Setting the bar high

Senior pole-vaulter Charlotte Stevens finds courage, strength through niche sport, community


Lucy Marco

Charlotte Stevens pole vaults at a meet on April 13. Photos courtesy of Stevens. Illustration by Lucy Marco.

Lucy Marco, online co-editor in chief

Clutching a carbon fiber pole, she sprints down the field until she suddenly stabs the pole into a box at just the right angle and acceleration to fling herself over an 11-foot high crossbar without touching it.

Is it a method of medieval torture? Is it a physics problem? It’s pole vaulting, and senior Charlotte Stevens just happens to be McCallum track and field team’s only pole-vaulter.

Pole vault is so technical and there are so many things that can go wrong, and it is really easy for me to over-analyze and freak myself out about it.

— senior pole-vaulter Charlotte Stevens

“How my coach described it is that it’s the only part of track that has no practical application. So pretty much we use poles that are made of fiberglass, so they bend, and there are different lengths and weights,” Stevens said. “You carry it, and there’s a box that you put one end in, and then you jump and try to get as high as you can to clear the bar.”

Stevens’ pole vaulting journey all started a little over three years ago in her hometown, Davis, Calif.

“I did gymnastics growing up, which a lot of pole-vaulters did. And then I quit at the beginning of my freshman year and started doing pole vault in the winter,” she said.

Pole vaulting at her school was a popular sport with stiff competition.

“I went to a different school my freshman year, and pole vault was a really big thing. We had a guy who was three years older than me who went to the Olympics last year, so that launched the program.”

McCallum does not have any pole vaulting facilities, so Stevens needed to look elsewhere for her training.

“I pole vault at a club, and there are a lot of people there who do pole vault in college, a bunch of people from UT and other schools; they can jump super high.”

Stevens’ training with college athletes has paid off when it comes to competing in the event for McCallum.

Stevens (back row, second from right) with the Mac varsity track girls at the district meet. Photo courtesy of McCallum Girls Track & Field Instagram.

“Charlotte’s best event is the pole vault and she’s one of the best vaulters in the district,” said Coach Webb, the head coach of the girls track team. “She has a strong work ethic, good strength and a lot of courage.”

Fellow track and field member sophomore Esme Barraz believes that being a pole-vaulter requires bravery.

Charlotte is very friendly and sociable. She is good at taking charge and getting things done.

— Stevens' teammate, sophomore Esme Barraz

“I know physically you need to have a very strong core and be very coordinated. In addition, you have to not be timid or scared because you are catapulting yourself in the air basically.”
Barraz also admires Stevens’ strength when it comes to the team.

“Charlotte is very friendly and sociable,” she said. “She is good at taking charge and getting things done.”

The community that Stevens has found within the track and field team has been a crucial part of her time as an athlete.

“Going to track meets and having a community within it is really fun,” Stevens said. “Track meets are really long; they are literally all day, so there’s a lot going on.”

Pole vaulting may seem terrifying to a casual observer, but the fact is, it is. Working through self-doubt has been a huge part of Stevens’ personal growth.

Grace Nugent

“I think the mental aspect is really the hardest part. Last year, I had a lot of issues, where I’d just run through and wouldn’t jump because I would feel like something was off with my run. I’ve worked through that. Pole vault is so technical and there are so many things that can go wrong, and it is really easy for me to over-analyze and freak myself out about it.”

Stevens feels proud of the progress she’s made and accepts that she’s still learning to trust herself.

“Compared to where I was last year mentally with pole vault, I’m a lot better. I’ve found some random cues, so I’m not running through as much anymore. I feel better about that. There are always some days that are kind of off. I’ve mostly overcome it, but sometimes it comes back.”

Although Stevens plans to retire from her competitive pole-vaulting career when she graduates in June, she is thankful for the connections she has made.

“I feel like with pole vault in particular, because it is such a weird event, there’s a really strong community in it. That aspect of it I will miss most,” she said.

[Charlotte is] one of the best vaulters in the district. She has a strong work ethic, good strength and a lot of courage.

— Bryan Webb, Stevens' varsity track coach

Her advice to anyone interested in trying an unconventional sport is to “just try it.”

“Looking at people who’ve done it for a while, going 10 feet in the air, you don’t do that at first. It takes a while, you really build on it. I think it’s really fun, with any unique sport, it is fun to learn, even if you don’t stick with it.”

Ultimately, Stevens has gained valuable wisdom from her time as a pole vaulter, lessons that she can continue to apply as she moves on from high school.

“I can make things way more intense for myself than they need to be and put a lot of pressure on myself. …Working to overcome that translated into school and my personal life to not be so competitive or to be the best.”