Road To The Olympic Games

Canadian pole vaulter Newman returns to competition after battling injuries most of last year

Alysha Newman might have been wearing a megawatt smile when she soared to pole vault gold at the Commonwealth Games last March. But the 24-year-old was competing through pain so bad, she'd barely been able to practise.

The 24-year-old battled through pain to win gold at Commonwealth Games in March

Despite battling a knee injury that had plagued her since the summer of 2016, Newman was still able to tie her Canadian record when she won a Commonwealth Games gold in Melbourne last March. (Matt Dunham/The Associated Press)

Alysha Newman might have been wearing a megawatt smile when she soared to pole vault gold at the Commonwealth Games last March.

But the 24-year-old was competing through pain so bad, she'd barely been able to practise.

"Oh yeah, it was horrible," Newman said. "I had taken two weeks off before where I was hardly doing any workouts, and I was just doing rehab and treatment, and then I'd compete and that was it."

Despite battling a knee injury that had plagued her since the summer of 2016, Newman tied her Canadian record in winning Games gold in Melbourne.

If she believed she could grin and bear it through the end of the season, that ended in May when she heard a pop at the Prefontaine Classic. She was diagnosed with a torn patellar tendon that eventually shelved her season.

Seven months later, Newman says she's 100 per cent, and she'll kick off what could be two huge seasons Friday in a meet at the University of Toronto.

"Oh my gosh, I've been waiting so long for January to come," she said.

Timely return

If there was a season to miss, last summer was it. The next two seasons, on the other hand, include the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, 2019 world championships in Doha, Qatar, and the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Newman has set a few goals.

"Definitely I want to be a world medallist, that's No. 1," she said. "A Pan Am medallist, that's another one. And I need to make sure by the end of the season I'm ranked top-5 in the world, and leading into 2020 I think that's very reasonable to do, especially if I want to be competitive in 2020."

Now back in top form, they're definitely reachable, she said. Newman's injury came and went through the 2017 season, but "hit really bad" last year. It affected more than her knee, throwing her body off balance. Her hip hurt. She rolled her ankle. The speed and strength of her runup and takeoff suffered.

"I wish I could tell people how great practice is, and I can't believe how much that injury was hindering my takeoff," said Newman, whose Canadian record is 4.75 metres. "So now that I don't have that, I just feel like I can jump the moon.

"It's so weird, I was telling my coaches after practices when I was back full-time for a good two months, I would still be sitting there waiting for the pain to come, and there was nothing happening. There was no pain. I had been jumping on it for two years with that pain. It was such a habit to feel it, that I would sit there thinking 'Am I hurting, or am I not?'

"It's gone from where it was just such a norm, to where I don't even feel it, it's never on my mind any more."

Side gig as a model

Newman made the most of her time off. She visited friends. She pursued a modelling side gig, landing a job in Nordstrom's campaign for its 2019 spring collection. She designed her friend's kitchen remodel.

"I was able to visit a lot of people and really take a mental break of healing myself, but also rekindling friendships," she said. "I was able to do things that I could just say yes to . . . it was really just stepping into different things that I'm really passionate about off the track."

Along with this weekend's meet, Newman will compete next month in the IAAF World Indoor Tour, that includes five stops in Europe.

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