“This is my granddaughter. I thought you might like to know she is going to the Olympics. Maybe you’d like to do a story on her.”
Those were the words of Eagle Point resident Mae Boren as she handed this reporter a 12 in. x 12 in. very well done 2008 calendar featuring Erica Bartolina.
Mae is known by many in Eagle Point as a quiet, often outspoken community member. She’s known as Matt Boren’s mother (EPHS teacher and Skills USA coach); as Jana Boren Fitzgerald’s grandmother; as a long-time 4H leader and teacher, more recently a member of the Eagle Point Women’s Club, and as one who attends many official city meetings and school board of directors meetings. Few of us know her as the mother of Erica (Boren) Bartolina, Olympic-bound pole vaulter’s grandmother—until now.
Erica has had a hard time convincing people she could participate in sports. Even as she entered the recent Olympic trials in Eugene, she wasn’t given much of a chance and was ranked number 13. What has so often been viewed as a challenge to others is just reality to Erica and has been since she was four months old.
Erica lost the sight in one eye as the result of a car accident when she was four months old. To be a pole vaulter takes the ability to focus, to judge distance and height. A quarter of an inch can make a future’s worth of difference. For Erica, there was no vision adjustment. Her vision through one eye is all she has ever known.
She grew up in Philomath, Oregon, a small town near Corvallis. At the age of 14 the high school track coach, Dennis Phillips, suggested she try vaulting. He was a former world record holder in pole vaulting. From that day forward there was little to stop Erica. She became the Oregon 3A State Champion in 1997 and placed in the top three at state each of her four high school years.
After graduating from high school, she went to Texas A&M on an athletic scholarship and became their first female vaulter. She was a two-time Big 12 champion and a three-time NCAA championship qualifier. Erica graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 2002 and the following year married Michael Bartolina..
Michael became an assistant track coach at Southeastern Louisiana University and when they couldn’t find a coach for Erica, Michael stepped in to the job. In her first year she improved. by vaulting more than a foot higher than her previous best.
Erica qualified in the 2004 Olympic trials and placed 4th in the USA Championships in 2005 only to later fall and break two vertebrae. Her comeback has been most eventful. In 2007 she competed in 17 events from Louisiana to Boston, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, among other locales. In those 17 events she placed 1st nine times with her highest jump 14’5″.
The Olympic trials and Hayward field at the University of Oregon in Eugene was a homecoming for Erica. And, she had family and friends for that much needed support. Matt and daughter, Jana, were at the trials at least for one day. Grandmother Mae was there as were her parents, Pat and Betsy Boren, as was her high school coach, among a number of other family and friends.
Mae described each vault as nail biting each time Erica missed a vault. She tied with three others with vaults of 13 ft. 5.25 in., 13 ft. 9.25 in. and 14 ft. 1.25 inches.
In the finals, she cleared 14 ft. 11 in., which was a personal best, and earned a third-place finish and a spot on the U.S. Olympic Track and Field team.
After clearing the 14-11, she made three unsuccessful attempts at 15 ft. 1. The first place vault went to Jenn Stuczynski with a U.S. record vault of 16 ft. 1.75 in . And in second place was April Steiner Bennet at 15 ft. 1 in.
The hometown folks not only cheered Erica, some of the folks put on a BBQ to celebrate. “It was just wonderful,” said Mae.
Erica came to Eagle Point High School shortly before she incurred her back injury and spent a day coaching students include her niece, Jana, and Robby Mannenbach.
Erica and Mike will be leaving for Beijing the end of July. While Erica’s expenses are taken care of, those of her husband and coach are not. They estimate his cost will be $7,000.
They are accepting donations and selling the calendar. Calendars are $10 and are available at the Independent. Or, to make a tax-deductible donation, send it to the Mardi Gras Track Club, P.O. Box 2031, Hammond, LA 70404 and indicate it is for the Bartolina Olympics.
By Nancy Leonard
Of the Independent