Late one night, sophomore Victoria Wesley received a text message from Shean Conlon asking her to open her e-mail. Wesley found an in-depth e-mail about how he could improve her performance, and Wesley could tell how much time he put into it. A husband, coach and former athlete, Conlon is a mad scientist at heart.

Unpaid volunteer assistant coach Shean Conlon has transformed the Michigan men’s and women’s pole vaulting program through innovative techniques and a contagious passion for the art of the pole vault.

Originally from Colorado, Conlon has two major interests – archaeology and pole vaulting. At Oberlin he earned a degree in archaeology, and then a master’s degree in exercise physiology at Eastern Michigan University some years later. Through his connections at Eastern Michigan, he met Michigan men’s track coach Fred LaPlante.

His love for pole vaulting runs deep. He tried to articulate why exactly he cannot get away from the sport.

“The actual physical experience of it is like a roller coaster ride,” Conlon said. “There’s nothing like the feeling of jumping into a fifteen foot fiberglass pole and feeling it bend on the energy you created – it’s kinda weird – but by far the greatest feeling is once you get upside down and the pole thrusts you into the air.

“The greatest part for me is the instant when you peak and gravity has not taken over yet and you stall out above the bar and in that instant you are weightless.”

A man who has done archaeological digs all around the world is now in charge of both the men’s and women’s pole vaulting, a role that no coach at Michigan has filled in a long time.

One of the most impactful things Conlon brings to Michigan is his fervent passion and his constant desire to be better. A true competitor as an athlete, Conlon tries to bring that same intensity to his coaching profession.

“I want to be the best coach I can be, and I want to help them in every way I can,” Conlon said. “It’s almost like an obsession.”

Conlon has the pole vault constantly on his mind. When he is done with practice, he goes home and does more work, whether it is watching film or learning new scientific approaches.

Training smartly is key for Conlon. His master’s degree has aided him in applying the physiology to the techniques he uses in practice. His recent study of bio-mechanics and physics has helped him to understand which methods can help vaulters most.

One of the coaching methods he uses is periodization, a helpful technique to set time increments between activities in order to increase productivity.

Conlon bases the training on the individual and how long it takes that person to learn a new technique before moving on.

“I just spend all my time on the vault,” Conlon said. “I go to different coaching clinics, I’ve gotten different certifications, I just get information from anywhere and everywhere I possibly can. Every year I try new things.”

Conlon’s perfectionism has rubbed off on the athletes he coaches. After every vault, he tells them exactly what went wrong — even if it was a good vault — and how they can improve on it for the next vault.

“Once they saw that my passion matched their own, it’s been great,” Conlon said. “There are always ups and downs, but I feel like they trust me and I trust them, and it works out.”

Though working with two teams might seem burdensome, Conlon embraces the challenge.

“I am the first coach in a long time to work with both the men and the women so I am in a unique situation,” Conlon said. “I have to let two different groups of people know what’s going on with the athletes and have to figure out who I’m going to travel with on each weekend.”

Conlon has a way of bringing out the best in the athletes he coaches, helping them reach their potential.

“He sets your goals so high and you don’t realize,” sophomore Kiley Tobel said. “Goals at the beginning of the season made me think he was crazy, but he makes you realize how attainable they, are makes you realize what you are capable of.”

Conlon also tries to make vaulting larger than life for the athletes to instill confidence and passion amongst them. When Conlon came to Michigan, Tobel remembers her outlook on the sport changed because she knew he would make her the best vaulter she could be.

“It’s not just something I do anymore it’s really a part of my life,” Tobel said.

“It gets scary, but if you don’t trust yourself, you’re going to fail that every time,” Wesley added. “You have to have full confidence or else its not going to work. Shean has taught me that.”

Conlon only wants the best for all of his athletes, as he sets every type of goal one can imagine. His goals are often lofty, but in his mind, anything is possible. He walks around with a sheet of paper, where he writes down all of the meets for the year with the long-term goals. When Tobel took a peek at what it said under “outdoor,” she saw “Olympic trials.” Tobel just thought to herself, “Oh my God, this is ridiculous.”

Maybe Conlon is a great coach because he doesn’t play favorites and gives everyone the same amount of attention. Maybe it;s because he barely sleeps. Maybe it’s because he is young and can relate to the athletes easily.

Either way, the Michigan track and field teams have a gem at the pole-vaulting coaching spot who is helping young men and women reach new heights through his love of the sport, fiery enthusiasm and unique work ethic.

Conlon believes that he will be at Michigan for the next couple of years, but even Tobel and Wesley admit that he will soon be recruited by some of the best track and field programs in the country.

“I could see myself coaching for the rest of my life, but that’s such an absurd thought,” Conlon said. “If I get to the point where I am satisfied with everything that I have done, I could see myself moving on because there is no longer that fire to get better and better. So far, I really want to get better and all my athletes to get better. After that, I could see myself getting back into archaeology or teaching.”

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