Written by Matt Wixon
At 5-foot nothing, Desiree Freier stands tallest when faced with heights nearly triple her size
Desiree Freier is shorter than the average pole vaulter. “I’m short in general,” the Justin Northwest senior says.
But last weekend, the girl whose height is 5 foot nothing soared toward a bar set at 14 feet and something very special. It was 14 feet, 2 3/4 inches, which no high school girl had ever cleared in an indoor competition.
Until Freier sailed over it at the New Balance Nationals in New York City.
“It was amazing,” the new national record-holder said. “I’ve been jumping at that bar for a long time, and I wasn’t able to get it.”
Now Freier’s got it, and this weekend she could claim another national record. Freier will compete Saturday in the 50th annual Jesuit-Sheaner Relays, which for the first time will include girls teams. Freier, who has signed with track\ powerhouse Arkansas, hopes to break the national outdoor record of 14-2 3/4.
Two national records in two weekends would be amazing. But Freier doesn’t need another national mark to be amazing. She was second in the 5A pole vault as a freshman and has won gold at the last two UIL state meets. Her vault of 13-9 last year broke the meet record.
“She’s special. She’s incredibly special,” said Devin Rodriguez, Freier’s brother and coach. “I’ve coached a lot of athletes who are talented and gifted, but they don’t have that passion. She has both.”
Freier has had some big advantages on her way to becoming an elite pole vaulter. The 17-year-old’s stepfather is George Rodriguez, who created the Texas Pole Vault Club in 1998 and heads up the Elite Vaulters Sports Complex in Fort Worth.
Devin Rodriguez was a pole vaulter at McNeese State, and his brother, Jeffrey Rodriguez holds the UT-Arlington school record in the pole vault. George Rodriguez held the University of North Texas pole vault record for 20 years.
It’s a pole-vaulting family, obviously.
“But she blows us away,” Devin Rodriguez. “She’s so damn good.”
Freier tried vaulting when she was 10 years old and got serious about it in eighth grade. During her freshman year, her vault of 12-3 was the best in the nation by a freshman. Her top heights have progressed consistently since then, and at the prestigious Millrose Games last month, she cleared 14 feet for the first time in competition.
Freier’s springy legs, upper-body strength and control in the air help separate her from the state’s deep group of vaulters, which includes Grapevine’s Zoe McKinley, who competed with Freier at last year’s IAAF World Youth Championships. nd there’s no question about Freier’s mental toughness. She’s actually a little afraid of heights, but the fear is washed away by her pole-vaulting confidence.
“It’s hard to be a really good vaulter if you’re not mentally strong,” she said. “Especially outdoors, when you can have a head wind or a side wind. You have to think technically.”
Freier’s vaults look more stunning because she’s only 5-feet tall. It’s like the added impact of a short basketball player soaring for a slam dunk. But although taller pole vaulters can plant the pole more vertically, Devin Rodriguez said Freier’s height isn’t a disadvantage.
“She’s only 5-foot, but that’s one powerful girl,” Rodriguez said. “Powerful is an understatement. She hits the board harder than most guys.”