When you think about the fact that Aria Ottmueller started pole vaulting about six weeks ago, it's pretty impressive that she competed in this week’s Arizona Track and Field State Championships at Mesa Community College.
When you add in the fact that she was born completely blind, her accomplishment is even that much more impressive.
Aria was born without her sight. Although she later gained some vision, by the 8th grade, she had lost half of what she had gained. She now has what she says is 20-400 vision.
"My whole motto has been 'I can't be afraid of what I can't see," Ottmueller said.
First, it was gymnastics, then it was cheerleading and then horse jumping. With horse jumping, she can't see more than about two strides ahead of the horse before jumps.
"My trainer tells me where to turn, and then the horse kind of speeds up when she gets to the jump. I usually go off the feel of the horse and my trainer telling me when to turn."
The 17-year-old junior decided to go out for track her sophomore year at Valley Christian High School in Chandler and started out in distance events, but it didn't go well, so Aria wanted to try pole vaulting.
But it wasn’t something her head coach, Dan Kuiper was all that thrilled about.
"I asked if I could pole vault, and he kind of just went “No. Absolutely not,” Aria says. "So throughout the year, I kept bugging him about it, and he finally said okay.”
Aria began working with Valley Christian pole vaulting coach Perry Fraley just six weeks ago. "Obviously, the first thing we considered was safety," Fraley said. But after just a day of practice jumps in the sand, she moved to the pole vault pit, and within a few weeks, she was ready to compete in her first meet.
"Aria has a gift," Fraley said. "She can repeat the same action pretty accurately time after time after time. I would assume that's somewhat from her gymnastics training."
"I thought if we can get her to clear 6 feet this year that would be a heck of an accomplishment," Fraley said. "She blew past that. She far exceeded anything I thought she would do."
In her third meet, Aria jumped 6 feet, 7 inches, more than enough to qualify for state. She hit 7 feet in her next meet, and she hit her goal of 7 feet, 6 inches at the State Track meet at Mesa Community College on Friday afternoon.
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