Young alumni jump over records and slash through competition

Peter Lichtenberger and Ava Wade Currie achieve win in collegiate pole vaulting, fencing
Young alumni jump over records and slash through competition

“If you are trying to go to college for athletics, just love your sport. Do it [because] you want to do it.”

— Ava Wade-Currie '23

The phrase student-athlete is not unfamiliar to many Upper School (US) students, who seek to balance academic and athletic goals during their four years at the school. However, for some, the commitment to both learning and developing their skills as athletes isn’t left behind at graduation. For alums Peter Lichtenberger and Ava Wade Currie (both ’23), the student-athlete balance has continued into college. Peter and Ava are currently pursuing their educational and athletic aspirations at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and Northwestern University in Illinois as athletes on the pole-vaulting and fencing teams, respectively.

Peter first picked up pole vaulting in his sophomore year. Peter’s experience in rock climbing and gymnastics led him to “jump” at the opportunity to pole vault, when it was suggested to him by US Track and Field Head Coach Charlie O’Rourke, he said.

“Sophomore spring in high school, Coach Charlie didn’t have any pole vaulters,” Peter said. “He asked us if anyone could jump. I had a background in rock climbing and gymnastics, and thought I’d give it a shot.”

However, Peter had to seek additional training and resources to gain the experience he felt he needed, making the balance between his sport and school life even more stressful, he said.

“Charlie gave me all the support I could ask of him, but it was something BB&N didn’t have specific facility or funding for. It was hard to manage. The only place to practice was a 30-minute  drive. It was twice a week and would eat into Tuesdays and Thursdays when I should have been doing homework.”

Despite these challenges, Peter continued to improve: by his senior year, he set an Independent School League (ISL) record with a vault of 15 feet, 7 inches, broke the school’s overall record with 16 feet, 2 inches, won the ISL Most Valuable Player Award in all field events, and took home the Boston Globe All-Scholastic Award for the spring season.

When choosing a college to attend, Peter looked for a program where he could continue to pole vault while also maintaining a healthy relationship with the sport, he said.

“I wanted to go somewhere where I could be on the team and be part of the community but also have a life beyond the team. I wanted my college career to be more than track-school, track-school.”

Peter appreciates the higher level of competition he has found in college, he said.

“It’s definitely a great change to have other pole vaulters on the same team and to cheer for each other. It’s also the first time I’ve had people jump at bars I am jumping at. In the ISL, I would start after everyone else had ended, jumping alone.”

Although his competition has improved in college, Peter’s 2023-24 winter season was a success, he said. As a freshman, Peter won the University Athletic Association Indoor Championship by jumping a height of 15 feet, 7.25 inches. In addition, his fifth place finish at Division III National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Nationals with a 16 foot, 6 inch jump, earned him a new personal record and All American status. Peter’s season surprised even himself, he said.

“It meant a ton. I didn’t come into it thinking I would place in the top eight. It was a hectic moment, it took two or three attempts, but I made it into the top eight, and it felt great.”

However, to Coach Charlie, Peter’s potential in pole vaulting was first evident when watching him at a local meet at Boston University in high school, he said.

“Watching him vault, he went over 14 feet, 0.5 inches, and I thought to myself, ‘Wow he’s beating a lot of college kids. He’s got
it.’” Coach Charlie also has his own secrets to athletic success, he said.

“Give it your all, try your best, and most importantly, be patient. It won’t all come right away, but you need to stay competitive. Your mindset should be ‘I want to do better each week.’”

Ava has also continued her sport into college on the fencing team at Northwestern University. An épée fencer, Ava helped her team win the USA Fencing’s Junior Olympics in Charlotte, North Carolina and the team’s fi rst Central Collegiate Fencing Conference team title. Ava had a 68% win rate across the season and finished sixth at the 2024 NCAA Midwest Regional competition. Ava began fencing at the age of 7 after she was drawn to the sport by one of her favorite childhood television shows, she said.

“I started to fence when I was 7 years old. I saw it one day on ‘Jessie’ on Disney XD, thought it was super cool, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Ava continued fencing because she truly loves the sport, she said.

“I decided to fence in college because I enjoy competing, I love the thrill, win or lose, and I enjoy being with a team. It’s been so much more fun in college. It’s team bouts, as opposed to fencing being more individual before college.”

Ava largely trained outside of school, complicating her life as a student-athlete, she said.

“I went through most of the [college] process myself with my own coach. BB&N is good in other sports about sending people to college, but fencing didn’t get as much love. [It was] sort of like the ‘middle child’ of athletics.”

Ava’s secret to success was simple, she said.

“If you are trying to go to college for athletics, just love your sport. Do it [because] you want to do it.”

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