The Crimson White

Track and field athlete undergoes transformation, thanks to coaching staff

01_14_12 MWTR Crimson Tide Indoor Opener Alexis Paine Photo by Jeri A. Gulsby

Alexis Paine

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Editor’s note: Alexis Paine is a sports reporter for The Crimson White and a member of Alabama’s track and field team. She will report her experience at nationals next week as a member of the team.

 

Terrible. That’s how I felt after last year’s track and field season. My high jump and pole vault clearances were poor for a Division-I college level athlete, and the coaching staff didn’t even consider me to compete with the team at the Southeastern Conference meet.

So, when an entirely new staff of coaches with multiple individual and team conference and national championships to their names took over, I figured there wouldn’t be a place for someone like me on the Crimson Tide’s track and field team.

Just when I saw my dreams vanishing, I met coach Brad Smith, who saw potential in a slow, weak girl with no idea what she was doing in the pole vault. I had never been coached in the event – I was always a high jumper. Previous coaches had just sent me down the runway with a pole when they needed someone in the event, and I would wiggle over the crossbar any way I could. So, I dropped high jump, an event I had done since the 7th grade, and focused on pole vault.

Learning a new event was a struggle. Coach Smith started with the very basic aspects of pole-vaulting technique. Each new step was more daunting than the last, and my frustration built up everyday. Everything seemed impossible until something clicked, and then it was on to the next frustrating hurdle. Coach Smith also worked on building back my self-esteem that had been torn down by spending two years labeled a walk-on with no potential. He told me he knew I would jump 13 feet and possibly clear the school record. I thought he was crazy, but it was amazing to hear that someone believed in my abilities.

The first meet of the indoor season came, and somehow, I cleared a bar at 12’7. It was a foot over my previous personal best.

“Did that really just happen?” I thought. “Is it even possible?”

I couldn’t believe it. I went from being a nobody to being ranked in the SEC. It was such a weird feeling. By the end of the indoor season, I had gone from never competing in an indoor conference championship to scoring for the Tide.

The year progressed, and so did my vault performances. In the last regular season meet, I claimed the school record at 13’5.25’’. It hadn’t hit me that my name was going in the record books. But my season didn’t end there.

Last weekend, I competed in my first regional qualifying meet for a chance to compete at the national championship. I entered the competition ranked 11th in the region, but I still didn’t think I could be in the top 12 who qualified for the championship. I didn’t even consider myself a vaulter compared to the girls against whom I was competing. Still, I stepped on the runway and did what I had done every weekend of the season. I knew my form and experience weren’t on the same level as the other girls’, but I wanted my ticket to nationals.

I claimed the 4th spot to Des Moines, Iowa. What? That can’t be right. I’m not even good at this sport. How did I qualify for nationals? How did I improve by almost two feet in a year?

The only reason I can give for my success is my coach and his ability to believe in someone who had no chance before he showed interest. Without him, I wouldn’t have had the tools or the courage to attempt what, last year, I thought were unattainable goals. He knew all along that I had the potential to do great things. I just had to believe it and put in the work to achieve what seemed impossible.

I have learned so much this year. Not just about pole vault, but about life. First, we all deserve someone who believes in us. We are all a diamond in the rough at something, and if shown our potential, we could become great. Also, giving up isn’t an option. Even with struggles of previous years and new obstacles during this one, I never gave up the passion or work ethic I had for track.  Mostly, I learned to believe in myself. Everything I’m doing now seemed ridiculous, even a few weeks ago. I never imagined I would make it to a national championship or have a school record in my name. Every time I step on the runway, I tell myself I can, and I believe it.

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Track and field athlete undergoes transformation, thanks to coaching staff