Pole breaks, injures Jenn Suhr in practice

Fredonia native and Olympic gold medalist pole vaulter Jenn Suhr suffered possible season-ending injuries during a practice session at her home training facility Wednesday afternoon.

She was treated at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester after suffering injuries to her hands, wrists, ribs, shoulder and neck, but was released the same day.

X-rays came back negative and soft tissue exams are scheduled for the following days once the swelling in the injured areas subsides.

The accident occurred when her pole snapped during an attempt at clearing 15 feet.

Jenn, 32, was over halfway into her ascent when the pole violently shattered, sending her head over heels backwards down toward the pit.

She landed headfirst on the padded box area, sustaining injuries to her neck, ribs and shoulder.

The injuries to her hands and wrists were caused by the vibration from the exploding pole.

“They are weird injuries; they’re called vibratory injuries,” Jenn’s coach and husband Rick Suhr said. “When you snap poles, you lose use of your hands for a period of time. Sometimes it goes three to four days, but I’ve seen it go eight weeks. It really can be an issue. It all depends on how you break (the pole) and how your body reacts to it. This one was a bad break.”

“These vibratory injuries are horrible,” Rick added. “They just linger. They bruise everything right down to the bone and that’s why people have so much trouble with the hands.”

Wednesday marked the second time in Jenn’s career that she broke a pole during training. The first pole broke in 2008, about a month before competition, while training for the Beijing Olympics.

That time she was up and training again the same day and went on to win a silver medal in China. This time, both the break and the injuries appear to be more serious.

“In 2008 when we broke one, we kept jumping the same day,” Rick said. “This time it was a different ballgame. She was hurt and she was hurt bad.”

The pole that broke this time was a carbon fiber pole, which is used because of its light weight and increased strength. Despite this increase in strength, poles can break any time for various reasons, according to Rick.

“Poles break for a variety of reasons,” Rick said. “You can have a defect in them or you can bang them around and they can get a chip in them. It’s an issue and it’s a dangerous issue when it happens. It’s not something that is pretty either. When it goes it goes. There’s a lot of things that can go wrong when it does happen.”

Two broken poles in a career spanning nearly a decade is about average for top-end vaulters, according to Rick, who says some pole vaulters may not break any while others can break seven or eight during the same time period.

The injuries come at a crucial time in the 2014 track and field season. Jenn is currently locked in a three-way battle for the top spot in the world rankings with Cuba’s Yarisley Silva and Brazil’s Fabiana Murer.

If the injuries cause Jenn to miss much time, or the remainder of the season, Rick envisions a situation where she could easily slip in the standings.

“It comes at a very bad time because we are right in the middle of our summer season,” Rick said. “We are supposed to be in London in three weeks to compete. We are supposed to go to London (Aug. 24), Zurich (Aug. 28) and Morocco (September) for Diamond League meets and the World Final and right now it looks like we are going to be out the rest of the year. It really does affect us because we are right in the middle of the European season and that is the main season as far as both rankings and making money.”

For now, none of the injuries Jenn sustained appear to be very serious, but only time will tell. How quickly she recovers from the vibratory injuries is yet to be seen and MRIs will be conducted once the swelling goes down.

“It’s almost like a car accident,” Rick said. “The next day something can bother you that you didn’t even think was hurt.”