Kubik goes from ‘borderline’ to program record setter

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James Kubik pole vaulting. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

For Marquette track and field senior pole vaulter James Kubik, walking on to the team after trying out was not the only challenge he faced during his four years on the team.

Originally coming to Marquette for its biomedical engineering program, the Carol Stream, Illinois, native found his way onto the team, competing as a pole vaulter at a school close to home.

After being on the “borderline” of making the team, track and field head coach and director Bert Rogers said Kubik steadily improved over time and became one of the team’s biggest assets.

“He was a bit of a wily freshman coming in, but every year he got better and got stronger,” Rogers said.

Rogers said pole vault is typically an event that is a point swing at conference meets, meaning that it is important to have someone who can succeed in that event in order to contribute to the team’s overall point total. Kubik was somebody who the team began to look toward to score.

One moment, in particular, was when Kubik placed fifth in the BIG EAST indoor meet of his first year. Rogers said that Kubik had been struggling earlier in that meet but came through by recording a mark of 4.45 meters in the pole vault, ranking No. 9 in the all-time rankings at Marquette.

The success came to an unfortunate halt. In March 2019, Kubik tore his Achilles tendon, virtually ending his career despite his attempt to return in this outdoor season, which was then canceled due to COVID-19.

“Like a lot of Achilles injuries, it was just a random thing, all of a sudden one day it just went out,” Rogers said.

As an athlete who had been competing for so much of his life, Kubik said that the injury was definitely hard on him.

“I had to fight through it and find out where my spot was,” Kubik said. “Competing in athletics your whole life and having that come to a stop … you kind of lose your identity when that happens.”

Kubik said that since a little more than a year has passed since the injury, he has come a long way physically. He also said the injury taught him a lot about what was best for him moving forward.

“I had so much support from my team, but I had to actively pursue my health the whole time because that’s something I can’t compromise,” Kubik said. “Even though I couldn’t compete at a high level anymore I had to take care of myself.”

Rogers said he is proud of how Kubik navigated the situation, noting that dealing with an injury and going through rehab isn’t easy.

“James grew up a lot in his time here, and I think he handled everything a very mature way,” Rogers said. “It’s obviously really disappointing, but he adapted well by focusing on his schoolwork and still coming to practice to help out and be a leader.”

Kubik, a fifth-year senior, said though the NCAA Division I Council has granted an extra year of eligibility to spring sport athletes in relief of the cancellation of spring competition, he’s ready to move on.

“I’ve already overstayed my welcome,” Kubik said jokingly. “I’m ready to graduate, ready to pursue my career and ready to create a world of wealth for myself not just with physical things but in terms of knowledge and relationships.”

After graduating with a degree in biomedical engineering, Kubik said he hopes to move out west to Denver — which is closer to his family — and work in the field of orthopedics. He took part in a co-op involving orthopedic devices, specifically spinal correction, during his time at Marquette.

Looking back at his time at MU, Kubik said one of his favorite memories was when he placed third at the 2017 BIG EAST outdoor meet in Madison with a mark of 4.51 meters, the No. 8 mark on the all-time Marquette ranking.

“That was really the pinnacle of my athletic career,” Kubik said. “It was one of the most beautiful meets I competed in, and I not only got a personal record, but I passed the record of all of my family members who used to be pole vaulters as well, which was a big deal to me.”

The senior has two older brothers and one younger brother who all competed in pole vaulting in high school, with the oldest going to compete at UIC as well.  He said they were each both supporters and coaches for him and helped him achieve what he did at Marquette.

Kubik said that despite the injury and the missed time, he wouldn’t trade his experience at Marquette for anything.

“When I came onto the team as a walk-on, I wanted to make friends, stay fit and be happy, and I did that,” Kubik said. “I’m thankful for the lessons I’ve learned and the perspective I’ve gained competing as a collegiate athlete, and I don’t regret a thing.”

Another thing Kubik said he was thankful for was the support and the love from his teammates.

“None of it would’ve been worth it if I didn’t enjoy rooming, practicing and staying connected with my teammates and friends,” Kubik said. “Competing is kind of a fleeting dream after college, so the biggest thing is hanging onto those friendships I gained along the way.”

This story was written by Matt Yeazel. He can be reached at matthew.yeazel@marquette.edu or on Twitter @MJYeazel.