LEAD — Carolyn Groeger’s days at Lead-Deadwood High School ended with her being perhaps the most-decorated girls’ athlete in school history.
Groeger won the state A girls’ pole vault title in three straight years (2016, 2017, 2018) before signing a letter of intent to pole vault at the University of Sioux Falls (USF).
“I just think about how exciting and how much fun it was to be part of the track team,” Groeger said in reflecting on those days. She also enjoyed being able to spend time with friends.
Memories also included spending after-practice time with assistant coach Travis Rogers and the enthusiasm he displayed at each state meet.
Groeger said she never thought from her earliest days that she would become a state champion. She regarded the state titles as an “extra” because she enjoyed things so much.
Fast forward from high school to college, when Groeger had to cross the state and get used to an entirely new world.
“It was a little bit intimidating,” Groeger recalled. “USF had a really good pole vaulting team at the time and had put out a lot of great vaulters.”
She was also excited because she was ready to keep growing as an athlete and hopefully finding success.
College athletes train year-round, with preseason work starting in earnest each September when classes resumed. That work included a lot of strength training and conditioning, with vaulting work starting one month later.
Groeger is a nursing student.
Vaulters competed from October to May, took June off, and started summer training in July, Groeger said. That extra time training was the biggest adjustment she had to make from high school to college.
Another adjustment centered on the college workload and trying to fit that with the athletic time commitment, Groeger said. She added a college team has more coaches, so the workouts were more specialized than in high school.
Preseason work finds Groeger weight training three mornings a week. Afternoons are devoted to conditioning depending on the day. Time is also spent with event groups, with technical work taking center stage.
Vaulters practice vaults on Tuesdays. Body workouts, vault drills, and core strength training exercises are done the rest of the week.
Groeger lifts two days a week during the season. Mondays are the hard workouts, with a runway workout the next day.
“I wanted to compete, and I wanted to do well,” Groeger said in describing her freshman-year goals at USF. That marked her first indoor season, which she ended up enjoying.
She said she also wanted to improve her vaulting form and technique. A shoulder injury stalled some of her plans, however.
Groeger learned in August 2018 she had some bicep tendon tears on her top arm: the one that takes the impact. She said her runway approach and planting have improved considerably.
Groeger placed fifth at the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference meet during her first indoor season, clearing 10 feet.
A shoulder procedure limited Groeger’s freshman track season to the indoor campaign. The indoor weather was only one adjustment to make.
“You have to be really spatially aware of things that are going on,” Groeger said. Indoor vault runways are close to the track and high jump pits, which leads to more distractions. High school vaulting pits are usually set off from other track areas.
“You have to be really mindful of what you’re doing to stay focused,” she said. “I think it was easier to vault indoors because we didn’t have things like headwinds, and it never rained on us.”
Her current sophomore season lacked an outdoor campaign. She was unable to vault indoors until January because of a second shoulder procedure.
“I didn’t quite reach the goals I wanted to this indoor season,” Groeger said, adding the injury set her back. She added she did not lose as much progress as she thought she would.
Groeger would have competed outdoors if not for the current COVID-19 pandemic. She really looked forward to that campaign, and it disappointed her that the campaign was cut short.
The nationals meet was the only meet the indoor season lost. Shortly after that, the entire outdoor season was cancelled.
“It was definitely a shock,” Groeger said. “Especially since we didn’t really know what was coming. For everybody, it changed every day on what they were going to do.”
Her biggest adjustment centered on not being able to visit each school facility. She went online for her nursing classes and labs and said it is harder to stay motivated for workouts.
Groeger currently works as a patient care technician at Avera/McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls in the cardiopulmonary unit. The city’s hospitals currently do not allow students to perform clinical work.
She works alongside the nurses and helps care for patients by taking blood sugar readings, reading vital signs, and doing other things to help them.
Precautions besides not touching faces, and constantly washing hands, are taken.
Her hospital unit is equipped with personalized air purification respirators, or PAPRs. Workers must wear these when having a patient testing positive for COVID-19 or awaiting a test result.
“We also wear our isolation gowns whenever we come in contact with a patient, as well as gloves,” Groeger said. “We make sure that we disinfect surfaces that anyone touches at least two or three times per eight-hour shift.”
Workers also wear surgical masks when working with non-COVID-19 patients.
Fellow nursing school students and track teammates constitute most of Groeger’s social base. Lecture classes run between 90 and 120 minutes, with labs spanning two to four hours.
“It’s definitely really rewarding being part of both things,” Groeger said in describing athletics and her studies.
Track athletes are able to see their teammates and themselves improve. She said the nursing satisfaction comes from knowing a person will eventually be able to care for patients and help them in difficult situations.
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