My name is Kayla Caldwell. Most people know me because I am a pole vaulter. I have been a pole vaulter for 11 years. I have 12 or 13 All Ohioan titles to my name, 7 All-American trophies, I have competed in 6 USA National Championships, 1 Olympic Trials, and have won competitions all over the United States, in South Korea, and Taiwan…these are all the things Google knows about me, and what most people know of me. However, I feel like if I am going to take up blogging and discussing topics and giving out advice my readers should know who I really am. I have never posted all of me online, so here goes nothing.
I grew up in a small village in Ohio called Tuscarawas; it’s not even big enough for it to say it’s a town on the sign. It’s surrounded by big hills, woods, and Amish country. But not too far from the cities of Canton, Akron, and Cleveland. My parents had my older brother and myself when they were just teenagers. We didn’t have much. If you watch one of our home videos you will see a head of lettuce, snack packs, and some bottles in our refrigerator. My parents were just kids, but we were never hungry, and I can’t remember ever wanting more then what we had. My dad had to work a lot; he worked in the steel mill, drove trucks, and did serveral odd jobs. My mom stayed home with us. My brother and me were inseparable, a year and 5 months apart and best friends. My parents fought a lot. They ended up divorcing when I was 5. I thought I was going to be living with my mom but my brother and I stayed with my dad. I didn’t see my mom very much after that other then holidays and the occasional weekends; she canceled on us a lot. My grandparents, uncles, and aunt helped my dad with us. I remember nights we didn’t stay at my grandparents house. My dad, my brother, and I would all share a bed and cry ourselves to sleep heartbroken and confused.
My mother is a strong woman, she has been through a lot. She didn’t have the best childhood, got pregnant in high school, and she chose to keep the baby and go through all of the hardships that came with that. She was a young mother and confused. She worked jobs that no one should ever have to work, and she was trying to find love again after the divorce. I don’t resent my mom for anything she has done, we are actually very close now. Sometimes people have to struggle and find their own way. She is a strong woman.
My aunts and uncles played sports. My grandmother was a majorette and my grandfather was a star football player and track stud. So of course they got me into sports.
My dad met a new woman, Melinda, who would become my stepmother when I was 9. She grew up without very much money and an alcoholic father. I learned alot from her, mainly how to be a fighter and never settle for anything less then what you want. My dad worked a lot and Melinda worked two jobs, was pregnant, and went to school, so to have somewhere to be I joined the gymnastics team.
Gymnastics was my life. I just knew I was going to the Olympics from the very first time I competed. Standing on top of that podium meant the world to me. For once I felt like I wasn’t worthless or invisible, I felt like I belonged. I found what my soul was searching for…competition. I needed to prove to myself that I had a purpose, that I could be a better someone then the person I was born to be. Prove that all of the struggles in my life meant something. My struggles became less of a burden and more like fire inside of me. Fire that fueled me to go for the impossible, fight through pain, and claw my way to the top. I WAS UNSTOPABLE…that is until I was in the 8th grade and I did a double back on the floor to my neck. My x rays still show the piece of bone floating in my neck that broke off of my vertebrae in that fall; a consistent reminder of a dream that never will be. My doctor said I needed to take some time away from gymnastics to heal. I was going to try to go to Cincinnati and train elite, I was going to the Olympics, and now I am trying out for the 8th grade basketball team? I was crushed. I didn’t have very many friends in school, two to be exact. Most of my friends were at gymnastics. I didn’t have slumber parties, I didn’t hang out, I trained. This was my worst nightmare. So as you can imagine with me being all of 5 feet tall basketball didn’t really work out. So I decided to try track and field. My brother did track and so I could hang out with him more and I mean I couldn’t be worse at it then I was at basketball right? It had to be fun. And man was I right. My 8th grade year I broke all kinds of sprint records and I even made the paper! To do this sport you had to train hard and there was pain in the training, it was therapy for me. I felt worth something again. Now I was only a sprinter but this one event kept catching my eye…the pole vault. We had one girl on our team that did it and between events I would go watch her and cheer her on; it looked like so much fun.
So now it is my freshman year. I am competing gymnastics for fun at an easy level, level 9, and I am doing track. I am jogging around the track a few weeks into the season and my sprint coach Diane Bell’s husband Dave Bell ( yes my first track coaches last name was Bell and my current coach has the last name Bell… Crazy I know) says to me “your a gymnast right? Come pick up a pole.” I fell in love with the sport of pole vaulting immediately. I went on that season to jump 11’9 at the state meet and get second place, and to win state every year after that along with breaking state records and being the first woman to clear 12 feet 9 inches in the state of Ohio.
I am so thankful for Dave and Diane Bell. They did more for me then any coach ever has to do for an athlete. Dave would drive me an hour once or twice a week in the winter just so I could pole vault indoors. They would let me spend the night at their house and pole vault in their backyard. We even drove to North Carolina to compete at Nike nationals. I owe my whole career to those two, I would’ve never been a vaulter without them.
Through all of this my life at home was rough. I do not want to discuss everything in this article so I will just summarize a few things. I now had a mom in and out of the picture, a dad and stepmom that worked a lot, and two younger siblings to help take care of. There was a lot or drama and I wanted out of there. I knew my only way out was to get a scholarship. Neither of my parents went to college and they certainly could not afford to pay for me to go. That scholarship drove me to work hard on the track as well as in the classroom. I did it, I got a scholarship to wherever I wanted and I chose Hillsdale College. One of the best decisions I ever made. I met some of my best friends there, and worked with some of my favorite coaches coach Towne and coach Forino.
I kept fighting for an NCAA national champion title and always came up short. I didn’t feel like I had proved enough to myself and I still had a dream of becoming an Olympian. So I called up Earl Bell in Jonesboro Arkansas and the rest you all know.
Pole vaulting continued to be a struggle for me. Always good, but never the best. The Olympic trials were the closest I ever came to being great. I was in reach of that dream I had held on to, the dream that got me through every bad thing, through every day of my life. It was in reach…and I failed to grab it. I was devastated. But the weeks after the trials I learned so much about myself that honestly missing that opportunity was one of the best things that could have happened to me.
I’ve always been a fighter. I always have been and I always will be. I don’t give up especially when the going gets tough. Statistics say I am too short to be a great pole vaulter and my body structure just isn’t quite right. Well statistics also say I should be a drug addict, or an alcoholic, and have about 6 kids with different men right now. I don’t believe in statistics, I believe in breaking them. I believe in heart and the human spirit and that we can do anything we set our mind to. I believe that Gods strength is so much bigger then my own and can help me get through anything. I will always believe.
“Just sometimes we have to break before we can shine”… I’m ready to be a glowstick ✨