Cimran Virdi spends a lot of time thinking about physics, but she’s not majoring in it. Virdi is a pole vaulter for MIT Track and Field — and a senior majoring in electrical engineering and computer science. In addition to physical training, Virdi uses her knowledge of physics to help launch herself ever higher over the crossbar. So far it’s working; Virdi just captured another NCAA DIII Championship title in the event. She credits her success in part to Coach Patrick Barragán ’08, SM ’12, PhD ’15.
“Not many people can say their coach has a PhD,” she says. “Pole vaulting is a sport that requires an understanding of physics and he gets that — it gives him a big upper hand.”
Recruited out of high school as a Division I athlete, Virdi, who is originally from Canada, has long been a top pole vaulter with dreams of the Olympics. So why MIT? Virdi says it was an easy choice. “It was between MIT and UCLA and a coach told me to pick the school based on where I would be happiest if I were injured,” she says. Her decision became obvious.
Though a Division III school, MIT has a history of a strong track and field program, collecting 286 All American awards, 34 of those awards to pole vaulters. Halston Taylor, director of MIT’s track and field program, has a simple explanation for this dominance: “Tremendous coaching,” he says.
Virdi herself has earned three NCAA DIII Championship titles and the NCAA DIII women’s pole vault record at 14 feet. She also holds the rookie record for MIT women’s indoor pole vault as well as the varsity record for outdoor, along with numerous other accolades.
To continuously increase her athletic performance while taking on an MIT course load, Virdi leans on both her coach and teammates for help. “If I don’t understand something, so many of my teammates are Course 6, and I can work with them,” she says.
Virdi also looks to her teammates for motivation: “Not many other schools are filled with engineers, so it can be hard to stay motivated for such a high level of academics. That’s just not the case here.”
Virdi, who is spending the summer training in Boston, hopes to qualify for the Olympic team in 2016 or 2020. Look for her on Team Canada.