When I graduated high school, I was voted ‘Most Likely to go to the Olympics.’ Well, I’m going. But not in the way I always dreamed.
To be honest, I don’t actually know how old I was when I did my first triathlon (a race comprised of swimming, biking and running). If I had to take a guess, it would probably be six or seven years old. And no, I didn’t instantly fall in love or excel at the sport. I tried just about every sport you could think of before I went back to triathlon.
My first triathlon of significance was when I was in eighth grade. After having a bout of thinking I was destined to be the female Steve Prefontaine and another bout of thinking my big break in swimming was just around the corner, I decided to really TRY triathlon. Both my mom and my dad competed in Ironmans, along with being exceptional athletes throughout their lifetimes.
Throughout high school, I balanced club swimming, running and triathlon. The seasons of life followed the seasons of high school sports. Fall meant cross country, winter meant swimming, spring meant track and for me, summer meant triathlon. All the while, I did my best to maintain training in all three sports. And it worked. I actually began to excel at being a swimmer, a runner and most of all, a triathlete.
By the time the beginning of my senior year rolled around, there was no looking back. I was enamored by triathlon and knew I could succeed if I just dedicated all of my energy to being a triathlete. This meant giving up school dances, weekends with friends, laying out at the pool and so many other typical high school activities, but I did it without thinking twice. Heck, on the day of my senior prom I ran a track race in the morning, went and took pictures, ditched my date, went back to the track to run another race, then rode to prom with my mom. Yeah, that was my life.
In school, I went from being the girl who did triathlons to being the girl who was really good at triathlons. I went to every local race expecting to win and being disappointed if I didn’t. On the junior elite circuit, I put up consistent top-10 finishes in the 2013 season. I was even invited to the US Olympic Training Center for a short training camp.
Then came college. College was supposed to be a place where I would push myself even further in triathlon; where I would truly become the best of the best. But that’s not what happened. Caring about your academic success and training at an elite level without the support of your university’s athletic association simply do not go hand in hand. University athletes have tutors, trainers, doctors, anything you can imagine, right at their disposal. I had nothing but my will to succeed.
After having a terrible first race of the 2104 season, I decided it was time for a ‘traincation.’ During my freshman year spring break, I drove down to Clermont, Florida to train with my coach and do absolutely nothing else. By the end of the week, I was experiencing some tightness and soreness in my back and decided to wrap up a day early to go home and relax. And that’s when my life changed.
A couple days after returning to school from traincation and a week before my departure to Arizona for collegiate nationals, I woke up and wasn’t able to stand up straight. Imagine a wet branch in the woods. You know how you try and break it, but since it isn’t fully dry wood, some strands still hang on at a weird 45 degree angle? Well, that was my back. My legs and hips were just fine, but a sharp pain in my lower back caused me not to be able to stand up straight. This pain escalated so much through the following days, that even rolling over in bed became excruciatingly painful.
I began treatment with a local chiropractor, but as the school year wrapped up, I had no choice but to leave Athens. I was nowhere near complete with treatments, so I spent the entire summer of 2014 driving back and forth between home and Athens, a four hour round trip.
By the end of summer, I finally thought that I was healed. I thought that my back was ready to get back into the same shape it once was. I quickly learned that that was far from the case. As the weeks went on and I tried to get back into the swing of training, it quickly became clear that my clock had run out.
Having something that once meant everything to you ripped out from under feet is one of the hardest things in the world to cope with. And that’s because I placed my identity in my success as an athlete. What was I if I wasn’t the girl who was really good at triathlons?
To this day, I still suffer anxiety from not being able to train. I have severe guilt when a day passes that I don’t exercise- whether it be by choice or fault of my back. When I do run, I feel depression because I am not as fast as I used to be. I struggle with the fact that new people I meet don’t know this cool fact about me and that my body has changed significantly.
I learned that there is a story to tell. Every athlete is made of something different and every athlete has a unique path that led them to where they are today. And those stories deserve to be not only told, but also celebrated.
I have the unique opportunity to tell athlete’s stories through my job and my degree. I would not have found the affinity to share their stories had it not been for my back. And now I get to tell athlete’s stories on the biggest stage in sport: The Olympics.
I’ll spend nearly the entirety of August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with the U.S. Olympic Committee communications staff reporting what is happening regarding all things Team USA at the games. I may not be competing in the Olympics like athlete me always dreamt of, but now I get to support others as they pursue their dreams. And that’s what the new me dreams of.
Hey guys this is Morgann LeLeux. This is my second post to the Wish Dish and I’m very excited to update and share my newest post. My last post was more about my high school journey and how it led me to The University of Georgia Bull Dawgs where I pole-vaulted for four years and completed my undergrad degree in Advertising and a minor in Art.
I wanted to wait until now to talk about my college experience, which is way more intense and I think a pretty interesting story to tell. I will take you year by year and explain how I started from the top then completely fell off the map and now making my way back up.
Freshman year started in August 2011 for me. It was the biggest move and decision I have ever made in my life at the time. I was a small town Louisiana Cajun girl from a town that had less people than the college of UGA. I was also very close to my family and have never left their side, even choosing to hang out with my family sometimes over my friends.
But with the hopes to take my pole vault career to the next level and force myself to grow up and become independent, I chose to move to Athens Georgia. I loved the town and couldn’t wait to explore every piece of it. At first I was stuck on Your Pie and Frozen Yogurt, but the school’s dinning halls were almost more amazing and free for me because I was on scholarship.
Of course ECV dining hall was my favorite and not to mention we called it the “athlete’s dining hall,” so I was definitely biased. But the food everywhere was so good. Overall I was really happy where I was. My dorm situation was not the best when it came to roommates. The actual dorm, which was called ECV, was awesome.
I felt so lucky that I didn’t have to stay in Brumby. I don’t think I would of made it in a box with another random person and community bathrooms, lol. I’m kind of weird about my space and I have to admit a little bit of a drama queen when it comes to my comfort zone. But that is what college is all about, and me moving to Athens was a huge step out of my comfort zone already.
Needless to say, my dorm roommates were not the storybook college ending. Our dorm roomed four girls. There were two that I liked but never really got to know them since one left in December that year and the other was always busy (which I was too, so I understood). But there was the one other roommate who was a regular student in which I only saw four times the whole year. I didn’t make the roommates of a lifetime, but I did make good friends with the track team.
It really worked out because I met a boy named Jacob Romero in the beginning of my senior year of high school in Louisiana who I am now engaged to. And he was able to come and visit me every three months in Georgia and my roommates were totally cool with it.
But it gave me a year to find out who I was and realize I can be independent and do things all by myself. My freshman year was awesome though! I met an awesome girl named Ashley Rosenberg who became not only my best friend, but also pretty much a sister.
She is definitely the reason I made it through freshman year. She pole-vaulted with me and she was also a freshman. She helped me get comfortable with my other teammates and went through the horrific off-season training and pushed me to train harder than I ever had. I was neither a distance runner nor a track athlete.
I was a gymnast/dancer/pole-vaulter. The longest I ran was 90 feet and the most endurance I had was a minute thirty which was the time of my gymnastics floor routine. I not only struggled in the off-season workouts as a now “track athlete,” but dreaded going to practice for the first month.
I have to say though, I became more fit, and I really enjoyed the results I was receiving in my ability to run and train. I really enjoyed my training partners my freshman year. I had five great pole-vault guys and three awesome pole-vault girls to train with and they were all very friendly, but were ready to work.
They gave me fluids and a B-12 shot and I still pulled off points for my time the first time out. By NCAA Indoors I placed 2nd as a freshman. At the time this was a pretty big deal. I beat a lot of great girls and was on a roll. Almost my entire family attended that meet and it will forever be a memory of a lifetime. My favorite meet that year though, was SEC’s Outdoor!
It was at LSU, which is my hometown, and I had my family, friends, and so many people there to watch and support me. I went into that meet extremely headstrong and focused. I went into that meet not even worrying about winning, but worried about making the Olympic A standard so that way I could attend trials and have a shot at making the 2012 Olympic Games. I jumped 4.40m at indoor nationals and at practice I was jumping 4.50m and 4.60m very consistently.
The A standard was and still is today 4.50m and I wanted it bad! I ended up winning the meet on misses and beating the girl that was “The Girl” to beat that year. Tina Suijte, was her name and she was an amazing jumper and had the national record, but for someone reason she was not on that day. I actually felt bad because she was a senior. I get weird about stuff like that. I’m not going to lie it was awesome to win, but winning was not my goal.
My goal was 4.50m and I didn’t achieve it. I jumped 4.44m and was so close to making 4.50m. I actually told Tina “girl just get me over 4.50m and you can have the win.” But we both went out at 4.50m and I won on misses.
If you can believe it, I actually cried when I finished that meet and now that I look back on it I feel so selfish and foolish that I didn’t appreciate the moment and took what the day gave me. Sometimes I think that is why I am able to self-motivate myself.
Anyways, this SEC competition at LSU will be a competition that I will remember until the day I die. I won my first SEC’s at my hometown and beat the unbeatable girl of the year. I felt like I was on top of the world! Moving right along onto Outdoor Nationals, I placed 2nd again! This time a different senior beat me. Her name is Katerina Stefinidi and she is actually the world leader in the pole-vault right now as I am typing this story. She is from Greece, but at the time she pole-vaulted for Stanford. At the time of NCAA Outdoor I was starting to head into a decline in my performance.
It’s like I peaked during outdoor SEC’s and had no more energy to keep going. My body had enough during this time, and I was emotionally drained from my amazing year. I still jumped 4.40m at outdoor nationals, but I didn’t go up from the point forward.
My freshman year was the first year I finally just focused on pole-vaulting, and no other sports. In high school I did gymnastics and danced and pole-vaulted as a hobby. I made huge progress my freshman year in college and even though I didn’t jump 4.50m I still qualified for the U.S. 2012 Olympic Trials. I went into that meet thinking I was going to jump not only 4.50m, but also make the USA Team.
The Prelims were rained out and the girls voted to go straight to a final. So now there were about twenty-six girls I was competing against that were all moved to the finals. And these twenty-six girls were the best girls in the U.S., some college, but mainly pros.
I was a little bitty 19-year-old freshman and most of these girls were between the ages 25-33. I was way out of my league and very star struck. I have to go back a few months and tell you why I was so headstrong about this competition, and thinking I was going to make this Olympic team.
It was at the Drake Relays, one of our first outdoor college meets of the year. At this one meet I competed with the pros instead of the college athletes. Athletes that are pros are able to make money when they compete at this competition, so it was a big deal. I am a huge Jenn Suhr fan, who is the World Record holder, and she is still my idol today. I was able to compete against her at this meet along many extremely talented women that were pros. I placed 2nd at this meet and only Jenn Suhr beat me!
So in my mind going into trials all I had to do was do what I did at Drake Relays, but regardless to make the team I still had to jump 4.50m, and I only jumped 4.40m so far.
I jumped that height so much in practice and had such an incredible freshman year I just knew it was my time to finally fulfill a dream I had since I was eight years old and that was to make an Olympic team. At first I thought I was going to go for the USA gymnastics Olympic Team, but I made the transition to pole-vaulting and realized I was not 5ft tall, I was 5’7” tall and I was made to pole-vault. So my new Olympic Goal was to be a USA Olympic Pole Vaulter.
But the 2012 Olympic Trials was a complete bust and I was pretty humiliated. I had most of my family there to watch and they spent all that money to go to Eugene, Oregon to watch me make one height! I’m not even sure what I came out at the competition. I only jumped 4.25m and I made it on my third attempt.
It was a huge let down and I just couldn’t believe it ended the way it did. But what I failed to realize was how amazing the opportunity was for me to even be there and that my family would be there for me no matter what. I was a baby and so star struck it was just not my time yet. I had an amazing freshman year and I should have been extremely grateful and proud of myself.
I really do look back and regret not enjoying the moment and for getting all caught up in the game itself. I was able to go back home for the summer and train with my dad a little bit and clear my mind for my sophomore year in college. Regardless of what I felt, that year I accomplished a lot.
I ended up scoring 32 out of 40 points for UGA as a freshman and was one of very few to score that year. My coach at Georgia was very thankful that I came to Georgia and got the job done. I was one of their biggest recruits they had come to their school in a while for track and field and I started a chain of events for UGA’s track and field team.
This was the year that completely changed my life. My now fiancé, Jacob, moved up to Georgia and we decided to move in together.
It was another big step in our relationship and it was a make it or break it time for us. We did just fine and if I could have married him then I would have, but we decided to wait until after college to plan a wedding. My off-season workouts during my sophomore year were hard, but a lot better than my freshman year. I wasn’t the baby anymore and I new how things worked.
Moving into the pole-vault season I was on fire. I was stronger, faster, and mentally tougher than I have ever been in my pole-vaulting career. I was planting the bigger poles I could have only dreamed of planting. I was determined to break the NCAA record that year and no one was going to stop me. My second meet of the year I jumped that dang 4.50m which is 14’9” that I was chasing all freshman year, and jumped it so easily. I almost broke that NCAA record that day.
It was an Indoor Meet at Arkansas, one of those meets that I will remember for a lifetime as well. I was so pumped and amazed I told my dad that I didn’t want to jump too high this year because I would have nothing to look forward to the rest of my collegiate years. I thought 15’3-15’6 would be good enough for the year. Boy, would I regret those words a couple of days later!
A week before I jumped 4.50m I noticed I had a black spot in my eye where I could not see anything. I woke up one morning to see the time on the alarm clock and could not see what time it was. I had to use my other eye to see the time. The Monday after I jumped 4.50m I decided to tell my trainer about my eye.
I went to the eye doctor and they did the peripheral test with their hands where you have to guess what number they are holding up without directly looking at their hand.
When the eye doctor went to hold his hand up in the lower left hand corner of my right eye peripheral sight I could not see his hand at all. He then looked into my eye real close and said, “It’s a detached retina.” And when he said those words I immediately started to cry. I did a little research before going into the appointment and the worst outcomes that I found were a detached retina or I had a stroke and lost some vision. So I knew if it was one of those outcomes that I would have to have surgery and my season would be over.
When the doctor said detached retina I knew that breaking the NCAA record that year was out of the question. They immediately hurried me out the door and sent me to a retina specialist the same day. The specialist was terrified. He told me I was less than a centimeter from losing my vision completely in my right eye.
He wanted to have surgery on me that night, but did not feel fresh enough to give me the surgery so instead he got some rest and performed the surgery on me the very next morning at 6am.
My mom and granny drove all night from Louisiana and made it just in time to see me before I went into surgery. I was a hot mess. I didn’t stop crying from the minute I knew I found out I had a detached retina to the minute I went into surgery. I have extremely bad eyesight. There was no particular incident that caused this to happen, but because my vision is so bad all the falling from gymnastics and pole-vaulting finally caused my retina to tear.
I woke up from surgery and I had a patch on my right eye and no contact in my left eye and I was strapped down to the bed. I’d like to have a minor heart attack. I’m very claustrophobic and not being able to see and being strapped down was not a good feeling.
I had no clue where I was or what just happened and I had a horrible taste in my mouth from the anesthesia. I immediately started to scream for help. Finally a nurse showed up and calmed me down. They finally brought me back to see my mom, granny, Jacob, coach and trainer. I was so out of it I’m very surprised I remember all this, but some of the memories I have of that day are very clear.
When I arrived home I slept for a whole week straight. I wasn’t able to get up to do anything besides use the restroom and eat. Thank God the medicine they gave me made me sleep a whole bunch, but it also made me not want to eat, which was not good for my muscles.
I already had to lie down for a week and now I couldn’t eat! Finally the long miserable week went by and I was able to go see the retina specialist. I still had a patch over my eye and still was not sure if I had lost my eyesight or not, which was a big possibility.
They put a scleral buckle around my eye to hold the retina together, but when too much fluid gets caught up in the buckle it can cause you to lose your eyesight all together. When we arrived at the retina specialist I was extremely nervous. I was not able to see anything out of my right eye for a week and I was scared of what I would see and if I was even able to see anything when they would take the patch off.
The doctor finally pulled the patch off and I opened my eye. It took a couple of minutes to see clear out the eye. It was like my eye had to relearn to see. It was the weirdest thing I had ever experienced. But the great news was that I was able to see. There was still a lot of fluid still where the retina detached so I had to lay down for another week to let the fluid drain.
I also was still not able to see out of my left peripheral in my right eye where the retina detached because of the fluid. Again another long week with nothing to do besides lay down, take medicine, and put a whole bunch of eye drops in my eye. My eye was scary to look at. I had never had stitches before in my life, but I had them in my eye!
Now crazy me still thought I had a chance to come back and finish off my season. I was thinking, “it’s my eye, not one of my limbs.” As long as the doctor gave me the okay to train I would be able to come back before indoor nationals.
After that long week I went back to the doctors and he gave me the okay to go back to class, but absolutely no training or running or anything besides sit in class and catch up on my studies. I had a lot to catch up on anyways. I was not able to wear contacts with my eye and it would take a whole month before they could even check my new prescription in my bad retina eye. It takes time for the eye to heal and get all the fluid out and adjust to its new vision. So I wore glasses and was only able to really see out of my left eye.
I had a few breakdowns trying to catch up on schoolwork. I only ended up with one B and the rest of my classes were A’s, so I was very grateful school worked out. After a week of catching up on school I went back to the doctors and this time he was able to laser my other eye to protect any loose spots that could cause my left retina to detach.
This was not a fun experience, because I was awake for it and in his office. He stuck this extremely hot bright red laser in my eye at least twenty times. It makes your eye water and want to close, so every time I could not keep my eye open he would have to do it again and again.
Not very much though, a little lifting, and some aerobic exercise were about all I was allowed to do for the next two weeks. About six weeks went by and even though the retina specialist thought I was a little crazy he gave me the okay to train and compete. I had two weeks before nationals and I was one determined little girl. My coach and me sat down and talked about it.
He supported my decision to go ahead and go for it and we came up with a plan to get me back in the competition world and competition shape. I worked out for almost two weeks three times a day. I lost a lot of weight and muscle mass from lying down and not eating.
We had a lot to make up for. I was mentally strong though and my pole-vaulting came back to me like riding a bike! The main thing I lacked was weight. I could not quite move the big poles I was jumping on before my surgery, but my technique was on point. We decided to declare and compete at nationals. My 4.50m jump was still ranked number one in the nation going into nationals. I was ready to claim my title I knew I earned. But then the unthinkable happened. The night before we left for nationals I ended up with some kind of bug. I threw up all-night and burned up to 105 fever that night.
The first thing the next morning they brought me to the doctor. I had lost a good bit of weight from throwing up and was still burning fever. They decided to pump some fluids in me only hours before we left for nationals. They gave me a B-12 shot and sent me on my way. I finally started to feel better and we took off for nationals.
We decided to go get a practice in the next day and oh man oh man it was not pretty. I could barely run down the runway and I could not get into the pit. It was one hell of a nightmare I was stuck in and could not get out. We decided to stop and just rest until the meet. I had two days of rest and I was praying. My coach gave me every pep talk there was in the book. We already declared so I pretty much had to compete, either way I lost my eligibility.
I lost the chance of red shirting that indoor so I had to go and just give it my all. That competition was a nightmare! It was crazy that it was at the same place I had the amazing meet where I jumped 4.50m, The University of Arkansas.
It’s crazy how someone can have a perfect memory of a place, then have a bad incident and hate the place. But Ms. Big shot (me) didn’t bring any of her small poles and when I went to plant the pole to make the bar I would barely get in the pit and almost landed in the box all three times.
So many people told me to take the red shirt, but I thought I was okay to go for it. If it wasn’t for the sickness before the competition I probably would have been okay, but for whatever reason things happened the way they did and there was nothing I could do about it. I still say today “everything happens for a reason” and for whatever reason that was the deck of cards I was dealt.
I did keep my number one ranking that indoor season. No one beat my height of 4.50m, not even the winner at Nationals! The rest of the season was a nightmare as well though. We moved into outdoor season and at first I started to get things going and my pole-vaulting started picking up again. But there was one practice I went to right before our home meet and I picked up a new bad habit and that consisted of letting go of the pole every time I planted the pole.
And there I was for whatever reason I was letting go of the pole every time I would plant. And the pole was kicking my butt! It was painful and very scary. Even my small poles I would come off. We were clueless. I wasn’t jumping well but I pulled through it and even managed to win SEC’s.
The only reason I pulled through and won SEC’s was because I didn’t have to jump high. I think I won it at 4.25m, which was very low for the SEC. I was also able to jump on my small poles, which helped me mentally. Going into Outdoor Nationals things started to pick up and then I broke my pole. This was the one pole that was big enough to throw me high but not too big to where it would scare me, or I would come off of it.
But sure enough I kept going. I went to nationals and the practice before was horrific again. I did the “let go of the pole thing” again and I was fed up and so was my coach. I ended up placing 13th at Nationals and again I was heartbroken and embarrassed, but so ready for a small break. I went home and my dad and me worked through some of my mental problems with the poles. We focused on the basics and he kept giving me confidence and would talk me through everything. I felt a lot better going into my junior year at Georgia.
Junior year was not the year I thought it was going to be as well though. It’s like I forgot everything my dad and me worked on over the summer and I was terrified to pole-vault. This started the run-through chain. I would run though at practice more than I would jump. It was very discouraging and my coach was extremely frustrated.
How could he coach me if I refused to jump off the ground and pole-vault? I understood his frustration, but I had no clue how to get out of my head and pole-vault. I went and talked to a psychologist that year, while it was helpful to talk it never did solve my problems. Only I could work through it and figure it all out on my own. I was going to have to decide if the sport was worth it and if I was going to love it no matter what it put me through.
I had a lot of pain in my jump foot and I had no clue what was going on. I did not feel like I was strong enough or healthy enough to pole-vault that year. I pulled off a win in indoor SEC’s and this turned things around for my coach and me. Indoor nationals was a bust though. I placed 5th at that competition and watched a girl who I beat since day one break the NCAA record.
It was a hard competition to swallow and there was nothing I could do. It’s hard to want the best for someone else when you are struggling. Part of me was so happy for her and the other part was so envious. I didn’t want to feel that way, but I could not get that horrible feeling to go away.
But the days go on and that feeling finally does go away. Moving into outdoor season I was finally able to check out my foot and it turned out I had a stress fracture in my left foot, which is my jump foot. As soon as my coach walked through the door I started to cry, but secretly these tears were not because I was upset about my foot they were relief tears because I was finally able to take a break from pole-vaulting.
At the time I hated the sport.
It had beaten me up so much and I did not feel like myself when I would try to perform it. So who could blame me, right? I would be in a boot for six weeks and there was no coming back for this outdoor season, so we decided to redshirt and my coach let me go home and rest.
Six weeks went by and I was finally out of a boot. It was time to start intensive therapy and getting me back in shape to get back on the runway. Believe it or not it took ten weeks before I was even able to short run and plant a small pole. This was the longest I had ever been out of any sport or physical activity. I was however able to keep up with my upper body strength and now I had to match my lower to my upper. It didn’t take that long to get me back in shape and back in action.
Let me back track a little bit and tell you about a very special time in my life that was very positive. This amazing time in my life happened in between coming out of the boot and getting back into training. On May 24th my boyfriend at the time asked me to marry him. It was a huge surprise because he proposed a whole year earlier than I expected him to. And he did that on purpose so I would be surprised, and he knew it was a time that I was able to think about other things besides pole-vaulting.
He was amazing to me when I was my best and even better to me at my worst. I could not have found a better man to spend the rest of my life with. A lot of people blame him for my pole-vault career struggle, but I and the people who I truly care about know he has been by my side through the good times and the bad and he has given me hope and kept me as positive as I can be through these rough times. So let me go on with how he proposed! We were going spend the weekend in New Orleans with my grandparents. We both love New Orleans and hoped one day to be married there.
We explored New Orleans that day and that evening went to mass at the church we would like to one day get married in. He was sweating like a pig and I asked him what was wrong with him and he just said he was hot, so I brushed it off. After mass we went and walked around the church and he distracted me by getting me to find the date to when the church was built. He told me to go and look on the outside on the big old plaques hanging in the front of the church, so I did.
And then he said to me, “Babe what’s that over there?” I looked at him confused and then I looked to where he was pointing, and before I knew he was down on one knee and my parents and his parents were holding up signs across the street saying, “Will you marry me?”
I’m not going to lie I was so shocked and it took me a minute to process everything and then I just started to scream and of course I said yes. The adrenaline feeling I was having was different from the feeling I get with sports and it’s a feeling I will cherish and hold onto forever.
It was a perfect positive break from all the negative that was going on in my life at the time and he could not have picked a better way or time to do it. Now this was in May 2014 and we decided not to get married until December 17th, 2016 and still today we are planning a wedding. But we are finally less than six months away and I still love him just as much if not more today than when I said yes to him on May 24th, 2014. We had a wonderful summer that summer of 2014. I got in some training and focused on the basics to get myself back from the stress fracture.
I went to the beach twice and me and my fiancé and his parents went to Vegas. As much as I should regret not focusing full heatedly on my pole-vaulting and getting back on track, it was a nice break and a way to remember to just stop and enjoy the moment and all that life has to offer.
Moving into my senior year was a hard thing to do. It was my last year to really enjoy my college life and give it my all to make my name at Georgia. I had no idea where the next year or even years would take me, but I was certain that I’d be at Georgia for one more year. I took the time to really enjoy all of Athens. I went to every single restaurant down town Athens, tried out a new church and discovered the book “the secret.” While all of this was way out my comfort zone I don’t regret it for a minute.
I am Catholic, but I attended a non-denominational church for the year. And while I don’t want to switch religions it was great to experience and get a whole new outlook at the bible and religion. This helped me build a deeper relationship with God and to remember that He is the reason I am here today.
The book The Secret gave me a whole new outlook on life and pole-vaulting. While training my mind to be positive and trying to take control of my self-talk was not easy I am so happy I discovered this book, because I think it has made me a better person and vaulter today.
I felt left out from the team and pushed to the side. I don’t want to blame anyone since I know it’s my fault I wasn’t performing. The more I’d struggle with the vault, the more I’d look into wedding planning or doing fun things and adventuring out on the weekends. The more I’d struggle the less focused I’d get, because I felt the more I’d fight to get better, the more I was pushed down. I think the hardest part about my senior year is that I had a full season and no excuses. A couple of minor injuries, but sometimes I think it was all in my head.
I just couldn’t get it going my senior year. I would watch all the rest of my teammates rise to the top and as much as I wanted to be a part of their success and help them along with points, it was just not happening for me. Not to mention the girls pole-vault just took off that year. Sandi Morris just had the college year of her life and Demi Payne snuck in and had the year of her life.
It was hard to watch knowing that I could be just as good and right there with them if it wouldn’t have been for my injuries and mental craziness. I envied them so much, but at the same time I was so angry with myself.
I was so sick to my stomach when this happened, but at the same time it was a huge wake up call. I knew that I never wanted to feel this feeling again, that stomach ache that is so deep you can’t describe the pain and the burning sensation in your throat and all you can do is just cry it out. This was about the time I stumbled upon “The Secret” and decided it was time for a change. I needed to stop living in the past and sulking over what could have been or what should have been and be with the present and change my future.
It was a make or break time for me at the end of my senior year and it was definitely time for a change. That senior summer I found out my pole-vault coach may have been leaving UGA. I had a minor heart attack and decided to switch my classes to be able to graduate in December of my 5th year instead of May.
Officially I would graduate in December of 2015. This gave me the option to start looking into a masters program. If my coach decided to stay I would get my masters at Georgia, but if he decided to leave I would get my masters around home and go back to my dad and train with him.
I had one more outdoor season left and I did not want to waste it. My dad and me trained hard that summer of 2015. He worked me on a lot of basic body strength training and a lot of cardio. We finally left the weights alone. We also focused on basics when it came to the vault. I came along way that summer and finally started to make some progress with the vault. But now it was time to head back to Georgia and face reality.
It turned out my pole-vault coach became the head coach at UGA. And while this would be a great thing for him, but as one of his athletes you knew that if you were not one of the best you would probably not get as much attention and work in.
I know he cared for me, but I was nervous how he was going to be able to manage coaching all his amazing athletes and be a head coach. I have to give it to him he did a great job and even kept training me with the horrible previous couples of years I had. He really turned Georgia track and field around. I started to make a small comeback. Things were really coming together.
I could tell my confidence was coming back and I had one of the best off-season workouts I had in a long time. I felt strong and fast and I started to feel like me again. The months started moving along pretty fast and I knew I had a major decision to make ahead of me. My fiancé ended up getting a job back at home and we talked and contemplated and tried to make the best decision for both of our futures. We both decided it was time to go home and we did not want to be apart ever again.
We did all of freshman year apart, but we were both kind of miserable and just didn’t want to ever go through with that again. Plus eventually I was going to move back home and train with my dad professionally, so we decided to graduate in December 2015 and move back home.
It felt like I was breaking up with him. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I had to ask for a release and decide if I was going to pole-vault somewhere else close to home. He took it very well and totally understood. It was just time to start a new chapter in my life and I was ready for a new start.
I loved and still love Athens. It was a hard move. It became my adult home, a place where I did a lot of growing up and made many wonderful memories. But again it was time to take on the next chapter of my life. Very last minute I decided to apply to The University of Louisiana Lafayette masters program.
The coach was excited to have me on the team. I ended up getting into the MBA program there and at least had one semester paid for as a master student. We made the transition home. It really worked out that one of my family members decided to let us rent a home they owned to get our feet on the ground and make the transition home a little easier. They even allowed us to do a little renovating and make the home our own.
We are living there now and could not be happier. I had the Christmas holidays to get myself together and kind of start over. There was a little bump in the road with the UGA coach. He did not allow me to have or buy my poles I used before. The poles they had for me were mine. I jumped on them for all four years of my career. No one else ever jumped on my poles unless I allowed them to.
Yes, Georgia did buy them for me, but I offered to buy them back. But he said NO. This was the only thing that kind of hurt, because he told me he was going to give me my poles when I graduated and I did finish and graduate from UGA. I was not leaving in spite of him; I was leaving because it was time for a new phase in my life. But for whatever reason I was not able to get my poles. And at this time I was on Gill Carbon Fiber poles. They were very expensive poles.
When I arrived home me and my dad talked about the pole situation. He had a couple of vaulters try some Essex poles because they were cheaper and the families could not afford Gill Carbon Poles. He sat down and told me he didn’t want this pole situation to ever happen again and that he was going to buy my poles, but we were going to have to tryout Essex poles because he could not afford carbon.
So for me, I was just looking for a change and something new, so I told him okay lets go for it. This is a decision that I am also proud to say I made.
When it came to the carbons I used to jump on, it was all mental for me. I was so afraid on certain poles I don’t even think I could jump on them now. Where as with the Essex I had no clue what pole was going to feel like what and it just gave me a fresh new start with poles. Every pole was a new pole and it built my confidence going from the ground up. I seriously had to start from ground zero. I started on a 13’ 160lbs pole in December and slowly worked my way up from there. By January, I was on a 13’6” 170lbs pole, so we were making some progress.
My dad decided to throw me into a meet before Reno and oh man oh man I was not ready. I ended up no heighting at the meet, but the meet didn’t really mean anything. Before Reno I started to make my way to the 14’ poles, but still not ready to compete on them yet. Reno was hard to go to. I knew I was no where near the top dog and no where near ready to compete.
Reno is pole-vault heaven for pole-vaulters. It’s like one of the biggest pole vault competitions in the world. It’s a meet of just pole-vaulting with like twenty pits and over three thousand vaulters. It’s definitely an experience, and in high school I was the bomb at pole-vault. Barely anyone could touch me in high school and the vault nation knew who I was. But going back after I fell off the map was very heart wrenching.
It’s like they didn’t even know me anymore. And who could blame them? I haven’t done anything in the past three years. It was another hard feeling to face. To really realize I was forgotten and pulled of the map. This fed my hunger to want to get better even more. I ended of jumping 4.25m and almost made 4.30m from six lefts on a 13’6” pole, which was not too shabby for me at the time. I later went on to jump 4.40m by the end of the indoor season on my 14’ 165lbs pole.
Now in the indoor season I pole-vaulted unattached, because I did not have any collegiate eligibility left in the indoor season. By the outdoor season I now will be competing as a Ragin’ Cajun for ULL. This was a cool way to end my collegiate career though, because I had a lot of support at home and they were all excited to have me home competing as the Cajun I was.
I started with a 4.30m jump in my first home meet as a Ragin Cajun. This height broke the conference record, which was really cool because I started strong right out the back. We then went to Texas Relays, which I just knew was going to be the meet I was going to blow things up and show everyone I was back.
But it wasn’t what I planned for. It was swirly winds and all the girls kind of struggled, but I jumped on my 14’7” ‘s for the very first time in competition. I killed my 160lbs, but we accidently got a 165lbs that was just a little to stiff at the time.
My first attempt at 4.40m that meet I killed the 160lbs poles, so we moved to the 165lbs pole. My second attempt it stood me up, and my third attempt I put a foot over 4.40m, but came down on the bar and knocked it off. I again only jumped 4.30m, but a lot of people saw that I was slowly coming back. My next competition was back at LSU. For some reason I jump extremely well there.
It was a perfect day though, winds were straight tail, it was warm and sunny, and I was feeling good. I broke my outdoor record and jumped 4.45m then came back and broke my over all record at 4.51m. I not only PR’d twice that day but I now had the 2016 Olympic qualifying height to go to trials. I definitely could have jumped 15’ that day, but I was so shocked and worn out form PR’ing twice I was just done for the day. It felt great to be back and doing what I do so well. It definitely reminded me why I loved the sport so much and that I was back better than ever!
Now we were headed to our Sunbelt Conference meet which ended up being at UL this year. It was awesome again, just like LSU my freshman year. Everyone came out to support me. I ended up PR’ing at 4.52m that day. I would have jumped higher, but silly dad and me decided to switch pole bags and I forgot my money pole.
But this did force me to try a new pole that I never tried before. It was a little too big that day but I did take it up and I was able to swing up on it, so that really ended up not being a bad thing. The only thing that sucked is I know that was a 15’ day as well.
This is the worst meet of the year. They take 48 girls from the east and compete them on two different pits until the number is down to 12 girls left. If you are one of those twelve remaining then you move on to nationals. It is always miserable because it’s long, hot, and very stressful.
You have no idea how you will do that day. The year before I had a bad meet and did not make it onto nationals. I was number 13 out of the 12. But this year, after four hours and two rain delays, I made it to nationals. We had to jump 4.25m to make it to nationals, which was the highest regional ever for the girls pole-vault. Because they stop the competition once there are only twelve girls left, you are not allowed to go higher. So I did not have the opportunity to PR that day.
Now we are moving on to the 2016 Outdoor Nationals, my final collegiate meet. This is a bittersweet moment. It is my last collegiate meet, but I am ready to start my professional career as a vaulter. I went into this meet ready to jump my heart out. I was focused and determined, nothing was going to stop me. Two days before the meet I had a practice of a lifetime. I jumped 4.75m with a bar on my stiff 14’7” pole. It was the first time I jumped on it in practice. I knew meet day I’d be ready to go.
The practice two days before was sun shining and 80 degrees. I couldn’t believe what was going down, and the officials made us jump. So I tried to keep focused and stay as dry as I could, but I have to be honest we did not prepare for the weather and that is definitely where we really messed up!
I made 4.20m easy on first attempt, and then made 4.30m easy on first attempt as well. But as I jumped and landed in the pit I was soaking wet and freezing. By the time we arrived at 4.40m I couldn’t get warm and my run was all over the place. I gave it my all on those three attempts, but it just did not happen.
When I landed on the pit that third attempt, I could feel that horrible feeling in my stomach and throat burning sensation. I didn’t know what to do or how to feel. I could not believe that was how my collegiate career was going to end. I was so ready to go out there and win my final collegiate meet and jump extremely high and it just didn’t happen that way.
I thought I did everything right this time around, but we did not prepare for the weather and it ate our lunch. Some how some way I managed to tie for second, which was kind of weird because that’s how I started my freshman year and now that’s how it was going to end.
In all those years I thought for sure I would have won many NCAA championships, but I didn’t win a single one. It’s just so crazy how things work out and what you plan for does not always turn out the way you planned. I am trying to leave my journey and destiny in God’s hands, but it’s so hard when it doesn’t make sense. I just feel like what else do I have to prove to show the world that I can be one of the best pole-vaulters in the world. I know I am meant to do this, and I have come so far in such little time of being home. And that’s what I need to remember. It doesn’t matter what others think. It matters what I think and I am proud of myself and to see the progress I made from the very first indoor meet of the season to now.
This semester has been one for the books. I am me again and even better than I was before. I have found my love and passion for the vault again and can’t wait to make it a career. I am more confident and jumping on poles I could only have dreamed of jumping on and I cant wait to jump on bigger. I have been consistently jumping 15’6” in practice on a 14’7” pole from seven lefts.
If I had about three more months I know I could transition to 15’ poles and jump 16 feet, but we are not quite there yet. But this gives me hope and encouragement for my pole-vault future. As much as I want to make this Olympic Team this year, 2016, if I don’t I know I got more in me, and I will get my booty back home and go after getting on those bigger poles and jump that 16 foot I know I can. My journey is not over, it is just beginning.
So I trained for three weeks and then we had our annual Independence Day vault. This meet was the icing on the cake. Now it’s indoors, meaning perfect conditions, plus I had all my friends and family there to support me in which I feed off of, but the meet counts and it is an official meet, and I was ready mentally, physically, and even spiritually. I finally jumped 4.60m, which is 15’1!
It’s something I’d had been doing for a while and even did it my freshman year of college, but never in an official meet. I did not just jump it either – I blew it up on first attempt! It was one of the best vaults I have ever completed. I should have jumped higher, but I was so excited about breaking that barrier, my 4.70m jump just didn’t quite happen. I don’t need that jump yet. I will save it for the trials.
I am now actually as I’m typing this story making my way to Eugene, Oregon to attend my second Olympic Trials with a dream of placing top 3 and making the Olympic Team.
I am mentally, physically, and this time weather prepared. I am ready to give it all I got on the track. There are tons of great vaulters in the line up, but there is no way any of them wants it as bad as I do.
I may not have realized that I have a chance until recently, but any chance I get I am going to take it and not hold back. This is what I have been dreaming of since I was eight years old and I’m feeling like it is finally my time. It will be the perfect ending to my collegiate story, but also a perfect beginning to my professional career. As much as I love to say I’m a shoe in, I know it will be a war out there.
I compete on Friday, July 8th for the Prelims, where the top 12 move on to the finals on Sunday, July 10th. During the finals is where we compete for the top 3. I am ready to compete with the big girls here in Eugene, but also in Rio.
But if I get the opportunity I will not disappoint and I am ready to become the vaulter I know I can be. I hope my journey will help young vaulters to never give up on their dreams. Sometimes dreams may seem so far fetched, but “if you can dream it, you can do it.”
This is still a motto I live by. My dream is worth it and I will chase it until I achieve it, regardless of how rough the path is. And all the turmoil and negativity I went through has made it so worth being where I am today.
Your journey will never be perfect, but if you don’t lose sight of the love you have for your dream then you will never give up and keep fighting towards that dream. It’s been one heck of a collegiate journey, but I’m ready to find out where the next journey will take me. God bless!
I am so thankful for my wonderful support group and to my one and only Lord for blessing me to have the ability to do what I do and giving me an outstanding life and family and friends. I will be forever grateful and humble. Thank you. But lets take this journey to Rio.
The secret for me was a whole game changer. It gave me a whole new outlook on the way I live my life.
I never thought about my self-talk and how much negative thinking can affect my future. The only thing is the book did not want to shy away people who didn't have religion in their lives so when they say the Universe; that is God for me.
It seems far fetch and you have to have an open mind to read it, but if you give it a chance, it helped me become a whole different person.
I was in a dark place and was ready for any help I could get. I was so happy this book just kind of stumbled accidentally into my life at the time it did. I know it's a good part of the reason I'm coming back and starting to improve in the vault.