EUGENE, Ore. -- Disappointment and failure aren’t something that Andrew Irwin hasn’t had to deal with, but his shortcomings this season might actually make him a stronger athlete.
Irwin, a junior from Arkansas, who was a phenom in the pole vault his first two years, has battled injury and was no where near the form he showed when he was a freshman and a sophomore.
Ending his career with a no height in the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships would have been difficult for Irwin to deal with, instead he will be able to use the frustration as motivation for the upcoming year.
“I definitely want to build off the two more successful years I have had and forget about this year,” Irwin said. “Looking at this it didn’t go as planned but there is some stuff to pull out of it.”
Irwin certainly made an impression when he arrived at Arkansas three years ago. He set the indoor record in the pole vault while in high school and was the junior-class national record holder in the event and defeated a national field in the pole vault.
That success continued in his first year at Arkansas. Irwin set the school record in the pole vault three times, including a jump of 18-2.5 to win the NCAA title, the program’s first indoor national champion in the event and was voted the SEC Freshman Field Athlete of the Year. In outdoors, Irwin won the SEC championship and set the American junior record in the pole vault with a final clearance of 18-9.25.
There was no sophomore jinx as Irwin repeated as NCAA indoor champion and was voted All-America first team. He broke his own school record with a mark of 18-8.25 at the NCAA championships. In the NCAA outdoor championship, he won the pole vault and earned another All-American honor.
During the summer break, Irwin competed in a meet on the forth of July and felt a sharp pain in his left groin during a jump.
“I jumped 18-7 and on the next jump I got about four steps down the runway and that was all she wrote,” Irwin said. “It hurt, but I didn’t think I screwed up anything that bad, definitely didn’t think I tore anything to that significance at all. Got up the next day and it was sore and I was kind of hobbling but I figure in month it would come back around.”
It wasn’t getting better and by the time school started at the end of August, Irwin was getting treatment.
“We really didn’t know what was still wrong with it,” Irwin said. “The tearing I had, we had no idea it was that bad. We just tried to treat the muscles around it and strengthen everything and hope it came back and be fine.”
By November, Irwin had made the decision to have surgery with the hopes of being ready by the beginning of the indoor season in January. He went to Philadelphia and consulted with Dr. William Meyers, who specializes in severe groin and sports hernia injuries and was able to perform successful surgery on Irwin.
“We knew going out and talking to him would be good,” Irwin said. “He told me I would be back in eight weeks. He pretty much sewed the spot back together and did some other stuff.”
Though he was cleared to rejoin the track team in January, there were still doubts lingering in his mind.
“I think that comes with it,” Irwin said. “You can tell someone they are good to go, but it was in the back of my mind you are going, 'Am I actually going to be able to go to the caliber that I was?' Those first few months it was sore and I thought about it.”
The indoor championships were rapidly approaching and though Irwin had erased any of the doubts of his ability, he wasn’t completely ready physically.
“It was real short notice coming back for indoor season,” Irwin said. “I jumped well at the home meets we had and I thought I was going to be all right. I finished second at the SEC indoors which was understandable at the time. I was a little disappointed at the fourth-place finish at indoor nationals but it was still soon after surgery. We were willing to let some of that go and salvage the year with a good outdoor season but it didn’t happen that way.”
Instead, Irwin will take a month off and then start training for what he hopes is his best year of his career.
“I am hoping my senior year is more like my first two years,” Irwin said. “I believe it should be. I want to come out and have as successful year as I did as a freshman. I am going to take my time off and come back stronger than ever.”