Setting the Bar High

Back to Article
Back to Article

Setting the Bar High

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Mackenzie Hayward, then 14, stood at the end of the runway, gripping the pole between her hands. The crowd was silent, and Hayward could feel every eye on her. The officials had stopped the entire meet so that athletes and spectators could watch her. Closing her eyes, she imagined the vault, feeling her muscle memory kick in. Hayward’s mind went blank. She sprinted down the runway, counting her strides, placing each foot, not too long, not too short, into each step. Hayward planted the pole into the ground and flew over the bar, every muscle in her body engaged as she suspended herself in the air.

 

“I was used to crowds from gymnastics, but I had never had everybody watching me all at once,” Hayward said.

 

It all seemed to happen in an instant. The moment she hit the mat below, she became the champion of the eighth grade district meet, setting a national record for the tallest height ever vaulted by someone her age. Hayward heard her teammates cheer, and her parents shouting her name.

“I won and I was like ‘this is it, this is what I want to do’. It was like nothing I had ever done before,” Hayward said.

 

When she set a national record, Hayward had only been vaulting for about a year, and had more experience in gymnastics than pole vaulting, having competed as a gymnast since she was three. Standing at 5’10’’, Hayward came to find gymnastics increasingly difficult, especially the tight flips and twists ideally designed for gymnasts 5’1’’ or shorter. Although she was skilled in gymnastics, Hayward was told by her parents she would have to quit or risk injury.

“I was traumatized. I [had] done this all my life, I [didn’t] know anything else,’” Hayward said. “I finally quit —best decision ever.”

 

Despite being worried about losing her strength and muscle mass, Hayward quit gymnastics. At a loss for what to pursue next, her friend and former gymnast invited her to a pole vaulting practice the summer before eighth grade. Hayward picked it up instantly, sparking a love for the sport.

 

“A lot of gymnasts transfer to pole vaulting, so I went to practice with her, and I just fell in love with it,” Hayward said.

 

Even the coaches noticed her natural talent for vaulting. Her first coach, Hal Theodore, recommended Hayward practice with the high school vaulters at Marcus as a middle schooler. Hayward is still coached by Theodore, who works at Keller, and has also been coached by Andrew Reinberg after joining the Marauder track team her freshman year.

 

“Mackenzie is one of the hardest working people I have ever been around,” Reinberg said. “She almost out-works herself, because she has a stress fracture right now. She pushes herself to the limit, to the max sometimes, but that has given her the ability to overcome adversity and tough situations.”

 

As a pole vaulter, it’s not uncommon for Hayward to suffer with a stress fracture. She wakes up at 6:30 a.m. to workout before school, and then goes to track practice after-school during the season where she does sprints and olympic lifts in addition to upper-body strengthening exercises.

Hayward’s friends are also very supportive. Senior Taylor Maddux has known Hayward since she began vaulting and has traveled with her to meets across the country to watch her vault.

 

“Mackenzie makes pole vaulting seem effortless. There was one time where I was a little scared she was going to hurt herself, but she didn’t,” Maddux said. “It’s scary, because she’s launching herself 13, 14 feet into the air, and that’s a long way to fall.”

 

Despite her friend’s fears, Hayward has never struggled with a fear of injury. As Reinberg would say, she has the tendency to overwork herself, but Hayward and her coaches are confident that she will be as good as new in about a month, just in time to compete in Texas Relays and State.

 

“I never had a fear of heights, since I had so much air awareness from gymnastics,” Hayward said. “Every aspect of your body has to be strong in order to pole vault. And if you don’t have speed, you’re not going to get down the runway with those poles.”

 

All of her  hard work isn’t in vain. Hayward is currently tied for first place in the nation. She won state her freshman and junior year, and got second at state and third at nationals her sophomore year. Hayward is committed to Baylor University on a full-ride scholarship to continue pole vaulting, where she plans to pursue a nursing degree.

Hayward has also expressed interest in continuing her pole vaulting career beyond college, including competing at the Olympic trials. She looks to possibly compete in the Olympics one day, and sees working with Coach Richards at Baylor to be an important step in that journey.

“The team there was amazing, the people were so nice,” Hayward said. “I really like coach Richards, and I’m really excited to go to meets with a team that feels like family.”

 

Hayward says her favorite part of pole vaulting is the friends she’s made, and the supportive, yet competitive atmosphere, making it a sport that she would love to do for a long time.

 

“The pole vaulting community is so small that everybody knows everybody, so you go to a meet, and you’re going to cheer each other on,” Hayward said. “Every time you’re trying to better your own personal best. The competition is just there to cheer you on and to do their best as well. It’s really amazing.”

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email