Reaching new heights

Senior Kaylee Packer signs with LeTourneau University for pole vault

She grips the pole with firm hands, steadying her gaze down the runway. She feels the sweltering sun above her, overhears the faint murmurs of her teammates and the scuffle of shoes hitting the Tartan track surface. Her heartbeat thumps faster as she braces herself, lifts her pole in the starting position and sprints with everything she’s got.

This is her moment.

Planting her pole in the box, she hoists herself high up in the air. The background noise fades and all she sees is the vast blue sky as she curls over the bar, preparing for the landing.

Senior Kaylee Packer has been pole vaulting for nearly three years now. Both on her school team and in the Polecats Pole Vault club in Keller, where she trains with her private coach Hal Theodore year round.

“I retired from competitive gymnastics my freshman year,” Packer said. “When I was younger I ran track, so that’s how I was introduced to it. Pole vaulting involves a lot of strength and agility and my gymnastics abilities helped me learn the basics. I love the fact that there is always something new to strive for. I love clearing the bar, the elevation, and the thrill you get.”

Packer’s coach has been with Kaylee since she first learned how to pole vault and believes that Kaylee has improved a lot, both in her performance and physique.

“I started working with Kaylee in the summer of 2016 and she has continued to train with our club, twice a week,” Theodore said. “She has really stepped up her game since last year increasing her personal best by 1′ this season.”

With a current personal best of 10’6’, Packer continues to improve and has signed with LeTourneau University to compete for them next year.

“Kaylee going to LeTourneau University is awesome,” freshman Haley Dorr said. “My brother actually attends LeTourneau and I know that they have great programs there. There is no doubt in my mind that she will go far.”

Dorr first met Packer when she was in eighth grade. Packer was a sophomore at the time and the only female pole vaulter on the team. Now, Dorr and Packer are both on the team together and have remained good friends.

“Kaylee’s pole vaulting performance is amazing,” Dorr said. “She has helped me become a better pole vaulter.”

Packer’s coach credits this success as an example of her being a strong influence to younger athletes. Someone that continually improves in her performance by committing to training and working hard.

“She is loved by everyone at our club, has great work ethic, is very coachable and wants to compete at a high level,” Theodore said. “LHS has always been a strong contender in the pole vault and track and field in general and Kaylee is keeping up the tradition.”

However, behind the successful results of Packer’s efforts, there were many challenges and injuries acquired to reach that level. Pole vaulting requires a strong upper body and good flexibility to pull up and go over the bar, which proved to be demanding for Packer at times.

“It was a struggle learning how to get my muscles back so I can train well,” Packer said. “Last year during track season, I got really bad shin splints as well as tinnitus in my left ankle so that was a major setback for me.”

Despite the struggles and demands of pole vaulting, Packer continues to pole vault devotedly even though the sport might not be as well known from other sports including football, soccer and baseball.

“It doesn’t really bother me,” Packer said. “I actually like being kind of unique and not doing something that everyone else does.”

Packer’s inspiration is Lakan Taylor, a senior from Alabama who recently became the first woman to win national pole vault title. Her other biggest influence is her mom, who she described as a strong woman. Packer’s mom always motivates and uplifts her whenever she has a meet.

Along with pole vaulting, Packer is involved in her church youth group, National Honor Society and student council. She plans on getting a masters in biology and wants to become a virologist.

“Basically, I’ll be studying viruses and how they’re antibiotic resistant bacteria,” Packer said. “I’ll also learn how to make medicine.”

Although she plans to enter the medical field, Packer will always have a passion for pole vaulting.

“Getting high in the air with only the aid of a fiberglass pole is the best natural high,” Packer said. “It’s one of the most difficult events to perfect in track and field, but I crave the challenge.”