Camas gymnast-turned-pole vaulter finds her ideal landing spot for college
CAMAS — It all comes back to gymnastics.
Caleigh Lofstead will be competing in track and field in college.
Thanks, in large part, to gymnastics.
Caleigh Lofstead is having a great time, balancing so many things in her life.
Thanks, in large part, to gymnastics.
And even though Lofstead gave up full-time, club gymnastics years ago, she never gave up on her love for the sport.
Which is why high school gymnastics became the perfect landing spot.
Lofstead, a senior at Camas, is all positive about her final year of gymnastics. She is not stressing over how far she will advance this winter. Instead, she just wants to help her team and have a lot of fun.
Next school year, she will be at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., competing in the pole vault for the Commodores. That event is dangerous, challenging, and takes full focus. Take a guess as to where she learned those skills.
Last spring, Lofstead won the Class 4A state championship in the pole vault. And again, she credits her dozen years of gymnastics training for a lot of that accomplishment.
As much as she loves gymnastics, though, she did not want it to consume her life.
“There is a certain type of person who can do gymnastics in college. I knew I wasn’t one of them,” Lofstead said. “You don’t have any other life besides that. For me, that wasn’t what I wanted high school to be about. I still love gymnastics. I love everything about it. But I didn’t want to be using all my time in the gym when I could be trying other things.”
One of those other things was the pole vault, which she first tried in the eighth grade at a track and field facility in Oregon City. She was hooked. She has been training there ever since.
But gymnastics never left her heart.
High school gymnastics gave her the outlet she needed to continue with her first love.
“It’s way more fun, laid back,” Lofstead said. “We still get work done. It’s refreshing. You’re rooting for each other all the time. I have the best time in gymnastics because of the coaches and the girls.
“Plus, it’s a great sport to train you for other sports. It helps with your strength and body awareness.”
Then there is the mental approach.
“People say, ‘Isn’t pole vault scary?’ Well, yes, but gymnastics is just as scary if not scarier,” Lofstead said. “There is a fear aspect to it. Doing a flip on a four-inch beam is really scary. You know you can do it but it’s a mental block. No one wants to land on your head. You have to be completely focused and know what you’re doing.
“You trust yourself. You learn.”
That approach made it easier to conquer the pole vault. Plus, all those years of gymnastics training made her stronger than the average teenager.
“I know I wouldn’t be as strong and powerful (without gymnastics). I spent so many years of my life getting stronger,” Lofstead said.
So when it came for her to try her new sport, she had an inner-strength, too. She knew.
“I kind of had a head start,” she said.
Camas gymnastics coach Carol Willson said it is no surprise that Lofstead’s best gymnastics events – the uneven bars and the vault — have a connection to pole vaulting: Speed and upper-body strength.
“She’s just a great kid. She works hard at everything. A great student. Responsible. A great leader,” Willson said.
Lofstead finished sixth in the state as a freshman at the pole vault. Then third as a sophomore. She reached the top of the podium as a junior, and her marks drew the attention of college programs. She said she loved her visit to Vanderbilt and she is excited about living in Nashville. Plus, there is the opportunity to spend more time clearing a bar high in the air and landing softly.
“I used to dread going to gymnastics when I was doing club. I’ve never dreaded going to pole vault,” Lofstead said. “Once I realized I could be good enough to compete at college, why would I pass up four more years of vaulting?”
Still, before her final high school track and field season, before she heads off to college, she has to say goodbye to that sport that started it all for Lofstead.
“This is the last time I’ll do gymnastics competitively,” Lofstead said. “I want to have a good time and not leave anything out there.”
Before every meet, the Camas gymnasts get together and remind each other of the most important thing: Have fun.
“The coaches and the team, we all have a great time,” Lofstead said. “You can still be competitive, get better, and have fun. I feel it’s a perfect balance.”