Pole vaulter Justine Dutton pushing for greatness

Daniel Park
Contributing Writer

Of all the New Year’s resolutions and promises to be kept, it took Justine Dutton 12 days to break a special goal close to her heart: a personal record in women’s pole vaulting for VCU Track and Field.

But if achieving her New Year’s resolution meant toppling her records from previous seasons and replacing them with her new record-breaking pole vault jump of 3.45 meters (11 feet, 4 inches), the determined Dutton will train vigorously to finish on top — a position she hasn’t placed in over a year.

From Jan. 12-26, Dutton recorded three consecutive jumps of 3.45 meters, once at the Captain’s Invitational in Newport News, Va. and at both meets held in Annapolis, Md. — the George Mason Patriot Games and the Navy Quad event — the latter being where the record was first attained.

“It is frustrating, jumping that same height because my all-time (personal record) in high school was 11 feet, 6 inches,” Dutton said.
“In college they go by different standards and increments so 3.45 meters is 11 feet and I’m right there,” she continued.

“Just watching the videos I’m over (the bar), it’s just like something small, but I know the next time that I do a (personal record), it’s not going to just be over by one height. I hope it’ll be by two heights.

Dutton has a passionate involvement with the VCU Athletics program, which she hopes to continue beyond her athletic career. She looks forward to applying for the Sports Leadership Program and wishes to pursue a career in sports marketing or promotion.

Dutton, an active member of the VCU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), pairs up with her team member, Andrew Shipp, to brainstorm ideas for future events on how to raise funds for the VCU Massey Cancer Center.

Dutton made the leap to Division I athletics from Caroline High School in Milford, Va., and the transition has been smooth. She gives most of the credit for her success to the relentless dedication of her mother.
Growing up, Dutton was driven to gymnastics practice five days a week, four hours a day. Her supportive mother chauffeured daily to the only facility available to accommodate her daughter’s training — an hour and 30 minutes away.

“Practice was from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. I always had dinner, homework in the car, always on the go,” she said.

After breezing through the levels approved by the USA Gymnastics Association, she skipped No. 6, (a compulsory level) and faced one of her biggest challenges: She was forced to stop gymnastics after sustaining a back-fracture injury in 2007. She retired as a gymnast after level eight, (anything over level 10 in gymnastics is considered Olympic-skilled) and after a one-year hiatus, she was introduced to pole vaulting as a high school junior.

She fell in love immediately, as the motions of pole vaulting were fairly similar to the moves she’s rehearsed through her life as a gymnast.

In her final season at Caroline High School, the only high school in the county, Dutton capped off her illustrious career by finishing in first place at the VHSL Group AA State Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

But Dutton is still not finished paying her dues.

Throughout her ups-and-downs, Dutton competed against recurring back pains. Her durable 5-foot-5 frame withstood competition after competition, but the biggest obstacle she had to overcome started her first year at VCU.
One of the bedrock influences in Dutton’s life, her aunt, was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2010. Treatment began immediately.

In June 2011, Dutton’s aunt participated and completed the Susan G. Komen race in Washington, D.C. Life was seemingly going smooth as Dutton’s aunt again crossed the finish line the following summer.

However, in fall 2012, she lost her battle with cancer.

Dutton visited her aunt frequently and shared a deep bond with her mother’s youngest sister. Since her freshman year, the pole-vaulter’s entire college career consisted of competing all while getting tested for three biopsies. All her test results were negative.

Such life experiences for Dutton were seeds that have grown into the taproot of her fortitude.

Whether it’s cheering her brother on as he hits home runs in high school, or sitting through the frigid temperatures to watch her sister cheerlead, she said that rich memories of sports and family will harbor in her heart as she trains for the future.

Dutton finished eighth at the Atlantic 10 Indoor Championships in Kingston, R.I. on Feb. 17.

She posted a height of 3.30 meters, short of her personal record but was among VCU’s top scorers at the event.

She will attempt to break her elusive record in the team’s next event at the ECAC/IC4A Track and Field Championships in Boston from March 1-2.

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