For a good portion of the past three years, senior Anna Baack has dedicated her athletic pursuits to regaining the form that made her a pole vault national qualifier in just the third meet of her collegiate career. At times, the struggle has been real. As Baack says, those were “very frustrating” moments as she tried to figure out why her body wouldn’t do what her mind knew she was capable of.
As a sophomore, a cranky right shoulder seemed to throw her off her game. Baack no-heighted in four-straight meets to finish the 2019 indoor season. The breakthrough performance her freshman year had proven Baack could overcome obstacles, as she did after ACL surgery her senior year of high school. This was something a little bit different.
“I think maybe I took it for granted because I had done it once and thought that I would just keep getting better and better and better,” Baack said. “I was naïve to think that. Definitely my sophomore and junior year were really frustrating. I was uncertain like, ‘Why isn’t this coming naturally?’ My body didn’t really know how to pole vault anymore. It was really about mental issues and not having confidence and not feeling like myself vaulting. Through that time I’ve learned to be resilient and I’ve grown my confidence so much.”
Everyone around these parts knows Anna’s father, Randy Baack, Concordia’s Head Athletic Trainer since 2002. According to Randy, Anna simply appeared more relaxed and at peace heading into her senior year. Things seemingly began to click at the 2020 GPAC indoor championships when Anna cleared 10’ 8 ¾” for her best performance since her freshman year. Then last week (Dec. 5), at the kickoff meet to the 2021 indoor season, Anna got “Baack” (a pun Randy could appreciate) to a national qualifying level in the type of feel-good story that makes sports special.
Randy isn’t afraid to admit that he got teary-eyed and emotional. Of course he also cries when watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” – but that’s a whole other story. When someone with Anna’s infectious positive energy and faith-filled spirit triumphs over adversity and months of self-doubt with one big vault over a suddenly not-so-impossibly high bar, well that’s a pretty awesome and powerful moment. Anna didn’t even need “Air Baacks” to do it.
“This past weekend I was thinking, ‘I’m going to qualify. I have the ability and I’m just going to do it,’” Anna said. “And I did, so that was cool. I just needed to have the confidence that I can do it.”
The pole vault has been part of Anna’s life since a young age. No, Randy had not been a pole vaulter back in his peak athletic days. (Of course Randy remains an impressive trick-shot artist with a basketball). Anna first got a look at the pole vault as a youngster when she followed her father to track meets at Concordia. One might say that Anna was mesmerized by what she saw. The presence within the community of highly regarded pole vault coach Jason Berry only furthered her interests.
“I just always gravitated towards the pole vault area,” Anna recalls. “I thought it was so cool what they were doing. I would always sit and watch them. I’ve known Jason forever. One time Jason said, ‘You should try pole vault.’ And I was like, ‘Sure, why not.’ So I did, but it wasn’t until my junior year of high school I decided this was my sport and the one I wanted to pursue.”
The Baack family has been extremely appreciative of the influence Coach Berry has had on Anna. Randy has even been known to supply Berry with Mountain Dews in order to help keep him caffeinated throughout long track meets. At the same time, Berry has been right there alongside Anna through the ups and downs, the injuries, the frustrations and those moments of joy.
Berry felt like Anna had turned a corner during last indoor season and believed she would have qualified for the 2020 outdoor national championships that never happened. Anna had the right attitude and response. She didn’t allow the cancellation of the season to set her back mentally.
Said Berry, “I’m very excited to see how high she can go this year. As always, we have technical things to work on, but I believe she has a lot of higher bars to clear. I’m excited to watch her soar. Best of all, she is an amazing friend, leader, teammate and athlete. I’m very blessed to coach her.”
During those times of despair, Anna could count on a quality dad joke from her father, who always makes time to make others laugh. As part of her candidacy for homecoming queen, Anna even had her dad make an appearance in a promotional video. At the end of the video, they high-fived each other – with Air Baacks. For so many reasons, Randy is proud of Anna (and Anna’s younger sister Abby).
“It’s okay to see your kid struggle,” Randy said. “To see her bounce back with all that support from Jason and her teammates is just so awesome. She’s always trying to help other people and build people up. For all of our athletes it takes a toll on your body over four years and mentally it becomes a grind. To see Anna get back to that level was just really cool. She’s worked so hard.”
Randy’s pride shines through in obvious ways – so too does his love for all things Concordia. Surely those feelings were passed on to Anna, who really couldn’t see herself going anywhere else for college. With Randy and her mother Jill present on the day she officially signed to compete as a Bulldog, Anna had said, “I’m excited to stay here. Growing up at Concordia makes me love it that much more.”
Sure Anna may roll her eyes at some of the dad jokes, but she surely would feel a void without them. As Randy discussed Anna’s resiliency and her recent triumph, he read a joke that was written on a letter he had received from a former student-athlete.
“Why did Santa’s helper feel sad? Because he had low elf-esteem.” It brought a smile to Randy’s face.
Anna’s “elf-esteem” is quite healthy these days. As things are looking right now, the best is yet to come for the Psychology and Behavioral Science major. Dare we call her the family’s best athlete? Just don’t ask Randy that question because you may get a long-winded answer about his former days on the baseball diamond. Says Randy, “As parents, Jill and I have been really lucky with Anna and Abby.”
So what’s it like having Randy as a father? Says Anna, “All the jokes that everyone hears here, we have heard at least one or two times at home. But yes, he is wonderful. He’s one of my biggest supporters. He’s always been there to encourage and help me. What you see around here is what he is all the time. He’s so full of joy and life. He loves working here and loves working with the athletes, but he puts his family first. I’m proud that he’s my dad.”
Well this story keeps getting sappier than a Christmas tree. Though Anna prefers the attention be on her teammates (who she credits along with Coach Berry for her success) and for all glory to go to God, her story of perseverance deserves recognition. When it comes to excelling in the pole vault, Anna is Baack.
“This year I just feel like it’s a different mindset for me,” Anna said. “I can’t take this for granted. For one, this is my last season. Two, you never know what’s going to happen. COVID took last season away. Now we’re back and I don’t want to take one second for granted. I just want to live in the moment and be grateful for the opportunity to be vaulting right now.”