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Slippery Rock pole vaulter is raising the bar

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
DEAN M. BEATTIE
Slippery Rock pole vaulter Cameron Daugherty will compete in the NCAA Division II indoor track and field championships this weekend in Birmingham, Ala. (Slippery Rock University)

Cameron Daugherty is most assuredly not afraid of heights.

The Slippery Rock graduate student experienced the thrill of a lifetime during a skydiving trip in fall 2011.

Now, he's looking to soar again, just not as high. Somewhere above 5 meters should do just fine.

Daugherty, a pole vaulter, will get that opportunity Saturday at the NCAA Division II indoor track and field championships in Birmingham, Ala. But his focus isn't solely on winning a national title.

“To be honest, I haven't even thought about winning,” he said. “I just want to hit the points that we've been focusing on over the past couple of weeks. I know if I do that, there's a good chance that we definitely have the ability to come home with another championship.”

That's exactly what he did last May in Pueblo, Colo., at the outdoor championships. And he did it with what was diagnosed as a stress fracture in his foot.

Daugherty brought home gold — Slippery Rock's first outdoor title since Steve Rihel won the javelin in 1997 — by clearing 5.15 meters in weather conditions reminiscent of Slippery Rock, where the team practices no matter what's happening outside.

“When we went to the national championship, we were jumping into the wind, and it didn't faze Cameron,” said assistant coach Bill Jordan, who works closely with Daugherty. “Where other kids kind of balked or got nervous, Cameron just did his thing. ... He was mentally the toughest kid under those conditions.”

And that was a far cry from last year's indoor championships, where he “freaked out.” Instead of focusing on himself, he stressed over things outside of his control. The result was a disappointing ninth place, a year after claiming fourth in his first appearance at the indoor national championships.

“I ended up choking, basically,” he said.

With a different mindset now, Daugherty believes he's peaking mentally and physically at the perfect time. He's also using a longer pole than last year, which could help him reach new heights.

“He finds the next level to get his body to, to get himself to mentally,” Jordan said. “And that's a great thing in pole vault because the bar keeps going up, no matter what. You either get tougher and tougher as the bar goes up and the competition gets more fierce, or you're going to be the first one out.”

Some of the mental discipline comes from his upbringing, with his father a chief judge for the Navy-Marine Corps Trial Judiciary. Part of that job meant traveling, so he spent three years in Japan before graduating from high school in Hawaii. Adjusting to the different climate took a while.

“The first year was absolutely terrible. I was wearing three pairs of pants to school walking to class in minus-30-degree wind chill, which was terrible because Hawaii, it was never colder than 70 degrees,” he said. “The weather was what really killed me. When we started our outdoor season, I'd be wrapped up in blankets that I had to bring from home trying to stay warm.”

As far as superstitions go, Daugherty wears his spandex track uniform all day on competition days, something that started in ninth grade with his wrestling singlet. And he usually downs a bunch of Oreos at meets.

“Maybe I should make the switch to protein and something will change,” he said with a laugh, “but I like where things are at right now.”

Mike Palm is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mpalm@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MikePalm_Trib.

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