Where do I even begin? Let’s start with the word “family.” I have been a family-oriented person since the day I was born. My support group includes my parents, grandparents, sisters, Godparents, nannies, Uncles, coaches, friends, and so many more people I know I am forgetting. They have loved, supported, disciplined, and raised me to be the best person I could be.
They didn’t just focus on making me the best gymnast or pole-vaulter, but they focused on making me the best person I could possibly be. My family is my backbone and means everything to me. Because of my family, I had an incredible childhood that I am so thankful for.
When I was three years old my mom signed me up for a gymnastics class. Little did she know that this would be the beginning of our life as we know it today. My coach said I had natural talent from the start, that I was a diamond in the rough. As I grew older I fell in love with gymnastics even more. From the age of 5 to about 9 I was a normal kid that wanted to compete in every sport possible. I played softball, volleyball, soccer, swimming, gymnastics and even dancing.
I became better and better with each new year. One of the tough things about gymnastics is that as you grow older it gets tougher, tougher on your body and tough to commit the time needed to improve and be competitive. Most teen gymnasts either quit due to injuries or to do cheerleading or other sports, but I stuck with it. My mom was my rock and kept me mentally strong throughout those years. I had a passion for gymnastics and knew one day it would pay off for not giving up.
When I was about 10 years old my parents decided to open a gymnastics business. My mom quit her job and my dad went down to part time in order to run the business. During this time I was in level 8 and competing extremely well.
My gymnastics coach at the time convinced my parents that I was extremely talented and could make it to the Olympic level. In November 2003, New Heights Gymnastics was open for business. The first couple of years were amazing. I placed second at state and made the regional team for level 8 and then competed one year at level 9.
By my eighth grade year I moved up to level 10, which is collegiate level gymnastics and only one level away from the Olympic level. I was on fire. The first year of level 10 was rough, being so young and throwing all those college skills. It set in that gymnastics was no joke anymore. With level 10 skills I had to be at 100% all the time or else I could be seriously injured.
Now, let’s talk about my dad. He was extremely athletic growing up. He played every school sport possible from football, to basketball, to baseball, to track and field. My dad started his college career off with a full ride scholarship to Northwestern University for football and track. He was a pole-vaulter for their track and field team. After being hospitalized three times for dehydration and realizing that football was not for him, my dad decided to concentrate on pole vaulting. So he transferred to Southeastern his third year for a full ride scholarship in track. This started a chamber of events that I never thought would have unfolded as well.
He was so excited to teach me something he loved and knew so well. At first pole vaulting was just a small hobby where I would train only on Sundays (gymnastics was Monday – Saturday). Very rarely did pole-vaulting interfere with my gymnastics. With gymnastics being so intense, it was kind of nice to have fun with a sport and not take it so serious. It was also nice with pole vaulting to be able to compete for my school and be recognized, since gymnastics was a club sport and had nothing to do with my school.
My pole vaulting career started off with a bang, considering the rate of progression for just practicing one day a week. In the seventh grade I was winning pole vault meets against seniors in high school. By my eighth grade year I jumped twelve feet at state and won. The success continued into my freshman year where I did not lose a single meet in state, started competing in national meets, and was named All-American.
My gymnastics coach became very jealous of the attention and success I was getting from pole vaulting versus gymnastics. He began tearing me down in front of younger gymnasts who looked up to me. He would tell them “I was not a real gymnast” because I did other sports. He would compare other gymnasts to me including my best friend making them show skills that I could do and would explain how they were so much better than my skills. My parents and I would fight and cry night after night about him. My mom would try to make me stronger and be positive by listening to the constructive criticism and blocking out the negative, but it was extremely hard.
Going into my sophomore year in high school it got to the point that I was coaching myself and he would ignore me. I kept pushing through and competing and excelling in gymnastics and even more in pole-vaulting. I never felt that pole-vaulting got in the way of my gymnastics. If I missed a gymnastics practice, I would come in on Sundays and make up my days that I missed. It was purely self-motivation and self-discipline. Because my parents and I were so dependent on this gymnastics coach and so afraid of change that we kept our blinders on and didn’t see the potential of change.
This is where my belief in God plays a big part in my life. This is where my mom truly preached that God had a plan. In April 2009 of my sophomore year in High school our head gymnastics coach planned to open up another gym right down the road from our gym, taking over half of our gymnasts and coaches. We almost went out of business and I thought I would never do gymnastics AGAIN.
I decided to finish out the season (coaching myself) and focus on Pole-vaulting in the summer. I ended up making it to gymnastics nationals that spring without a coach! That was incredible because there was no way I could have done that without keeping my faith in God. My parents knew they opened up this gym with their hearts and souls and not to make money. They knew they did it for the right reasons and they kept faith. My whole family and support system backed us and kept us going.
I went through a really rough time of depression and low self-esteem after losing my coach, but my parents kept supporting me and pushing me through. That summer of 2009 I made the U.S. world youth team and was able to pole vault in Italy for the USA. I had to leave my parents and travel to Italy to compete in a trial in which I made finals and came out 5th over all. I jumped 3rd place height but because of misses I came out 5th. The 3rd place girl jumped the height on 1st attempt, the 4th place girl jumped it on 2nd attempt, and I jumped it on 3rd attempt, which left me at 5th. But 5th place in the whole world for the youth age division is not too shabby considering all that I’ve been through in the past couple of months. My pole-vaulting took off from there.
I finished my senior year in gymnastics and was offered a few scholarships. However, I realized that collegiate gymnastics was not my path but a tool to help me with something else, pole-vaulting. I ended up with 35 full ride offers from different schools around the country. I chose the University of Georgia because of my love for the campus, the team, the coaches and I could see myself living there for the next four to five years. I felt the coach really wanted me and believed in me and seemed to know a lot about the vault.
For technical reasons, I also chose UGA because they would let me stay on my carbon mystic poles. Now of course, an added bonus was that it was a big SEC school and it was still in the south. I love me some football!! Other reasons I chose UGA was the big city atmosphere with Atlanta being nearby and Grady College is a top notch academic school for my degree. I just love Athens and am so happy I chose to go to school there.
I have decided to stop the story here because I am still writing my college story and do not know where this journey will end up. Of course so far there have been so many challenges and life lessons, but I’m not sure how this one will end. So maybe when it’s all done I will be able to write the next chapter! For now I leave you this: Keep the faith – faith in your beliefs, yourself, and your journey wherever it may lead you.
Stay open-minded. Let life take you wherever it wants to go because the direction you choose and the what the universe chooses may be two totally different directions and you may miss out on a wonderful opportunity if you don’t let go and follow your heart. I can’t wait to see where pole vaulting will take me, but I am back on the Olympic dream, just not for gymnastics. I now hope to make the USA team in track and field and pole vault for the U.S. My quote I live by is “if you can dream it, you can do it,” so dream on!