For every track and field athlete, the ultimate dream is to represent your country at the Olympics. Pole-vaulter Darren Niedermeyer is no different. Next week at the U.S. Olympic Trials, he will try to jump the Olympic A standard and get into the top three to make Team USA.

Niedermeyer, who trains out of Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., with Bob Cervenka, has been pole-vaulting for 15 years. Unsuccessful at the last trials before the Beijing Games, Niedermeyer is all the more determined to make the grade this time round.

At 6’5 ½” and 203 lbs, Niedermeyer is long and lean, but that was not always quite the case.  He dropped 25 lbs. after graduating from the University of Wisconsin seven years ago by modifying his training, and shedding that weight has enabled him to jump considerably higher.

We caught up with Niedermeyer, who has been sponsored by USANA since 2007, to talk about this and much more.

M&F: How are your preparations going?

DN: My practices have been going really well. I’ve jumped the Olympic B standard and I know I am ready for it.  My personal best (5.71½m) is pretty much the A Standard (5.72m), so I know I can do it. Pole-vaulting is all about speed, and my speed is great right now.

M&F: Where do you rank in terms of the competition?

Right now the Olympic trials are wide open, there are some old guys jumping well and some young guys jumping real well.  I am right in the middle somewhere, right in the mix like everyone else.

M&F: You have tweeted that you are a big fan of Cross Fit training. Why does it work for you?

 DN: Cross-Fit training with Olympic weights from deadlift to snatch to clean and jerk – that’s the meat and potatoes of my training.  I do a lot of lower body explosive lifts with a lot of pull-push lifts for upper body, and we do a lot of gymnastics, rings and bar for when you are in the air.  

M&F: You dropped some serious weight after you left college. What prompted that?

DN: I had a lot of slow-twitch muscle because I was doing an excessive amount of squats and single leg squats.  In college, I never got into explosive lifting. I never got into cranes or hang cleans and a lot of other faster twitch movements. Once I started doing more of them I started losing weight. By then I started to jump way better.

M&F: You had an issue with an injury that caused you some issues in 2011, and even PRP didn’t really make a difference. How did you overcome that?

DN: Last year was a nightmare; I had a muscle imbalance in my quad where the outside of my quad was really tight, really overworked. And I had a vastus medialis teardrop pull right above the inside of my knee and I wasn’t firing. I got a Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) shot – they take out your blood, spin it around, separate the platelets and inject it into the affected area to use your own cells to quicken up the process of healing. That might have helped, but my biomechanics of running were still wrong. The shot might have helped, bit then I hurt it  as I continued to train.

M&F: How did you resolve the issue?

I went down many different roads.  I never thought I would be orthotics, but the orthotics were great and within a couple of weeks the pain just went away.  The knowledge I have gained from that injury has really helped me to understand how to run properly. Instead of rolling off the outside or inside part of my foot – I have super high arches – it helped me understand how I need to run more efficiently.  Doing it wrong for such a long period of time built up those muscles wrong.

M&F: As an elite athlete, what kind of a diet do you follow?

My diet is structured by the nutritionist from the Olympic Training Center in San Diego, CA.  She has done a great job of figuring out how I eat and catering to how I should eat around my training schedule.

I try not to eat much fat. I feel like there is fat in everything and that kind of builds up.  I eat greek yogurt, fruits, veggies, whole grains carbohydrates, a lot of chicken and some beef.

 MF: How are you feeling ahead of this crucial time your career?

 The stress has been a lot less this year because of the switch to this coach (Cervenka).  He said, “these are the parts that we are going to switch to fix,” and we fixed them. Now I am confident I can do it.

My mindset is pretty sound.  I’ve never been more knowing of what I need to do and never been more ready to do it. I just need to keep on competing and staying healthy. I think I am all set up. I just need to go and do it.