(Photo courtesy of FSU Sports Information)
What first sparked your interest in pole vaulting?
I saw it on the 1996 Olympics, and I remember thinking how I could never do that. I thought the box was really small and that you had to run as fast as you could and aim it right into the box. That was probably the hardest thing about the whole thing. I did a volleyball camp at FSU because I thought I wanted to do that in college. That completely wore me out. They kicked my butt. They setters had me going everywhere and I couldn’t stand it! After that camp, I knew I needed to get in shape. My junior year was the first year people actually started jumping. John Raleigh was the high school coach at Cardinal Mooney High School, and he got a box together and got poles and persuaded kids to start jumping. I went over to the box to see what it was all about and he snagged me.
Did you ever think you could compete at the Olympic level?
I had an idea that I could. John was pretty impressed with how quickly I picked it up. He was talking about the possibility of me making the team my senior year. I thought, “Well, gosh. Yeah that would be great. He says I can make it to the trials.” I knew I liked pole vaulting better than school. I definitely have a passion for pole vault, and I figured I was pretty good at it. I got better and better. The Olympics is so huge that it didn’t really seem like a dream, and even now it still seems like a dream.
How did you feel when you were awaiting to see Mary Saxer’s 4.55 attempts before securing a trip?
I couldn’t watch it. I hadn’t watched a jump all day, and I said I didn’t want to watch that one either. It was awful because it was out of my control. I just had to wait and see what was handed to me. I could feel it slipping away. I could feel myself slipping out of a trip to London. It was a pretty awful feeling… but as soon as I heard the crowd do a collective “Aww,” I knew I had done it. It was over and it was overwhelming and I was going to the Olympics. If I hadn’t made it, I would have felt extreme disappointment. I feel nervous even now thinking about that moment and how close it was. I would have been mentally disappointed. I know that I can compete in the Olympics and I know that I can come in top three in the United SS and just to not do it on that day would have been heartbreaking.
How do you prepare for competition?
I don’t really have any pre-meet rituals. My parents are going to be there, my whole family actually. I really just like to go and have fun and we’ll go sightsee a little bit and relax and take it all in together. Getting to be there with my family will be wonderful. A lot of people like to have their alone time to focus and prepare, but I don’t. I like keeping myself busy – it relaxes me. It takes my mind off of things.
How will it feel to finally return home after being in London?
I come home to prepare for the December wedding and preparing to move to Gainesville. My fiancé, Warren Harper, is starting school five days after we get back from London. It’s quite a big transition to make when I get home. There is a lot to do. I like being home and this part is exciting. While in Gainesville, we said we’ll be closet Seminole fans for four years. Warren’s from Tallahassee, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a Seminole. Thankfully, he competed for Florida State in track and field. I’ll keep him on the straight and narrow. If I see him even getting close to orange and blue, I’ll snatch it right away from him.
Who were your biggest supporters, and who would you like to thank?
Good God, I have so many, especially my mom and my dad. They have spent countless hours driving me to and from sporting events. I started when I was three in gymnastics, and it just never stopped after that. They kept me in the sport and transported me everywhere. I’d definitely also like to thank all my coaches: my gymnastics coaches that I still see and my pole vault coaches, John Raleigh and Dennis Nobles. I have a great bunch of people around me. I’ve always had a wonderful support staff. I really do feel lucky.
What’s the number one thing on your bucket list?
My roommate and I have actually been talking about these. I love to travel. The perfect trip I could plan would be a year-long trip. I would travel the United States in an RV and camp at the little campsites and national parks and stuff like that. I would fly over Europe and spend a ton of time in Italy and travel all through Europe. I like the cathedrals and the old churches there.Then, I would go to south Africa and do safaris around Zimbabwe. No offense to the Middle East, but I don’t really like their food so I would skip on over to Australia, I think, and spend time there. I definitely want to see the northern lights. That’s the number one thing on my bucket list to see, maybe while I’m in Sweden or Alaska.
Since you like to travel, where is your favorite place you’ve been and why?
I like Eugene, OR the best. There’s wonderful weather, there’s a lot of things to go see around. Usually my parents make it out to Eugene and that’s been really fun. Warren and I went out there on June 24th of last year, and we decided on having the best day ever. We had the most beautiful weather. I practiced early and we took a drive out to Florence, which is about an hour drive. It’s a stunning drive. We went out there and drove north a couple of miles to see the Heceta Head Light house, which was incredibly beautiful. Then we drove down and rode horses on the beach. I thought it was a stupid idea to be riding horses the day before a competition, but it was amazing. We went to this restaurant and had an incredible dinner: fried shrimp cocktails, pianos were playing. We decided that it’s going to be celebrated just like that every June 24th and remember this wonderful day we had. The incredible thing is that on June 24th, 2012, exactly a year later, I made the Olympic team. I think it’s a lucky day for me.
What advice would you give to kids who had a similar experience as you, who see all of these athletes on TV and think to themselves that they can never achieve that level of athleticism?
Never give up. If you love it, never give up on it, even though it can be incredibly frustrating and time-consuming and difficult and labor intensive. It’s hard work and it takes a lot of time and a lot of years and persistence and education. Never surrender and never give up, and you’ll get to where you’re supposed to be.