My cousin’s daughter won a big pole vaulting title this summer, and I thought it would be fun to interview her about what it’s like to be a 15 year old pole vaulter. She turns out to be super-wise, so I’ve just captured a slightly edited version of our conversation to let her words speak for themselves. My questions are in bold.
Basically the blog is about women’s relationships with sports. Like starting when they’re young, and how as they get older, that changes. And so you are one of the people I know who’s the most successful at sports. It’s true!
Wow! Thank you!
So I thought, I wonder what Issy would say – as a 15 year old – because I don’t look at you and think, pole vaulter! You’re just my cousin. So tell me about how you started pole vaulting.
I don’t know when I started. Maybe the start of grade 8, and I’m in grade 10 now.
So how did you even – did you see people doing this, like on the Olympics, and think, I want to do that, or?
I started out doing track and field with horizontal jumps, like triple jump and long jump. And then… before that I was a gymnast. I started training with U of T for the horizontal jumps. And then they were like, oh my gosh, you were a gymnast – come try pole-vaulting! I think I was actually one of the younger people they’ve ever taken to try it.
Right. But you were jumpy – you were good at jumping – because of the gymnastics?
Most of the people I train with are gymnasts.
So the first time you ever did it, what did you feel? Do you remember?
Well it kind of started out like – I can’t really remember the first time that I actually got height – because when you start out, you kind of go forward, and you slowly start inching your way a little bit higher – so I can’t really remember the time that I just started pole – because there’s so much more. You just kind of build up.
So what was your first meet? Like when did you decide, I could compete in this?
I think I started in the winter of one year, so it might have been the entire next winter that I had my first meet.
Had you already done, like, horizontal jump meets?
Yes, yeah, the winter that I started pole vault, I was competing horizontal jumps with the same club, but because I’d just started pole vault they weren’t about to put me into a meet.
So tell me then – let’s fast forward – so you did all these things and you could kind of feel like, I’m actually kind of good at this. When did you first feel like, I could do this!
Oh… I don’t know! I think I was… I kind of like this! I like the people that I train with! And I was like, this is fun! I don’t know—it’s fun!
What makes it fun – versus some other thing you might have done. Like is it more fun than gymnastics was?
No – probably not. Similar! Both of them – part of it is the people that I do it with, the people that I train with. I have a lot of fun with them. So that’s fun… And .. it’s like it’s just fun, flopping onto a mat!
Once you get over – you’re just like, Oh yes, I MADE it!
How high have you gone – tell me your latest thing. You won the women’s under 16 national. Amazing!
It was the national meet that the Royal Canadian Legion runs.
Who were you competing with?
Well pole vault’s not that common in my age group, right? So I was only competing with like 6 other people.
Still – that’s the best six in Canada!
Yeah…. Two others of which I train with (laughing).
How high did you get?
So at that meet, I think I jumped 3 metres and 10 cm.
Okay, and how tall are you?
You’re like my height, right? And you’ve jumped 3 metres and 10 centimetres – that’s a LOT. How did you do that?
Well the pole helped me!
What did you feel when you landed?
Okay… well it was a bit of a story because… pole vault works so that if you knock it down you still get two more attempts on each height. So you want to make it over on your first time because it counts against you if you don’t.
You get more points if you get it on the first jump?
Yeah. But I was the first in line though. And I just made it over… I can’t remember… it was at 3 metres, I made it over and two other girls made it over. Then at 3.10, I was up first, I think I made it over on my first one. And the other two girls still had three more. And none of them made it over. So there wasn’t really a jump where I officially won it? Where if I’d made the jump I would have won? I made the jump and then nobody else made the jump, so I won.
You had to wait.
That’s not the same thing, right? It’s not like you made the goal in overtime –
No, not really!
Then you looked at the board and it said your name?
There’s no board.
So how did you know you won – some guy with a marker?
You kind of pay attention – you only stop if you’ve knocked over three in a row. So once I had one, I still had to keep jumping. So once I was the only one jumping, I was like, Oh, I won!
But also because pole vault’s not that popular – at the same time, my other friends who are in the older age group – I was still jumping with them.
Did they jump as high as you?
Oh, they jumped higher! Not the ones in my age group, but the other ones, in the older age group.
So how high were they jumping?
That was actually really exciting because one of my friends, she got the new Canadian record for under 18 girls.
Yeah, 3 m and 92 cm.
So that’s 80 cm more than you? That’s a lot! That’s like almost a whole metre.
So what do you have to do to maybe gradually work your way up to that?
It would help if I was taller. But I can’t really control that. (Laughing). Kind of just technique, then.
So how do you learn that? Tell me what it’s like to train when you’re doing something like this.
Well our training consists of – in the fall we do a lot of base training – like building strength, and just conditioning. A lot of running stairs and everything like that. And then once we move inside, we do a lot of just jumping. Just jump after jump after jump. Just slowly fixing little corrections.
And so the coach says, well try this? Or do you know what’s wrong?
Sometimes you can know what’s wrong, but sometimes the coach is like, this is what you’re doing wrong, and you just kind of think about that the entire day while you’re jumping, and you are like, Oh, I didn’t do that this time. Or, oh I did that this time.
So how do you deal with – sometimes when people’s coaches tell them things like that it makes them mad? Like, does it ever make you mad, or do you just see it as this is helpful?
I don’t think it makes me mad because they aren’t constantly being like, oh you did this and this and this and this and this wrong. It’s just more like, maybe do this instead.
And they don’t – they won’t overcorrect me. They won’t give me too many things to think about at once.
So that’s helpful.
Do you apply the same thing in other parts of your life, do you think? Like are you good at learning in other parts of your life, too?
I don’t know… … it’s probably taught me that I work hard. I don’t think it’s like, not like, I work hard at pole vault, I have to work hard at English.
It makes me wonder if you know how to work hard automatically now?
Yeah! I would say so. Maybe not so much pole vault, but when I was younger with gymnastics – it was a lot of, I was quite a competitive gymnast when I was really young, I was like an overly hard worker, so it was like, work hard, work hard, work hard, that was all I knew – so of course I did that in school.
That’s one of the things about young women in sports that we always wonder about right – like what are you learning about, like, resilience, if you don’t win? How do you manage that? Do you throw the pole and run away, or do you just go, okay, that’s just today, and maybe tomorrow… then can you apply that to another part of your life, if things don’t always go your way, can you learn to say, okay, next time it will be okay, or I’ll work harder, or….
Yeah, I think – again, I have a bunch of friends I also pole vault with, of course if one of us don’t win, we’re still all going to be friends, and we’re all going to work hard, and train, and hopefully we’ll do better next time – and usually if I get beat, I get beat by one of my teammates – so I’m happy for them too, right?
That’s amazing – what you’re learning – like how to be happy for your friends, no matter what you’re doing, and how to keep working, even when you’re not super-successful – and you may not know this, but that’s not something everybody learns. It’s actually a really important thing!
So what’s next? Are you going to keep competing?
Probably for the rest of high school.
Do you see like the Olympics, or…?
You’re clear! This is more for fun.
Yeah, it’s more like a fun, extra-curricular thing – I feel like I would rather do other things with my life than pole vault my whole life.
Like it’s a fun little side thing to do instead of having to worry about school, I don’t think I’d want to keep going forever.
On this blog none of us are professional at sports, but our life is all about how to have balance, how to have fun activity.
That’s why I keep pole vault!
I’m just very impressed with your ability to keep going and trying things. When I was your age I was very intimidated by competition and things.
I think I get it from my dad’s side of the family!
So you’ll keep in touch with us and I’ll catch up a year later and see what you’ve done?
Like a sequel!
Thank you Issy!
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who writes regularly for this blog twice a month and occasionally when the spirit moves her. Issy lives in Toronto and trains with the University of Toronto track club. Click this link for a video of Issy jumping.