By Nicole Fitzsimmons, News Editor
Senior pole vaulter Lilly Brown has been adding extra spark and commitment to the Manhattan College track and field team for the past four years. Since she stepped on the track in Draddy, her career has been full of hardships and unexpected challenges, yet she still continues to progress and grow as an athlete, student and person.
As an economics major with an English minor pursuing law school and involved with extracurricular activities like Lotus Magazine, she balances a workload carefully, yet enjoys the busyness of being a student-athlete. According to GoJaspers, she was selected to be a part of the MAAC All-Academic Team in her 2019-20 indoor season, highlighting her ability to manage her various involvements and responsibilities to being on a team.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve been training,” Brown said. “So being on teams has just helped to keep me organized. I’m somebody who thrives when they’re busy. I need a tight schedule to keep myself organized and on time. So I definitely think that the team – not only does it help me stay motivated and stay organized but also just overall support. The team provides a lot of, you know, stress relief to me.”
Brown decided pole vaulting was her calling while in high school, when she realized she did not want to continue with gymnastics. She and a friend, who was also a former gymnast, went to try pole vaulting on her high school team. From there, her passion for the event grew.
“When I’m competing in the pole vault I am locked in and it’s one of those moments where everything else falls into the background and you’re just on the runway, taking your jumps,” Brown said. “So I really like that it challenges me in that way because I’m always forced to focus, which is something that I have a bit of a hard time doing.”
Her passion for pole vaulting let her continue the techniques she learned in gymnastics and helped her find more balance in life. Her excitement for the upcoming spring season is increasing, not only because of her love for the event but also because of the long wait to compete since the pandemic.
The wait to turn back to the track was increased for Brown, who suffered from a hip injury, stopping her from competing in the outdoor season of her freshman year.
“Once I found out that I needed surgery, it kind of was a relief for me to know that there was a solution to the issues that I was having,” Brown said. “So then once I got the surgery, it was really just about small victories moving forwards, like just being able to do calf raises was like the greatest day, it was so exciting. So after that, I think I learned the value of just taking training day by day as opposed to always having these huge goals. So I think that it ended up motivating me in the long run because I learned to appreciate being healthy a lot more than I did in the past.”
Assistant coach Kathryn Schumann, who was also recovering from surgery around the same time as Brown, has seen her grow since her injury and believes her passion and strength have really stood out as she recovered.
“If anyone else was in her shoes, I think there were a lot of times when a lot of other people probably would have given up or just said ‘I’ve got too much focus on in school’,” Schumann said. “But the fact that she stuck with it says a lot about who she is as a person.”
Schumann adds that between the challenges of recovery and added confusion from COVID-19, other athletes may have believed quitting would make more sense than persevering, as Brown did.
“A lot of different points with injury or COVID or school getting tougher, she could’ve just said, you know, I put a good time in but I’m done. But she just stuck with it. And now it’s almost over,” Schumann said.
Despite these setbacks, Brown was able to set a personal record at the MAAC Outdoor Track & Field Championship in the 2021 outdoor season with a leap of 3.50 meters, according to GoJaspers.
Schumann recalls being nervous for Brown, as the team was running late to the Rider competition. Schumann was worried Brown would feel unprepared in terms of warm-up time and that the nerves would affect her performance.
“I was really proud of her for how she handled it, because I was trying not to pass on my nerves onto her because that’s one thing you don’t want to do as a coach,” Schumann said. “We get nervous too, but it’s important to try and you know shield that away and all. By the time we got there, all the other girls were on the runway and she said, ‘Nope, we’re good. Screw it. I’m fine,’ hopped right on. She didn’t get the perfect warmup she wanted but still kind of went for it. And it was a good day.”
Yet, Brown focuses less on statistics now and more on her passion for the sport and her love for the team.
“I really, I think I love track more now than I ever did before I came to Manhattan, because in high school, my love for track was really motivated by winning and you know, PRing [breaking personal records], and it wasn’t about it wasn’t as much about the process. But now I love training every day.” Brown said. “I enjoy lifting heavy, I want to get better in the pole vault just because I love it, not because I’m always thinking about marks and places. So, I think I’m a better athlete for that reason, and I also just love my sport more.”
One of her most rewarding memories was her selection to fill in for a distance medley relay with her team.
“When I was a freshman, and I was dealing with my injury, I would have never thought that I would be someone who’s chosen to fill in for a 400,” Brown said. “Like, that was unimaginable to me, and the fact that I was able to fill that spot for my team and participate in something that, you know, relays are so team-oriented, so to be able to participate in something like that was terrifying. But also, I felt super grateful to be able to do that, because of how the past four years have gone. So that is one of my best memories. Also, it was just hysterical, because I’m not a distance runner. So it just turned out to be a super funny memory and something that we all joke about now.”
Brown’s presence truly helps her teammates, and Schumann describes her as a leader.
“There’s another girl on our team who just had surgery, so she’s able to use her past experience and help other people on this team,” Schumann said. “Definitely a leader, definitely trying to, you know, use her experiences to help younger people on the team, she’s definitely a leader. I just think her attitude, like she knows things can get hard but she knows that you can keep chipping away at it and overcome things you don’t think that you can.”
In the upcoming season, Brown is excited to compete with her team and really take in and reflect on her memories with the Jaspers.
“I’m really looking forward to going to the spring season with my team. Our performances at the MAAC championship for winter were super promising,” Brown said. “We have a lot of talent and a lot of depth. We’re a small team, but we make up for it. We make up for it with quality. For me, I was seated, I think fifth and I was able to climb up to second. So, I am feeling confident that I can, you know, be the best competitor on that day. Just at all the meets that I go to, that’s really my goal for spring. So I’m just super excited to get out there with my team and relish in the final season that I have with them.”
If she was to offer some advice to other pole vaulters, or athletes, she emphasizes relaxing, focusing and taking it day by day, which is a commentary on her growth in her years at Manhattan.
“Relax, I think, and not just for pole vaulters, but in general,” Brown said. “You think you know everything coming into college athletics and I learned so much in college that I didn’t know when I was in high school, and I think the more that you try to control what’s happening around you, the less you’re able to actually focus on yourself. So I think the best thing you can do is relax, take it day by day, and trust that your training is going to work out. And if it doesn’t, you’ll make adjustments. I think that’s the most important thing.”