For it being his first time out of the country, Clayton Fritsch quickly found his home in the pole vault competition of the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC) track and field championships in Querétaro, Mexico and came away with the meet record.
Despite the new unexplored territory to him, and all that comes along with new land, the former Sealy Tiger soon realized that all these people from all these different places all had one very specific thing in common.
“The first time I (was) out at the track I kind of noticed just sitting around there were so many different languages going on,” Fritsch said. “I just thought that was pretty cool we’ve all got this one connection and it’s track and field and everybody’s out there to do what they do.”
However, Fritsch was used to leaning on his jumping coach, Cutter Bernhard, and although he was not able to be there, Bernhard still found a way to communicate with his athlete.
“I guess this was the first time I’d ever, at this level, jumped without Cutter so it was kind of nice to go out there and get that confidence that I can go out and do it,” Fritsch said. “He had a friend down there who was coaching someone else and he had seen me jump so I kind of went to him for some advice and worked out pretty good.”
Another familiar face was in the form of his teammate, Zachery Bradford, who pole vaults for the University of Kansas Jayhawks.
“Zach Bradford was the other pole vaulter, I’ve jumped against him quite a bit lately so I got the chance to room with him so it was cool to get closer with him the other guys got to meet some throwers and jumpers and sprinters, it was kind of cool to talk with them and see what they’re from,” the Texas representative said.
The competition itself posed a few challenges Fritsch had not faced before, on top of being outside of his native land.
“The main thing was that we did go against some adversity,” he said. “The winds were strong and that was actually the first time I had jumped at night so the lighting and stuff like that was a lot different, some good and some bad parts about it; the body awareness wasn’t the same as normal meets.”
Still, those alterations to his technique did little to slow him down and he once again found himself back on the podium.
Both Americans cleared 5.60 meters to take a 0.7-meter lead ahead of the third-place finisher, Natan Rivera hailing from El Salvador and a current freshman at Rice University, but Fritsch needed fewer attempts at the mark and earned the gold medal in his first shot at representing his country.
The U.S. vaulters also bested the meet record by .04 meters that had stood since a fellow Jayhawk, Jordan Scott, reached that mark in 2010 to take the top spot.
“I thought that was kind of cool, we got to jump the same height so we’ll get to go into the record books together breaking that NACAC record,” Fritsch said of the end of the competition. “For what we were facing I felt like the results were pretty sweet.”
What was also pretty sweet was the support he’s been receiving from back home and he mentioned that although his parents weren’t able to make the trip down there, they were still able to follow right along.
“They didn’t make it but they had a bunch of my family members and friends come over and they watched it on FloTrack they had it broadcasted on the TV and had a little watch party so it was really cool, definitely got the best support around,” Fritsch said with a smile.
“I don’t know how much I can stress how I wouldn’t be able to do it without all the help and support from all the family and friends,” he added. “That’s really where I can give all the credit to, if I didn’t have no one to do it for I don’t know what I would do it for. I got a lot of debt to Sealy, Texas with all the help and support they’ve given me, it’s awesome.”
That support won’t be going away anytime soon as he got back to work in the jump factory this week, returning to the grind that will help prepare him for the USATF Outdoor Championships July 25 to 28 in Des Moines, Iowa.
“If I place in the top three overall I can go compete for USA again at the World Meet so we’ll see how that goes,” Fritsch said. “This one will be fun because it’ll have past Olympians and stuff like that so the competition should be really tough but really exciting at the same time.”
At the end of the day, it took a little bit to really sink in what he had just accomplished but he’ll remember this one forever.
“On the way back was when I was really starting to think about it, just waiting on the plane I was just super happy to go and compete for USA that’s always a dream to win the meet was that much better,” he said. “Even not having a coach there and stuff like that really brought a lot of confidence in knowing
what I can do. Overall it was a good experience, I would say even the days of just going to the track and even if it was just a warm-up day or if we were just watching, it was cool to get out there and just watch everyone from every other competition.
“This Mexico trip and even NCAA’s, I was really going there for just the experience,” Fritsch added. This is something I can keep doing but to go to something like this, the way I look at it is that this will help me in the long run to get more and more familiar with these places and jumping in these big competitions that hopefully later on in my career, I’ll be more comfortable with that.”