Vollmer no stranger to competition, wins national championship

As he sat at the front of a room of reporters, assistant track coach Wayne Pate grasped for the words to explain the national title winning performance of sophomore Lindsay Vollmer in the heptathlon.

“It’s just a blessing really,” Pate said. “She may never have those two days back to back again.”

After four decades and more than a thousand women competing for Kansas track and field, there had never been an outdoor national champion in the school’s history. And yet, while Kansas arrived at the championships with several women expected to contend for a title, Vollmer was certainly not one of them.

A day after the meet had finished, a reporter asked her coaches if Vollmer was seen as a national title contender going into the meet. Pate couldn’t help but let out a slight laugh before asking his own question.

“Are you kidding me?” Pate said. “I’m still in shock. We all are.”

Wearing her game face
As Vollmer arrived at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. for the NCAA track and field national championships on June 6, she felt nervous, an emotion that is mostly foreign to the sophomore when it comes to track and field.

Vollmer goes into a typical meet expecting to do great things.

“You need to have that confidence,” she said.

It wasn’t so much that the confidence had disappeared on this morning at the University of Oregon, as it was the painful memory of Vollmer’s last competition at Hayward Field shrouded the certainty.

After a great first day at the USA Junior National meet in June of 2011, Vollmer entered the second day of the heptathlon with a solid chance at winning the most important meet in which she had ever competed at the time. A gold medal was within reach, until a pain in Vollmer’s hip flexor became overwhelming during the long jump. She was forced to withdraw from the competition with no medal at all.

The hip injury lingered and strained Vollmer for most of her freshman year as a Jayhawk. At the first Kansas Relays of Vollmer’s career, she had a great first day once again, but the second day was scratched because of her hip flexor, once again.

The biggest barrier that Vollmer said she has had to get over was training through pain.

“I’m not going to lie; I was a little nervous going into Eugene,” she said, “because last time I was there, I had this injury,”
But it didn’t take much to calm the nerves, just stepping foot on the track.

An old past time
For Vollmer, being at a track and field meet is like being at home. She grew up in Hamilton, Mo., in a house on Highway 36, and she describes Hamilton as a small, country town with small town values, and said that everyone knows each other. But her home, where she spent hours each day after school, was the track at Penney High School, where her father, Mark Vollmer, is still coach.

The track facilities at Penney aren’t great, Vollmer said, but it was a special place for her. It’s where she spent hours of one-on-one time with her dad, practicing every event from the high jump to the 800-meter run. Mark also taught her how to throw the javelin, though it wasn’t an event in Missouri. At Kansas, the javelin has become one of Lindsay’s strongest events in the heptathlon.

Vollmer entered her first pentathlon when she was 12 years old. Eventually it became obvious that she would be a multi-event athlete. In her freshman year of high school, she began competing in heptathlons.
After four years, and 11 gold medals at the Missouri state championships, Vollmer graduated from Penney as the valedictorian of the class of 2011.

But until Coach Wayne Pate called and asked her to take a visit to Lawrence, Vollmer said she couldn’t have imagined attending the University. However, Pate managed to convince her.

“I gave it a shot,” Vollmer said, “I visited other schools too, but when I came to KU, I knew instantly that this is where I wanted to be. The coaches just had a desire to win.”

As a multi-event athlete, Vollmer trains with all of the coaches on coach Stanley Redwine’s staff, but she spends the most time with coach Pate. On the days when Vollmer says she was tired, sore and wanted to quit practicing, her coaches told her that the work would pay off one day, that being able to withstand the pain and soreness would eventually make her stronger.

And being stronger could make her a champion.

“Our coaches at KU expect nothing less than hard work,” Vollmer said, “they don’t tolerate slacking off at all, which I appreciate because there’s always those days.”

On  June 7, when Vollmer crossed the finish line of the 800 meters, the final of seven events, she understood what her coaches meant when they said it would all be worth it one day, even if they thought that day was still a couple years away.

Competing in seven events in two days can take a serious toll on the body, but the days when the pain was too much to bear were now a distant memory.

Vollmer set a personal record in six of the seven events in the national meet. Her score of 6,068 points in the heptathlon is a new school record and ranks 10th on the all-time NCAA list.

“This feels unbelievable,” Vollmer said in Oregon. “I never imagined I would be accomplishing something like this so early in my career.”

The Kansas coaches  give credit to Vollmer for being an extremely hard worker, but she gives them, and others, the credit for making her strong enough to work hard.
“I’ve had such great support from my teammates, coaches and family,” she said. “This is as much theirs as it is mine.”

  • Updated Jun. 17, 2013 at 11:46 am
  • Edited by Megan Hinman