Freshman vaults to record-breaking heights

Katie Gerbasich, Yearbook Editor

During the Magnolia track meet this season, freshman Emilee Smith set a new school record for pole vault with a height of 11 feet, 6 inches. She won the district and region titles and will compete at the Area Meet today in Arlington with a State Meet bid on the line.

Freshman Emilee Smith easily clears the bar in a meet at Barbers Hill earlier this season. She holds the school’s pole vault record. (Katie Gerbasich)

Q: When did you start pole vaulting? 

A: “So I started pole vaulting in seventh grade. I technically did it in seventh grade but I didn’t start doing club work until eighth grade. [The summer] before eighth grade is when I started doing club meets.”

Q: What are your earliest memories of it? 

A: “I remember when they were asking who wanted to do pole vault. We were in the cafeteria at KMS and they were like putting all the people who wanted to do it. And they said, ‘Well, has anyone done gymnastics?’I raised my hand and they were like ‘OK, cool. You’re doing it.’ I could not clear anything at first. The first practice was so bad. Then finally at the first meet I was the only one who cleared anything. I literally cleared 5 feet, like it was that bad. Opening height was 5-foot-6 but it was only our school so they lowered it to 5 feet and that was all I could clear.”

Q: What made you kind of stick with it? 

A: “Once I realized I could actually clear it. I mean, I just kept working. In seventh grade, I jumped 7 feet. I was like 6 inches from the seventh grade record. So I was like, ‘OK, this is cool.’ So then I started going to club and then that’s when I’m just like, ‘Oh, I can actually do this.’ I had just quit gymnastics, so it was giving me something to do. Then, I realized I loved it.”

Q: Can you describe your outside training? 

A: “I practice three times a week [with Don Arnold at Arnold’s Aviators.] Most of the time I just go for like two or three hours and work. He’s an amazing coach. I also try to do some abs stuff at home just for work, trying to keep that up whenever I can’t practice.”

Q: Describe your record-breaking jump?

A: “That meet was absolutely awful at first. So my step was like a whole stride off. I had to go back 6 feet, which is insane. I was so stressed, I took up no jumps during warm ups. I was struggling. And then all of a sudden we fixed my step and something just clicked. My jumps just started getting increasingly better. I cleared 11 feet. And that’s when I was like, ‘OK,  I’m still kind of in this’ and that’s when I knew I was top three.

“So I was happy from there in general. Then because I was top three, they went up by 3 inch increments. So I took one attempt to 11 feet, 3 inches and I had crazy hip height over it, but I came down on it and I was like ‘OK, this is a possibility.’ I was on a new pole, so I was really scared. But then I went up on my next one and I cleared it 11 feet, 3 inches, so I was super duper happy. Then I was really stressed because everyone was like, ‘Are you gonna break it?’ and I was like ‘I don’t know.’ But then I went into my 11 feet, 6 inch jump even better than my 11-3 jump and it just felt good. It was crazy. In the video you can hear everyone screaming in the background,  my mom yelling.”

Q: What is it like being the only girl pole vaulter on varsity, especially as a freshman? 

A: “At first I thought it was kind of crazy. But then I kind of realized, I’m ready for this. At my club meets, I go against junior and seniors so I wasn’t worried. I think it’s an amazing opportunity. No matter how I jump, I love watching it. And I think I was definitely ready for it. My first meet didn’t go great. But that kind of pushed me even more to prove myself and I think I did.”

Freshman Emilee Smith hugs a competitor from Klein during the Grand Oaks meet earlier this season. Smith was often found talking with those she was competing against. (Katie Gerbasich)

Q: You can be seen at meets talking with your competitors, why is this something you make an effort to do?

A: “I think for me, I don’t like it being all about me. I find it very awkward and kind of scary. So I think when I talk to other people, it just feels better. Sometimes I know it’s scary going against people who can jump 12 or 13 feet. So I think talking to them and being like, ‘Oh, like what do you jump?’ just feels better to me.”

Q: So what does it mean to have your mom at every meet? 

A: “My mom is amazing. She goes to every practice. She records every vault. We go home, we analyze every single vault. What was good about it, what was bad? She’s definitely my biggest supporter.”

Q: What’s the hardest part of pole vault? 

A: “I think a lot of people say mental, which it’s sometimes true. But, for me, I’m not crazy mental. I think it’s just making sure that my body is always the way I want it to be before competitions. I think I struggle a lot with things like shin splints and back pain from gymnastics. Before the meet I’m always kind of stressed about like, are my legs gonna hurt? My knee? Am I going to struggle with that? So just making sure that I’m in a performance-ready position.”

Q: What are your future expectations? 

A: “I’m hoping to just continue getting personal records and keep going. I want to jump higher and higher. The highest I can. I want to go to BYU. That’s like a huge deal for me. I think you have to jump like 12 feet, 6 inches or so. So, if I can just get around there, but hopefully higher. I’m aiming for higher.”

Q: What was it like to win districts as a team?

A: “I think as a team, we worked really hard to get there and I think even just for my individual event, it kind of showed me that what I’m working for is showing up and people are noticing it. Because I put in this effort, I’m working out three days a week for three hours trying to put in that work and sometimes people can’t see that. So, I think it finally showed.”