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It’s been a rough two years at BYU, but pole vaulter Zach McWhorter has qualified for NCAAs and U.S. Olympic trials

McWhorter suffered a freak accident and had the outdoor track & field season canceled as a freshman.

(Nate Edwards|BYU Photo) | Zach McWhorten competes in the pole vault event of the NCAA Championship West Preliminaries in College Station, Texas on May 26. In total, 69 BYU track and field student athletes competed in the event.

It’s been a hard journey to get to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship for Zach McWhorter, and it wasn’t just because of the pandemic.

But now, he is one of 24 Cougars who qualified last week for the NCAA Championships.

Last February, during McWhorter’s first season, a freak accident left the pole vaulter with 18 stitches in his groin area after being stabbed by his vaulting pole. The incident was caught on video and shared by the Arkansas native on TikTok, where it went viral.

McWhorter sat out of practices for a couple of weeks and was just getting back into action when the pandemic forced the 2020 season to be canceled. The Cougars were at the indoor nationals and McWhorter was less than 24 hours from his competition when everything came to a halt.

“In all honesty, I took a couple months off,” McWhorter said. “I didn’t pole vault. In fact, the facilities were closed. So, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t have. I read a lot of books last spring and summer, and I tried to improve myself in that aspect just by attaining a lot of new knowledge and strengthening my mental aspects of pole vaulting.”

NCAA TRACK AND FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS

When • June 9-12

Where • Eugene, Ore.

Some of the books McWhorter read revolved around subjects such as the state of flow and breathing. The sophomore believes simple things as how to properly breathe are often times overlooked, but can be just the thing to make a big difference in an athlete’s performance.

McWhorter said he was also fortunate to be able to train with “really good coaches” during the offseason in the fall.

The sophomore did some sprint training with coach Stephani Perkings, working on his running form.

“I try to think as a scientist when it comes to sports,”McWhorter said. “Always questioning your current way of doing things and acknowledging the fact that perhaps you’re wrong and just seeking out new ideas.”

But after months of taking a break and taking things slow due to the pandemic, McWhorter is now juggling a couple of different events at once. Besides preparing for the NCAA championships, which run June 9-12, the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track & Field take place June 18-27.

Luckily, both events are taking place at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. Because of the tight turnaround, McWhorter said he’s training for both events at the same time.

McWhorter automatically qualified for the Olympic trials back in February, during the indoor nationals.

The automatic qualifying mark is 5.80 meters.

“That was just very relieving because, at the Olympic trials, you may not have good weather and so everyone may jump lower than expected,” McWhorter said. “That was relieving, but I have felt like I need to set higher goals and have higher expectations because my initial goal in 2019, when I started pole vaulting for BYU, was to jump the Olympic qualifying mark. Now that I’ve done it and now that I got the standard for the Olympics, I need a new goal. We’re figuring that out right now.”

BYU’S NCAA TRACK CHAMPIONSHIP QUALIFIERS

Dallin Vornink, decathlon*

Andrew Stuart, 4x100m relay team

Michael Bluth, 4x100m relay team, 400m, 4x400m relay team

Landon Maxfield, 4x100m relay team, 4x400m relay team

Dallin Draper, 4x100m relay team, 4x400m relay team

Talem Franco, 1500m

Lucas Bons, 1500m

Colten Yardley, 400m hurdles, 4x400m relay team

Cierra Tidwell Allphin, women’s high jump

Whittni Orton, 1500m, 5000m

Anna Camp-Bennett, 1500m, 800m

Kate Hunter, 1500m

Claire Seymour, 800m, women’s 4x400m relay team

Garrett Marsing, 3000m steeplechase

Clayson Shumway, 3000m steeplechase

Courtney Wayment, women’s 3000m steeplechase

Sara Musselman, women’s 3000m steeplechase

Casey Clinger, 5000m

Megan Hunter, women’s 4x400m relay team

Lauren Ellsworth-Barned, women’s 4x400m relay team

Alena Ellsworth, women’s 4x400m relay team

Cameron Bates, javelin

Zach McWhorter, pole vault

Conner Mantz, 10,000m

Dallin Shurts, men’s discus

*automatic top-24 multi-event qualifier

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