Pole Vaulting was the Best 'Oops' of my Life

Pole Vaulting was the Best 'Oops' of my Life

“So whatever made you decide that you wanted to pole vault?”
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“So whatever made you decide that you wanted to pole vault?”

In the spring of my freshman year of high school, I had no intentions of joining a sports team. I’d played volleyball that past fall, and was considering managing the boy’s team that spring, but nothing else. I didn’t play soccer, and there was no way I would join the track team. I mean, I hated running, so why would I do it for fun?

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Halfway through that spring sport’s season, one of my friends, who had joined track, urged me to go with her to the next practice. After re-explaining how much I loathed running, she informed me she didn’t run; she pole vaulted. Pole vaulting. Who in their right mind thought that the sport of pole vaulting was safe? I thought it was dangerous, difficult, odd, and pretty dang cool after she showed me a YouTube video. From that moment, I texted my mother and informed her I would be staying after school for track practice...to pole vault.

Despite my mom’s confused and fearful response, I approached the head coach after school and asked him if I could join. I’ll never forget the way he looked at me, like he was analyzing any athletic potential before giving me an answer. Instead, he inquired a question, “What exactly were you wanting to do?” I kind of laughed but replied, “Just pole vaulting.” He nodded slightly and asked, “Are you fast?” My eyes grew wide, “Not really.” He continued, “Can you jump?” I wrinkled my nose, “I mean kind of.” He nodded his head affirmatively and concluded, “Welcome to the team.”

When my track career began, many other students were already halfway through. Everyone was so focused, so poised, so fast. On the other hand, everyday I asked myself what I was doing there, something kept me coming back. I was a gymnast in the past, and other track members had informed me that pole vaulting would be a good fit for me since I had (some) upper body strength—that some motions and movement of the muscles were similar. Meanwhile, I had to be taught how to run in a non awkward fashion down a runway at a certain speed, put my pole in a small square in the ground at the right time, and then throw myself over a crossbar without knocking it off or hurting myself. Simple, right?

As time went on, the foreign hand positions and runback numbers started to make sense. Unfortunately, as soon as I began to comprehend this complicated sport, our head coach made the decision to throw me into long jump and hurdles as well. I was petrified. My first few attempts at hurdles weren’t entirely atrocious, until my foot ever so slightly clipped the hurdle and sent me rolling onto the rubberized track. I got up shaking my head, concluding to the coach that “I can’t do that.” I didn’t get out of long jump as easily though. I continued to switch back and forth with vaulting and jumps everyday at practice, until I got shin splints: a common pain in runners that occur when the nerves and muscles of the legs “take on too much too soon” as described by runnersworld.com. So I then began my practices at the trainers, getting taped up. The injury angered me more than anything, and I blamed doing jumps as the reason. Pole vaulting was all I wanted to do.

Fast forward to the end of the season, my injury was healing, and I was participating in Varsity meets. I had absolutely no idea how, but it was happening. I ended up actually placing at one of the meets with a jump of 7’6”, but the meet after, Districts, I sprained my ankle on my second warm-up jump. But, to my surprise, my head coach told me he predicted that I’d break the school record of 9’6” by my junior year. I was stunned; that was quite a bit higher, but it was obtained in my mind as a long-term “goal.”

Sophomore year, I was excited to start the same time as everyone else. However, not only was I looking forward to vaulting, but spending time with my teammates. Something wonderful I discovered about pole vaulting was that the vaulters are a small, tight-knit group. My freshman year I was influenced by two very talented athletes—one of which broke our boy’s school record with a jump of 14’1”—they were so encouraging, helpful, and friendly. I was still only a sophomore, and continued to learn best I could to improve myself as a vaulter, but I also learned about my teammates.

As the season went on, I started making stronger connections with my teammates of all grade levels. I still to this day have no idea what caused such a strong bond between all of us, but it was something special. Often times you’d hear the rest of our team refer to us as something like “those strange pole vaulters.” What set us apart was how serious we took our friendships, as well as our vaulting. Our event was slower than most track events. Each person got a turn on the runway, one at a time, and then received critiques. While that one person vaulted, the rest of us were chatting, sitting on our make-shift couch created out of extra mat, doing handstands, or eating snacks. All activities you’d expect the average track athlete to participate in during practice. Practice had become social, but not in a distracting way. My teammates pushed me to do better, and I achieved a new personal record that year of 8’6”.

Junior year, pole vaulting became my life. I looked up to the only senior vaulter that year; a girl who was the best teammate I’ve ever had. Physically, we were built the same, as for our vaulting abilities, totally opposite. We always joked with our coach saying that if we were physically combined, we would be one of the best vaulters around. However, our differences didn’t cause us to repel or dislike one another—it bonded us in a way I’ll never forget. From talking in between classes about how many days were left until our season began, to being each other’s coaches when we were nervous at meets, we became the ultimate dou, and encouraged each other to improve just as much as ourselves. During that season, I tied the school record of 9’6”, like she had the year before. Both of our names were displayed in our school’s gymnasium along with some girl named Mallory who set the record years ago and was our inspiration to beat.

I was lucky enough to advance to compete in the State meet during the summer, right after school was let out. It was an experience unlike any other—the overcrowded stadium, loud yells from coaches and parents as the start gun fired, the clicks of spikes as they walked through the underground concrete tunnel—there was so much commotion it was hard to focus. I was separated from my coach as well: it was all me. Walking out from the hushed locker room, I walked onto the runway and took in my surroundings. I was nervous, but not because I was at a state meet; I was missing something. I had difficulty warming up and stretching. I was forced to do it all alone, and honestly I can say competing without my biggest cheerleader and teammate at my side was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

After the season was over, I decided to take vaulting seriously. My goal for my senior year was to break our school record. I spent the off-season training and participating in club meets. Club vaulting was one of the best experiences of my vaulting career, and in addition to improving my vaults, I met people from other schools and states who were as crazy as I was to have fallen in love with this sport.

Vaulting, in my opinion and most others, is just as much of a mental sport as it is physical. When I over thought my vault, I’d mess up, freak out, and not be able to continue that day since I was too in my head. In times like that, I found my teammates by my side making me laugh or telling me to snap out of it and just jump. Not only over the years had my teammates become some of my best friends, we hung out all the time off-season, but they had become a second family to me. We’d created our own traditions together, shared so many emotional moments of tears, anger, joy, and pain. We all stuck together at meets like a pack of wolves through thick and thin no matter the weather.

Off season, I had achieved a new personal record of 10’ at a camp, but it didn’t count until performed in season. So, on April 4th, 2016, I jumped 10’, and then 10’3”. Moments after the vault, and I had realized that the crossbar hadn’t fell, I was in awe. All those years of injuries, friendships, trials, anger, and accomplishments had led up to this. I was in disbelief. A sport I didn’t even know existed four years ago, and there I was surrounded by my best friends, having succeeded in what was once just an unrealistic “goal.”

My senior year I didn’t get the chance to advance to state, but ultimately I have been given something even better: friends I will have by my side for the rest of my life, a sport that will always have my heart, memories that won’t ever fade, and the strength and determination I earned each and every time I stepped foot onto that runway.

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I'm The Girl Without A 'Friend Group'

And here's why I'm OK with it

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Little things remind me all the time.

For example, I'll be sitting in the lounge with the people on my floor, just talking about how everyone's days went. Someone will turn to someone else and ask something along the lines of, "When are we going to so-and-so's place tonight?" Sometimes it'll even be, "Are you ready to go to so-and-so's place now? Okay, we'll see you later, Taylor!"

It's little things like that, little things that remind me I don't have a "friend group." And it's been like that forever. I don't have the same people to keep me company 24 hours of the day, the same people to do absolutely everything with, and the same people to cling to like glue. I don't have a whole cast of characters to entertain me and care for me and support me. Sometimes, especially when it feels obvious to me, not having a "friend group" makes me feel like a waste of space. If I don't have more friends than I can count, what's the point in trying to make friends at all?

I can tell you that there is a point. As a matter of fact, just because I don't have a close-knit clique doesn't mean I don't have any friends. The friends I have come from all different walks of life, some are from my town back home and some are from across the country. I've known some of my friends for years, and others I've only known for a few months. It doesn't really matter where they come from, though. What matters is that the friends I have all entertain me, care for me, and support me. Just because I'm not in that "friend group" with all of them together doesn't mean that we can't be friends to each other.

Still, I hate avoiding sticking myself in a box, and I'm not afraid to seek out friendships. I've noticed that a lot of the people I see who consider themselves to be in a "friend group" don't really venture outside the pack very often. I've never had a pack to venture outside of, so I don't mind reaching out to new people whenever.

I'm not going to lie, when I hear people talking about all the fun they're going to have with their "friend group" over the weekend, part of me wishes I could be included in something like that. I do sometimes want to have the personality type that allows me to mesh perfectly into a clique. I couldn't tell you what it is about me, but there is some part of me that just happens to function better one-on-one with people.

I hated it all my life up until very recently, and that's because I've finally learned that not having a "friend group" is never going to be the same as not having friends.

SEE ALSO: To The Girls Who Float Between Friend Groups

Cover Image Credit: wordpress.com

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Finding Your Niche In College Starts With Finding You

Attempting to be someone you are not for the sake of having company only hurts you in the long run.

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Transitioning to college is hard enough, but trying to find a place where you feel "at home" can make this time even more stressful. Here are some tips on how to find that place/group of people that make you feel like sunshine.

I have always felt a little out of place wherever I went, but it wasn't until college that I realized that this feeling was so special and more people should capitalize on their differences rather than conforming to a certain mold. Transitioning to college and finding your place among so many people can be very overwhelming. The added stress of attempting to be someone you aren't for the sake of having company adds a whole other layer to this problem. The easiest thing for me to do in any situation like this is trying to make the setting a little smaller. One of the most obvious ways to do this on a college campus is by getting involved!

It is inevitable that within the first few weeks of the semester at any college, there will be an organization fair. This is a chance to scope out all that your school has to offer! Chances are there will be some type of group or club that lines up with your interests. Most college campuses have extracurricular opportunities ranging from social sororities and fraternities, professional ones, intermural sports, vocal groups, and so many more. You are more than likely going to find some type of organization that you can call home if you seek them out. Joining an organization is such an easy way to interact with people with similar interests. An interest can bring two completely different people together and create some beautiful friendships. It is situations like this where it is important to be your authentic self and mingle with those you share something with.

That being said, finding your place in college isn't always about being involved. Getting involved on campus is just one of the simplest ways to start. There are so many other opportunities on campus to meet people whether it be among others in your residence hall, people in your classes, or just people you find yourself stumbling upon! Finding people to spend your time with is easy; however, you should make it a point to surround yourself with people who bring you up.

Once you have a set group of people that you find yourself spending time with, it is important to pay attention to the way you feel when you're around them. If you find yourself feeling bad about yourself or get the impression that you need to change something in order to "fit in," chances are the people you're around are not the best for you or your self-esteem. It is important to surround yourself with people who allow you to feel comfortable in your own skin. That being said, you also want people who encourage you to make good decisions and help you reach your goals. People who encourage toxic behavior in your life might be fun in the short term, but in the grand scheme of things, you need to be surrounded by people with your best interest in mind. Essentially, surrounding yourself with people who influence you to be your best self is one of the best decisions you can make short and long term.

The key to all of this is being conscious of your own feelings and needs. Pay attention to who reaches out to you to hang out. Notice the ones who pay attention to you as you speak when it feels like no one is listening. More than anything, be conscious of who you're with and where you're at when you experience moments of pure happiness. Life is too short to waste your precious time on people who don't build you up. Wouldn't you rather spend your time with more moments of pure joy than self-hate? Start living for you!

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