With five career All-American titles and the school record for indoor and outdoor pole vault, senior Kayla Caldwell goes into this track and field season aiming to break the NCAA DII record for pole vaulting. After leaving Hillsdale, Caldwell will con­tinue pole vaulting with hopes of com­peting in Rio at the 2016 Olympic Games.


How did you prepare for this season?


I went to a summer training camp called Bell Ath­letics in Arkansas.  Earl Bell, the 1984 Olympic bronze medalist in pole vaulting, coaches the camp. I trained at Bell Ath­letics the week before London and stayed through the track portion of the Olympics.


How did you find out about the camp?


Last year at the NCAA Nationals, I was in the top two going in, but I ended up in fourth place.  I was really upset about it, so I emailed Jeremy Scott, an Olympic pole vaulter who works at Bell Ath­letics.  He told me to come to one of Bell Ath­letics’ three day camps.  I decided to go to the camp, but I planned to stay for two extra days to get more out of it.  In the end, they con­vinced me to stay for ten days.


How do you think the camp will affect your season? Your future?


I learned a lot from the camp. They com­pletely retaught me how to pole vault, and I’m a com­pletely dif­ferent jumper now.  As for my future, it was a really good tes­timony of God working in my life because I had no idea what I was going to do after college. Losing Nationals was dev­as­tating and I didn’t think I was going to do track anymore after I grad­uated.  This expe­rience really pieced out my future for me because now I know that I’m going to move  to Arkansas right after the national meet in May in order to train there full time.  I’ll have two or three weeks to train with them before USA Nationals this summer.


When did you start pole vaulting?


I started pole vaulting my freshman year of high school. I was a gymnast, but I got hurt.  My brother ran track, so I decided to try it out. I still did gym­nastics, but not as hard core as I did before I got hurt. I had always dreamed of going to the Olympics for gym­nastics.  Now I want to do really well in pole vaulting to get there.


Do you think gym­nastics pre­pared you for pole vaulting?


Def­i­nitely. If I didn’t do gym­nastics I probably wouldn’t be as good at pole vaulting. I wouldn’t be as strong, and I wouldn’t have as much body awareness.


You compete in mul­tiple track events. Which is your favorite and why?


I compete in sprints, hurdles, and pole vault.  My favorite is pole vaulting because it’s close to gym­nastics, and I loved that sport.  Also, I like the risk factor in pole vault. Not a lot of people can do it because they are too scared.  The risk factor is what draws me to the sport.


Do you have any super­sti­tions or rituals before meets?


I have a lot. I can’t shower the night before the meet, I have to shower the morning of the meet. That’s a huge thing for me — I’ll wake up at 3 a.m. in order to do it.  Also, I always have a stuffed animal that I take to meets with me. I got an Olympic bear from the camp this summer, so that goes with me now too.  I always have to zone out and listen to music on the trips to the meets, and I always wear my cross necklace.  If I lost my necklace before a meet, I don’t know if I could compete. Also, some­times people think I’m crazy because it looks like I’m talking to myself at the back of the runway, but I’m actually sending up a prayer before each jump.  My last ritual is that I count on the runway. Earl Bell made fun of me for it, but I count every left step out loud. It helps me keep my cool and my rhythm.


What do you think has been your greatest accom­plishment with Hillsdale track and field?


I’d have to say my first indoor national meet as a freshman. I got two all-Amer­icans that day: one in pole vault and one in the 4x400-meter relay.  Our team was not expected to place in the 4x400, so that was an unbe­lievable feat for us. It was one of my most shocking and proudest moments.


What are your goals for this season? For the future?


My goal for this season is to break the NCAA DII record.  The record right now is 14.5 1/2 and I’m hoping to jump 14.6. Also, the rest of my training will be alone, so I want to have fun with the group of girls that I’m with and enjoy my last semester of college. As for the future, I want to be a pro­fes­sional vaulter, and I really want to go to Rio for the Olympics in 2016.

- Com­piled by Sam Scorzo