Track and Field

Whitefish’s Erin Wilde Pushes Through Scoliosis Pain to Big Sky Titles as a Griz

Wilde, a 2022 graduate of Whitefish High School, has earned two Big Sky Conference Championships in the high jump for the Griz

By Bill Speltz for 406mtsports.com
Sophomore Erin Wilde competes in the high jump for Montana. Courtesy of Montana Athletics

MISSOULA — Erin Wilde remembers vividly that day back in eighth grade when a doctor suggested she steer away from sports with her severe scoliosis.

Her response? Ignore the advice.

Six years later, there’s still pain from two curves in her spine. There’s also two Big Sky Conference high jump championships for the University of Montana sophomore.

“They said I wasn’t going to be able to do a lot of things,” she told 406mtsports.com. “I remember they told me I shouldn’t run long distance anymore because I was in (middle school) cross country at the time. I didn’t listen.

“I still ran until my sophomore year of high school and I was in a lot of pain. Then I switched to volleyball. I just always wanted to do something. A lot of doctors and a lot of different people told me it’s not good for me. I don’t think anybody else can tell you what’s not good for you and good for you. It’s really how you feel.”

Wilde, who is tuning up for the Griz-Cat Dual on April 6 in Bozeman, stayed with the high jump even when it seemed to be getting the best of her in high school. Most everyone who has tried the event hits a wall either in grade school, middle school or high school. There seems to be no getting past a certain height and trying can be painful when landing awkwardly or on the bar.

“At one point my junior year I said I liked long jump more. I knew that wasn’t true deep down. I was just super frustrated I couldn’t get over a few bars,” she confided. “My senior year I felt pretty alone and at first I took it as more of a shaping-me moment with the high jump when you know you can do it and just have to push it way more than you think.

Erin Wilde of Whitefish High School, Best of Preps athlete on June 8, 2022. Hunter DÕAntuono and Sarah Mosquera | Flathead Beacon

“By the end of the year, I did that. I brought that attitude into college, more of a focus on the future and not what’s going to happen. Looking back, you have to be happy with what you can do and not what you do. That helped me a lot and having my dad there and other family, coaches and friends.”

You might say Wilde is living out her father’s college dream. Kirk Wilde was a passionate, talented high jumper in high school but also happened to be an NCAA Division I-caliber football lineman. He opted to play football for Villanova, leaving track and field behind.

“He is a good coach and it really persuaded me and pushed me to want to follow in his footsteps,” said Wilde, whose father was a volunteer coach for Whitefish track and field. “He always said he missed out on track.

“I’ve always looked up to people that competed in track because it’s such a mental game. It’s mentally and physically challenging and I’ve just always wanted to compete.”

Wilde has her own mental tricks in an event that is among the most mentally challenging in all of track and field. For starters, she’s good at staying positive when that first miss occurs.

“She has a good temperament for it,” UM vertical jumps coach Erica Fraley said. “She doesn’t take anything too seriously, but I know her drive runs pretty deep.

“She’s got physical talent, but she also has a mental component that goes along with having enough intensity without overdoing it. She’s got a good balance with that. Some people work really hard at (the mental aspects) and train that. She’s a little more natural with that.”

Wilde knows from experience overthinking causes an imbalance for her competitively. She processes tips from her coaches but relies on her customized mental approach when she sets up to attack the bar.

“I’ve been told it’s a little weird when people ask me what I think about before I jump,” she said. “I tell them I think about nothing.

“I like to think of a white room with nothing in it and it’s just super freeing, like just lying down in the clouds. It took a long time to develop. In high school I was super nervous and even last year, indoor, I was super nervous and still didn’t do that. I got to outdoor and realized I’m here for me and wanting to have fun. I’m doing this for fun and to push myself.”

Wilde’s personal record is 5 feet, 9 3/4 inches. She cleared 5-8 1/2 to win the Big Sky indoor meet last month in Spokane. She won the Big Sky outdoor last May in Colorado with a jump of 5-9 1/4. She went on to place 38th at NCAA outdoor regionals.

The school record for indoor and outdoor is 5-10. Cathy Schwend set the outdoor mark and Brenda Naber the indoor mark, both in 1994.

Ask Wilde if she has ever cleared 5-10 and she will give you a grin. She wants her actions to do the talking.

“It’s definitely one of my goals,” she said. “It’s been one of my goals for a while to get the school record. I’m going to keep pushing until I can.”

Her scoliosis remains a challenge. She endures a lot of pain and does a lot of rehab work.

“I’ve had surgery and I’ve worn braces,” she said. “I still have a brace that I wear sometimes at practice.

“I’ve gone to several boot camps. I think that’s more of a mental part for me. I’ve met a few kids with scoliosis just from being in the hospitals and being at different camps. They ask me what I do and a lot of them want to do sports growing up.”

Majoring in business management and entrepreneurship, Wilde’s goal is to make sports part of her life’s work. At this point she’s keeping her options open, focusing on her studies and her high jumping.

Consistency is key, and that part is not easy in her event.

“I’ve been super consistent, but my last meet wasn’t my best,” she said of finishing sixth two weekends ago at the Hornet Invitational in Sacramento, California. “I was having a little bit of pain and needed a break and that’s why I didn’t jump (Friday in Montana’s Al Manuel Invitational).

“I’ll be ready to go by the next meet.”

Fraley, like Wilde, would rather not get into specifics when it comes to Wilde’s potential. But the coach does flash a big smile when asked about Wilde’s high jumping future.

“Time will tell,” Fraley said. “She’s a really good college athlete and she’s a sophomore. It’s finding that balance of where’s that next jump and capitalizing on her talent.

“I can tell you this: she’s definitely not done yet.”