ALLENDALE, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Valley State University alum Kristen Hixson will rely on more than a decade of training for a single night of competition as she tries to pole vault her way onto the U.S. Olympic team.
Her journey has surprised even her.
“I would have never guessed at a younger age — in high school or even freshman or sophomore year of college — that one day I’d be training for the Olympics,” she said. “I just wouldn’t have guessed. So to even make it would be just unbelievable.”
She first tried the pole vault on a whim 11 years ago when she was a middle school student in Remus, Mich.
“It was in seventh grade. It was spring time and we had to pick a sport, and so my mom did track in high school and my brother was currently in high school doing track and he was actually pole vaulting,” she recalled. “And so the first day of practice, I remember (my coach) Mr. White said, ‘Who wants to try pole vaulting?’ And I just raised my hand and said, ‘Sure,’ and that’s how it started.”
“I liked it right away,” she added.
She had always liked sports, trying gymnastics, track, cheerleading and wrestling. Pole vaulting combined many of the things she liked from those other events, demanding strength, speed and coordination.
“It’s different. I’ve been involved in sports my whole life. Really anything you can think of, I’ve done,” she said. “This is by far the most challenging.”
Hixson won a state title as a Remus high school student in 2010. As a student at GVSU, she was a seven-time All-American, won three NCAA Division II national championships in both indoor and outdoor competition, and set a national record for Division II women’s pole vaulting.
Now, she’s one great performance away from becoming an Olympian.
“This would not be possible without Grand Valley,” Hixson said. “Even now (after graduating), they’re my biggest supporters. They believe in me sometimes more than I do myself, which is really important for me.”
She still trains with the Lakers in Allendale as a volunteer coach under coach Lou Andreadis.
She’s not a favorite to earn one of the three pole vaulting spots on Team USA at the Olympic trials this week, but she is certainly a contender.
“I have to look at it the same way I’ve been looking at it the past year and a half: trust that the journey and the path that I’ve taken thus far is the right path,” she said. “So that’s sort of calming to know that I have confidence in that. But you know, I’m still nervous. It’s still the Olympic trials.”
She knows the competition at the trials is steep, having previously gone up against some of the others who want one of those spots on Team USA. In March, she took fourth among the elite field at the U.S. indoor national championships. Her best vault of 15 feet, 3 inches was the fifth best in the U.S. this year.
The Olympic games in Rio are so close — and yet still so far away.
“It would be heartbreaking if I didn’t make it ’cause I am so close. I can almost reach out and touch it almost. But I am realistic,” she said. “I’m a little nervous, obviously. That’s natural. But I’m definitely more excited than anything, I think. I’m confident of where I’m at, where my training is at, and so I think if I just go in and do the best I can that day, that’s all I can ask for.”
The women’s pole vault competition is scheduled for Friday at the track and field trials in Eugene, Oregon.
The Olympic games in Rio start Aug. 5.