes increasingly difficult for her as it begins to get dark during late meets in the spring. Though her vision makes vaulting difficult, she has never used it as an excuse for missing a height.”
Brown is not only a standout on the track she is one in the classroom as well. Her 4.0 grade point average ranks her No. 1 in the Fairfield senior class of 129. She was Academic All-State in 2012.
Between her athletic and academic monies her scholarship amounts to a full ride scholarship.
“I’ve worked hard in the classroom and that is paying off. I’m glad the offer is not just based on athletics,” Brown said.
The final college selection came down to South Florida or Indiana University. Other schools she considered were Kansas, Louisville and Hillsdale.
“A lot of college don’t have pole vault as part of their track program,” Brown said.
Brown made the contact with South Florida through her club vault coach Paul Babits of Vault High Athletics.
“He has a lot of connections in the sport and helped a lot with the college choice,” Brown said.
South Florida is located in Tampa.
“The weather is nice for track plus the campus is beautiful,” Brown said. “I felt very comfortable with the girls on the team, but the main thing was the vault coach. I really felt comfortable with him.”
Don Marsh is the USF vault coach. He has been at the school for 15 years. Head coach Warren Bye is an Indiana native. He competed for Crawford County High School in Marengo and went on to graduate from Indiana University in 2000. He is in his sixth year as the USF head coach and during his head coaching tenure, he has guided USF athletes to two U.S. Junior National Championships, one U.S. Olympic Trials final, three All-America honors, eight BIG EAST titles, 31 individual and three relay All-Big East performances, 11 NCAA Championship appearances and 46 NCAA Prelim (formally NCAA Regional) appearances.
Brown is a two-time Warsaw sectional champion and won the Warsaw regional. According to athletic.net she is the top ranked top high school female vaulter in Indiana and she is among the top eight nationally.
Brown began her athletic career as a gymnast. The former Level 9 gymnast at Gymnastics Michiana was the 2011 State Champion in both floor exercise and balance beam.
“Pole vaulting relates to gymnastics and that made the transfer easy,” she said. “I like the thrill of vaulting. It’s a power event. I also like the speed portion of it.”
She tied for third place in height at the state finals in 2012, but finished sixth on misses.
“My goal is to win state this year,” Brown said. “My goal is to clear 13-4 this season.”
When asked about the improvements she needs to make in order to compete in college she said, “My coaches tell me there is not perfect vault. But I can work on making all aspects of my jump smoother.
“While I spend a decent amount of time in the weight room my preference is more body weight work. Exercises like the rings and pull ups where you use your body weight. I don’t want to bulk up.”
She plans to study occupational or physical therapy.
Sophie is the daughter of Wallace and Stephanie Brown. She has an older brother Brett. The 23-year-old is a Fairfield and Purdue University graduate. He is currently studying in Sweden on a Fulbright Scholarship.
Sophie is not the only athlete in the Brown family at Fairfield. Her cousin Haley is one of the top players in the Falcons volleyball and basketball programs.