Blind Pole Vaulter Aria Ottmueller Qualifies for Arizona High School Track and Field Championship
A blind pole vaulter has qualified to compete in an Arizona state high school track and field championship meet next month.
Aria Ottmueller, a junior at Valley Christian High School in Chandler, was born completely blind due to a condition called optic nerve hypoplasia. She gained some sight later in childhood, then lost much of what she gained, and remains legally blind, with 20-400 vision.
But Aria didn’t let a little thing like not being able to see thwart her aspirations of athletic greatness. She joined her school’s track team as a long distance runner. But that wasn’t challenging enough for her.
“I’ve always liked not being on the ground as much as I like being in the air,” the former gymnast and avid equestrian jumper told the Arizona Republic.
And so it was that Aria decided to try her hand at pole vaulting.
“I just wanted the chance because I knew I could do it once I figured it out,” she told Arizona Sports.
But Valley Christian coach Dan Kuiper wouldn’t let her compete– at first. But Aria, whose persistence is the stuff of legend, pestered him until he gave in.
Despite not being able to see anything while speeding down the runway, and despite the fact that she had only about half a dozen practices, Aria cleared seven feet in the Southeast Valley Championships– well above the qualification threshold for next month’s state divisional championship meet.
How does she do it? Besides natural athletic ability, Aria’s performance is based on steps and memory. She counts her steps and times the planting of her pole accordingly.
“She has an uncanny feel for where’s she’s at,” Valley Christian pole vault coach Perry Farley told Arizona Sports. “Being blind most of her life she’s had to adapt to it. The big thing was trying to get her to let go of the pole at the right time. I told her as soon as you start to feel you are as high as you are going to get then let go.”
“Aria has the courage to do anything regardless of whether or not she is going to fail,” mom Maria Giordano told Arizona Sports.
But there hasn’t been much failure since Aria picked up that pole.
“I’ve always just gone for it,” she told Arizona Sports. “Next, I want to clear 7’6″ at state and come back next year and get up to nine feet.”
“You can’t be afraid of what you can’t see.”