2019 has started with a bang for Australian representative pole vaulter Liz Parnova, and she puts it down to a happy mindset and a refreshed athlete-lifestyle balance.
The 24 year-old recently achieved a qualifying standard for the 2019 World Championships in Doha after clearing a new personal best of 4.56m off just 12 steps at a club meet in Perth.
The result was the latest – but best indicator yet – of a new potentially career defining chapter that is signifying a new maturity and understanding of her athlete craft as she undergoes something of new-born experience in pole vault.
After the harrowing experience of missing a second chance to compete at the Olympic level in 2016, Parnova has revealed the emotional toll of the comeback trail as she attempted to get her career back on track after she’d suffered a broken leg in training, just weeks out from the Rio selection trials.
On return to full fitness she enjoyed some initial success but then found that she was in something of a rut, as she began to question whether her heart was still entirely dedicated to the sport she loves, knowing that there would be no guarantees.
"I’ve been able to, what seems to me, turn my career around. I had a few pretty average years and it came to a point where I was just not sure if it was worth me going on, making all these sacrifices, and I’m not reaping the reward of what I felt I was capable of doing,” she said candidly.
"I said to myself before this preparation that it was going to be my last crack and if I couldn’t do something decent in what I thought I was capable of, then I think it was time for me to stop. But it has honestly been the best six or seven months of prep that I’ve ever had – hands down – and I just feel like I’ve kind of changed my life for the better away from pole vault and it’s just reflecting now in what’s happening on the track.
"Everything is just amazing for me right now in my life,” she said. "I’m really happy, I’m content, I’m healthy, I’m fit, I’m training really well, I’m in a really good head space and everything is really kind of falling together nicely, naturally without me overthinking it or trying too hard. It’s been crazy and it’s really hard to describe.”
It is a stark contrast from the frustration and exasperation that had begun to seep into her psyche in the long months back from injury.
"After my leg break I had a decent comeback I’d say, I jumped a PB and then I kind of fell again and I thought how many times can I handle going up and down, up and down without achieving something that I feel I’m capable of? I mean even for me jumping 4.56, I mean yeah it’s an amazing steppingstone but I’m worth so much more and I’m capable of jumping so much higher this season.
"I’m going to celebrate that in its moment and it’s already behind me now and I’m looking forward at what’s next.”
Parnova says there are a number of factors that have significantly helped in re-stoking her passion for pole vault that includes a fulfilling relationship with partner Daniel and the flexibility and support of her employer at the Fremantle Herald.
But when it comes to the day to day reality of high performance sport, she singled out the tough love and support of her coach Paul Burgess – who himself is a legend of Western Australian pole vault.
"There were days where I would work for six hours and then come straight to training and do a three hour gym session, and in that session I have literally thought I was going to cry because I was so tired and so sore but, I’ve honestly pushed my body at places where I never thought it could go and that is a massive thanks to Paul.”
Although her father Alex Parnov still heads up the WAIS pole vault program, the group has collectively focused on a remodelled arrangement that has seen Paul take a more direct involvement with Liz’s preparation which she credits with unlocking a new found zest for the behind the scenes grind.
"With dad, it was really hard for him to push me because I am his daughter and there were times where I thought I could be doing more but I was scared of getting injured but Paul kind of took over that side of things this prep and said, you know what, we’re going to push you, it’s a risk but it’s something we need to do because we’ll never know if we don’t.
"It’s at that point now. I honestly haven’t had a bad session. I know the work I’ve put in and I know only good things can come from what I’ve done.
The London 2012 Olympian also said that linking up with WAIS sport dietitian Emily Eaton had given her a new perspective on the broader picture of athlete preparation.
"It’s like a snowball effect. Back then we knew, I need to put on weight but I needed to put on muscle, so I put all my faith into Emily and did exactly as I was told and my weight was going up and my skinfolds were dropping so that was proof that I was getting stronger,” she said.
"I started lifting heavier, I started running faster, my body started to change. I look like the other girls on the circuit now, I look strong, I look robust, I don’t look like I’m going to break or get injured and it’s kind of just been a snow ball effect.
"Then I started jumping pb’s off every run but I know it’s all because of that work that I’ve put in. it’s all mental, you know when you’ve been hitting targets, in your mind, there’s no way that it’s not going to get better.
And with that belief in tow, it is now full focus on the road ahead to ensuring that she is on the plane to Doha next September. Parnova says a top two position at April’s Australian Athletics Championships in Sydney should get it done, but she won’t be resting by that point either.
"I think I’m going to spend the Australian season off 12 steps and we’ll just try and jump as high as I can and see where that limit is.
"My goal for Doha is to make the final and to be a contender and as you know, when you’re in the final, anything can happen.
Anything can happen, but there’s also a skill in making it happen for yourself. If this is to be a career defining chapter for Parnova, she’s more determined than ever to ensure that she’s the one writing the verse.