With four athletes already on the Ohio State track and field team, volunteer assistant coach Richard Ebin thought his pole-vaulting unit was set heading into the 2014 season.
However, Madison Roberts felt like she could contribute.
Joining the team as a walk-on, Roberts was not even on Ohio State’s radar.
“I didn’t know of Madison Roberts,” Ebin said. “I didn’t know who she was. Nobody did.”
Now, reflecting on her collegiate career as a senior, Roberts feels like she raised the bar for the women’s pole vault team.
This started with her record-breaking performance in the 2017 Big Ten championship. Finishing third in the women’s pole vault, Roberts vaulted 13 feet, 4 1/2 inches to set an Ohio State record.
Ebin said this was a moment he would never forget.
“When she came off the pit, you could see it in her eyes,” Ebin said. “It wasn’t on the pit, it wasn’t in the air or anything like that, but coming off the pit at 4.03 is a moment I will remember forever.”
Roberts improved from 10 feet, 2 inches to 13 feet, 4 1/2 inches.Ebin said he had never seen anyone make such a drastic improvement in such a short amount of time.
Entering college, Roberts had always been a competitor. As a student at Iroquois High School in Elma, New York, Roberts was a three-time state qualifier in the pole vault and also a three-year captain on the soccer team.
As a multisport athlete, Roberts wanted that to continue while she was in college.
“Out of high school, I have always been an athlete and I have always done other sports as well, so I didn’t really want to give that up yet,” Roberts said.
Despite being a walk-on, Roberts was allowed to try out by Ebin.
She made sure to make the most of her opportunity.
“In the very first time she ran with a pole, I knew she could do it,” Ebin said. “I saw a person that was fast, able to run with a pole and put a pole up in the air.”
For Roberts, making the team was just the start of her journey as a Buckeye. In her first collegiate meet, Roberts was nervous about making a negative first impression.
“The first meet, having Ohio State on my chest obviously is scary,” Roberts said. “I didn’t want to be the walk-on who didn’t prove herself or didn’t meet the standards that they were looking for, so I was nervous.”
It took her three attempts to clear 10 feet, 2 inches. At the next meet, she improved by more than a foot and set her season high at 11 feet, 3 3/4 inches.
Throughout her Ohio State career, Roberts continued to work one-on-one with Ebin to improve. Ebin said during that time, Roberts continued to push herself and improve.
“When you are alone and there isn’t anybody pushing you and there isn’t anybody driving you — it takes a very special person to keep going and get better,” Ebin said.
At the first meet of her sophomore season, Roberts reached her personal record of 11 feet, 4 inches. By the end of that year, she had improved that record by another foot.
Even with the improvement on the track, Roberts isn’t just a pole vaulter. The two-time academic All-Big Ten has been the embodiment of the term student-athlete.
“There are three types of opportunities at Ohio State whether it’s academic, athletic or social, and usually something suffers,” Ebin said. “[Roberts] is the only person I have that has excelled at all of those.”