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Schipper twins push each other to go higher in pole vault

Laura Myers | Thursday, January 29, 2009

Notre Dame’s top two pole vaulters are not your typical athletes.

One is a junior that has worked hard to go from slightly above average to winning two of his first four meets this season. The other is an upstart freshman who vaulted 17 feet in high school, finished fourth at the Junior Nationals meet and has already won his event at one meet.

The two are fierce competitors and often each other’s top competition – and they’re brothers.

“It’s something I’ve never experienced before,” said freshman Kevin Schipper about competing and training with his older brother, Matt. “We push each other. It actually helps a lot because we’re both really high level. It works out well.”

The older Schipper has beaten his brother three times this season, while Kevin has topped Matt once.

“One of us hits a big height, the other one comes back and hits a bigger height,” Matt said. “We just keep getting better, both of us, until eventually one has to win. You can’t both win.”

Both brothers have already set marks high enough to qualify for the Big East indoor championships in March, but each has different goals for that meet.

“I don’t know what the Big East meet record is,” Matt said. “But I want to win the Big East and set the meet record. I also want to make it to nationals.”

Kevin’s goals are not quite as high – for the indoor season, at least.

“I haven’t done as well as last year,” he said, “But I’m working on it. I want to compete in the Big East, and give it my best shot to go to nationals … I jump better in the outdoor season. My height is better.”

Matt said he hopes to continue to do well into the outdoor season.

“If I do beat the indoor school record, I just want to stay at that level,” he said.

Kevin said that seeing the progress he’s making is his favorite part of vaulting.

“When you make a height that you’ve never made before,” he said. “It took me 35 attempts, over the course of years, to hit 17 feet. It gave me chills. It was really exciting.”

Matt, on the other hand, enjoys messing up.

“You just do front flips off of the pole,” he said. “The fact that you can go through that pain and not get injured – that’s the fun part.”

Pole vaulting is not new in the Schipper family, which consists of nine children – one girl and eight boys ranging in age from seven to 27.

Both of the Schippers’ older brothers were All-American vaulters at Div. III Rose-Hulman, and Kevin said that their younger brothers will probably try it in high school as well.

“Our oldest brother was a distance runner [in high school],” Kevin said. “His coach pulled him over to pole vault and said ‘Try it.’ So he did. In a couple of years, he ended up doing really good, went to nationals a few times … Everyone else just decided to try it, too.”

The pair still does not acknowledge pole vault as the family sport, however.

“We’re actually a family of gymnasts,” Kevin said. “Coming from gymnastics is good for pole vaulting because it’s kind of the same thing. A lot of people says it’s like gymnastics on a stick, which it pretty much is.”

In fact, they said, gymnastics is still a large part of their training.

“We do as much gymnastics as we can,” Kevin said. “They have a high bar and rings over in Loftus, so we’ll stay after practice sometimes and get in some time on those.”

Along with that, their training consists of vaulting twice a week, lifting weights three times a week and running six days a week.

However, Matt said, they maintain a good tone at practice despite the hard work.

“Before practice, we throw a football around, try to keep the team together,” he said. “We mess around a lot. That keeps it exciting.”

“Then when it’s time to practice, we’re ready to go,” Kevin added.

With all of the work in and out of practice, the brothers spend a lot of time together. They are also both residents of Fisher Hall.

This would put a strain on a lot of fraternal relationships, but the Schippers said that’s not the case.

“Honestly, we get along like 95 percent of the time,” said Kevin.

And the other five percent of the time just helps to fuel their competition.