Allyson Simmons actually gave up pole vaulting a few years ago.
“I didn’t think I was good at it,” the Fairless junior recalled. “I didn’t think I would be able to do it.”
A change of heart and encouragement from her father brought Simmons back to the sport she dominates today. Her biggest reward is within reach.
Simmons will be one of the leading contenders to win the Division II girls pole vault state title Saturday at the OHSAA Track and Field Championships. Her winning height of 12 feet at last week’s Bedford regional was the best regional vault in the state field.
A three-time state qualifier, Simmons will try to become Fairless’ first girls track and field outdoor state champion. She won the coaches association’s Division II-III indoor state title earlier this year.
Simmons believes her previous experience in Columbus and her success elsewhere will be a big asset as she aims for gold.
“I’m going to be a lot more relaxed,” Simmons said. “It’s going to be easier coming in at a higher height instead of coming in at the starting height. I think the starting height was my biggest jump my freshman year.
“Coming in at higher height will definitely help. It will definitely mellow me out to see some girls drop off early to begin with and to see who will come up and place with me.”
Simmons has come a long way since her first attempt at vaulting in junior high school. Needing points to win a meet, her coach told her to try it.
Her coach was her grandmother.
“I did OK,” Simmons recalled. “I think I cleared two bars.
“I might have jumped in two meets after that, then I quit.”
She wasn’t away from the sport very long.
Simmons’ father took her to see Perry vaults coach Darren Ehmer, a friend he grew up with. After watching Simmons practice, Ehmer told her father she could have a good career and go somewhere in vaulting. He still coaches Simmons.
“I think it was mainly because of the speed and that I wasn’t scared,” Simmons said. “You can’t be scared going into pole vaulting.”
It didn’t take Simmons long to make an impact in high school. She earned regional runner-up honors behind teammate Courtney McMahon and became the only freshman to earn a Division II girls pole vault state berth in 2011.
“I was not expecting it,” Simmons said. “I think I got fourth at districts. … Getting fourth at districts, I was like ‘Oh, I’m probably not going to make it out of regionals.’ It was definitely surprising to me.”
Simmons keeps reaching new heights. She tied the all-time Stark County girls pole vault record of 11-6 at the 2012 district meet and broke it with a 12-0 at this year’s West Holmes Invitational. She rewrote the record book twice at the Stark County Championships this season when she reached 12-1 and 12-4.
Having top marks will give Simmons the advantage of entering Saturday’s finals later than others.
“If my warm ups don’t look too good, Ehmer will tell me (start at) 10-6,” Simmons said. “If they’re looking good, I’m hitting my mark, I’m penetrating the box and getting into the pit easily, then I’ll probably start at 11.”
At the end of the day, Simmons hopes she completes the most successful chapter of a story that almost ended too soon.