UNION — Union High Bobcat freshman Marielle Graffunder has found herself over the last handful of weeks lining up on starter blocks or sprinting down a run line with a pole tucked under her arm. From the moment she begins her stride till she free falls down to the mat, pole vaulting is something Graffunder refers to as “dynamic.”
“When you get it down, and you get the form down, it feels so rewarding to do it correctly, and clear good heights,” Graffunder said. “The dynamics are just so interesting.”
On the cusp of finishing her first year of competing in high school, Graffunder has been a consistent force in short distance and in pole valuting. This comes to no surprise to head track coach Jay Blackburn, who has coached Graffunder since middle school.
“I’ve known her since she was little. She moved to Union about five years ago, and is also friends with my daughter,” Blackburn said.
Prior to the pandemic, Graffunder would be on the cross-country course, playing basketball and volleyball in the gym and out at the track competing. All of that changed when she was diagnosed with vocal cord dysfunction. As described by the Cleveland Clinic, VCD is when instead of vocal cords opening, they close, making it harder to get air into or out of the lungs. Although sharing many similarities to asthma, this diagnosis left Graffunder having to reevaluate what sports she could participate in.
“I started having symptoms my seventh-grade year while in cross-country. (It happens) whenever I am overly happy or stressed, so it makes it very difficult to do things like cross-country and basketball,” Graffunder said.
While it wasn’t feasible to continue participating in cross-country and basketball, Graffunder still was able to play her first season of volleyball for the Bobcats just a month ago, and she moved to short-distance running in track to still being able to run.
“The furthest I can go is 400. It’s weird because practices are difficult because I can’t fully complete each workout,” Graffunder said.
As for field events, Graffunder began trying to pole vault during her time in middle school. Recognizing her athletic ability, Blackburn saw she was going to thrive in the technical work that takes place in pole vaulting, coaching her in the field event since she was in the seventh grade.
“She’s a gifted athlete,” he said. “She probably doesn’t know how talented she is at this point, and how much potential she has.”
Her approach on the pole vault is similar to what she does with her running — she goes into autopilot, not really having any thoughts run through her mind.
“As long as I clear the height, it’s just a sigh of relief when I land,” Graffunder said.
Graffunder has continued to impress during her first season in high school, posting high numbers in the 100 meters (14.74a), 400 meters (1:06.32a), pole vault (9’0”) and being a pivotal member of UHS relay teams, according to www.athletic.net. Blackburn sees opportunity for Graffunder to accomplish a lot in her high school career.
“I think my No. 1 priority for all of my athletes is to develop good people, learn how to set good goals, and to be the best that they can be,” Blackburn said.
In the last few weeks of her freshman season, Graffunder is hopeful she can at least go 1 foot higher on her pole vault, but she sees her focus going into improving her times in her running events.
“I’m mainly just on track events, so I’m mainly focused on my 400’s just because that’s kind of my thing. It’s the perfect distance,” she said.
Her proudest moment in running occurred when her 400 concluded at the Umatilla track meet. Graffunder was having a difficult time having to wear a mask, as regulated by COVID-19 safety protocols, but she still was able to join her teammates on the relay.
“I had a pretty significant breathing attack at the end of it and I was pretty worried about doing the 4X4. Coach Blackburn had convinced me to do the 4X4,” she said, “and I am actually really happy that I did. I got another 66 (seconds).”
Having another three seasons left in her high school career, Graffunder is hopeful she will accomplish some school records before her time as a Union Bobcat is over, and she will be thankful if she gets the opportunity to compete at state.
“I want to set some new school records for sure, in the 400 and in the pole vault. I think competing at state would be a huge goal for me right now, and I think it would just be good to place at state. It would be something really nice to look back on,” Graffunder said.
Excited for the years ahead, Graffunder aims to compete in pole vault in college and hopes to stay close to home and attend Eastern Oregon University.