Rising Vaulter Brynn King Guided By A Star

Jumping from the transfer portal to Div. II Roberts Wesleyan and vault legend Jenn Suhr’s guidance has paid off rapidly for King. (KEVIN MORRIS)

SHE KNEW THAT she had more inside of her — that’s what started it all.

Little more than a year ago Brynn King put herself in the NCAA’s transfer portal, which in itself can be a nerve-racking experience: “I was just stuck under the 14-foot barrier. I couldn’t make it to Div. I Nationals or anything. I was always getting like bumped out the last weekend. I was like, ‘I think I can compete with these girls at the Div. I level.’ But I just wasn’t doing what I thought I was capable of. I had two more years of eligibility left and I just wanted to transfer somewhere where I felt like I’d have the best ability to reach my potential and hopefully compete in my last two years of college. So I kind of was reaching out.”

King’s best at that time was 13-11¼ (4.25), which she had recently cleared in her best indoor campaign yet; she would end up placing 4th in the ACC for Duke. It was a significant improvement from the 13-1 she had jumped as a prep at Concordia Lutheran High in Tomball, Texas, four years earlier. She wanted more.

“I was thinking I wanted to transfer to another Div. I school and to try to go after making it to Div. I Nationals because that has been my goal for four years. But Jenn reached out to me and that was the perfect fit for me.”

So King landed at Div. II Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, New York, working with Jenn Suhr, the 11-time World Ranker who won the ’12 Olympic gold.

Says King, “I did get a lot of backlash for this decision I made. People were kind of like, ‘Oh, are you sandbagging? Is that what you’re trying to do?’ And that was not my thought at all. I was intending on going to Div. I, but in the end, I just wanted to jump as high as I thought I could. And I was like, ‘You know what? It doesn’t matter what division, what conference that is. This is the fit. This is where I think I could jump as high as I can and possibly even take this beyond college. So this is where I’m going to go.’”

With Jenn and her husband Rick Suhr guiding her, change has come fast for King. “That has definitely been the main catalyst for me jumping a lot higher than I have before.”

The training, she says, “is a lot more event specific. Almost everything I’m doing — sprints, lifting — is all directly related to pole vault. Here, everything that we do is pole vault.

“And it’s also individualized. I’m a decent amount older than the rest of the kids on the pole vault team. They’re all freshmen; it’s a new program. My workouts look a lot different than theirs. I’ve also been hurt a lot in the past. I’ve had four major surgeries. I can’t handle the same volume as a lot of people.”

King’s history with injuries was a crucial factor in helping her choose her new program. “That was kind of a big thing for me. When I was looking for new colleges, I wanted to see how coaches would react to that. And [the Suhrs] were like, ‘Oh, that’s not a problem. We actually do less volume, everything we do has a purpose. And we will make sure you stay healthy.’”

When King arrived after missing the ’23 outdoor season, she was ready to get to work. Part of that workload was practicing how to compete. “In trying to get ready, we were having little team competitions and stuff. Once I even jumped against one of the coaches; he still vaults. And I actually jumped 15-feet for the first time, in practice, before that meet. And at that moment, I was like, ‘OK, I have a lot more to go. And I can jump a lot higher than I thought.’

“And so then we really wanted to prepare and come out with a bang to show some people like, ‘OK, we’re here.’ That was my goal in December; we weren’t using those [early meets] as practice or short-approach meets. I was coming out full approach, ready to jump some high bars.”

That explains why in her first indoor meet in Akron in December, she cleared a PR 14-5½ (4.41). That PR kept getting higher over the next four meets, till she cleared 15-1 (4.60) on January 20.

It was time, King and the Suhrs decided, to start exposing her to pro competition. “I went to USATF Indoor Nationals mainly for that goal, just to get around those people and show myself that I am capable of jumping with them, even though those are the people I used to only ever see on TV and [I had thought] there was no way I could ever compete against.” At the crucial point in Albuquerque, she passed the 4.60 bar and went to 15-3 (4.65). She missed, and would finish 7th.

“I actually had my closest shot at 4.65 so far then. I took a lot away. I think the main thing was just seeing the intensity level of the meet. Going into it, I had never competed against any of them. It was only seeing them. So then warming up with them, jumping some bars with them, being not too far away from jumping 4.65. If I would’ve jumped that, I would’ve ended up 4th. I was like, ‘OK, I know I can compete against these people.’ I have a lot of room to grow and I need to really step up my intensity level, but it showed me that I am capable.”

The next week King cleared that 15-3 (4.65) bar in winning the Div. II Nationals. She improved her best again in her first outdoor meet, taking the Texas Relays at 15-4¼ (4.68). And the progress continues.

On May 18 she won the Atlanta City Games, with her 14-10¾ (4.54). On her way to defeating Britain’s world indoor champion Molly Caudery in that Centennial Park comp, King cleared 13-11 (4.24) on her first try then passed at 14-4 ¾ (4.39) as Caudery, equal-5th in the World Champs in Budapest last summer, and American Alina McDonald went over on second attempts. King nailed the winning bar on her second and finished with three unsuccessful goes at a would-be PR 15-6¼ (4.73).

Interviewed on the spot about her outing, King assessed, “I won my first pro meet today so that was really exciting. It was a little bit of swirling wind so I was kind of battling that but in the end I pulled out a few good jumps so I’m really excited about that.”

Throughout all of this, what has really helped is her close relationship with Jenn Suhr. “I love her. She’s a great coach, also a good friend and a really good mentor for me, in vaulting and in life in general. I mean, for years she was at the level that I am striving to be at, probably the longest anyone ever has. So she has more experience in that than anyone else. And she shares that with me all the time. Like when I’m going to a meet, I’m constantly learning little tricks that she did, ways to handle stress, ways to handle the competitive atmosphere.”

Rick pitches in too. “I’d say it’s 50-50. They both are at all of my practices, all of my meets, they bounce ideas off of each other… Rick has been a coach the whole time, whereas Jenn has been an athlete also, so she can like help me a little more in the mindset type of things.”

King still faces technical challenges. “I have changed, honestly, almost every part of my jump. A lot of improvement and I still have a long way to go. So when I go to a meet and the nerves kick in, it’s harder for me to execute like in practice when it’s just me in there and I can really focus. The main thing is getting some of these changes that we’ve been doing to become habitual.”

From someone who watched the NCAA meet on TV to a potential threat at the Olympic Trials, King has undergone a metamorphosis in the sport in a remarkably rapid time period.

She says, “Sometimes I have to like sit back and be like, ‘Wow, OK, I’ve made a lot of improvement, but I also am not to where I want to be yet.’ So it definitely has my head spinning a little bit, but I try to just focus and mainly take it one day at a time. As long as I’m getting better every single day, I’ll get to where I am going.”

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