While many of us enjoyed being spectators to the 2014 Winter Olympics, some Columbia student-athletes among us have their sights set on the 2016 games. I sat down with Gardenia Centanaro, CC '17, to discuss her own aspirations and routines as a pole vaulter on the Women's Track & Field team.
Gardenia, you're shooting for the 2016 Olympics. That's amazing! When did you first start pole vaulting?
I first started in my first year of high school, when I was 14. My father had mentioned that he vaulted in high school, and I was looking for a spring sport to do after playing volleyball and basketball...so I started!
Did you ever consider going professional in the other sports?
I didn't! I did these sports primarily just to keep busy and to be a regular high school student. They helped me round out my schedule and stay active. Sports were also very much a part of my school culture.
When did you decide to pursue pole vaulting seriously?
In junior year, I decided to seriously pursue both my athletic and academic passions in college. I did not want to give up vaulting, as it had become a large part of my life, and I realized that my grades and test scores would allow me to continue competing while in school.
I do it because it is, quite simply, a desire. Athletics has become such a large part of my lifestyle that I've developed a strong motivation to continue developing and to excel. Its almost become an addiction. I need to continue doing it. The Olympics, of course, are a natural goal to keep focused on.
I'm sure it must be challenging: All the athletes I know are always really busy. What does your daily training regime look like?
There are two days of weight trainings starting at 8 a.m., and then there are three days of jumping. At the moment, we're jumping indoors at the armory. Its rigorous, but my coaches help me work around my schoolwork, which is great.
How many other athletes on your team are also shooting for the Olympics?
Goodness, I think every student-athlete has that dream at one point or another. A lot of the athletes I know in Track & Field are shooting for 2016—those of us who are shooting for the Olympics do extra training on our own time.
When you shoot to be the "best of the best", as the Olympics demand, you have to hold yourself to a high standard. You need to eat high-quality food, train effectively, and get the correct amount of sleep—its really a whole lifestyle! You have to literally eat, sleep and breathe pole vaulting.
Wow, that sounds so intense. So, what are the next steps for you?
Well, Team USA holds national Olympic trials before every Olympics and, if you score above a certain mark, you can compete to be on the team. You can also choose to compete on a team for a different country if you or your parents are from there originally. There are a lot of international athletes in Division I USA Athletics that end up competing for their own countries. In fact, there are two sprinters I'm close with: Nadia Eke, CC' 15, and Marvellous Iheukwumere, CC' 14, who are planning on representing other countries.
Are you happy to be at Columbia as a student-athlete?
I really appreciate being a student-athlete. The work load is extremely difficult, but I have an escape that many people don't have. When I'm out there on the runway, that is all I have to focus on: not my midterms or my homeworks. It helps me balance and de-stress, in a way.
One more quick question. What is your relationship with your team?
My team is my family. We support and understand each other. Because we all have the same aspirations, we tend to look out for each other. Although we are competing against each other, this competition only becomes real when we're on the runway and the gun fires. Otherwise, everyone wants to see each other succeed. We are all in it together.
Gardenia Centanaro is a psychology major in Columbia College, class of 2017. She is also a pole-vaulter on the Women's Track & Field team.