The Rocky Mountain track and field team has benefitted from the assistance of a curious neighbor, who also happens to be the first woman to win Olympic gold in the pole vault.
A street in Pocatello bears her name. Dragila Way. It’s near Holt Arena at Idaho State University, a proud commemoration of a graduate who progressed into an Olympic gold medalist at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Each summer, she conducts a camp at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego.
And if you wanna talk about money, she’s netted plenty of income during her storied career that’s stretched across various countries for world competitions. So … how did Rocky Mountain High become blessed with Stacy Dragila as a pole vaulting coach?
“I literally live over the fence here, so it was a perfect location,” says Dragila, who has three world championships in IAAF competition (1997, ‘99, 2001). “In the fall, I saw the lights on during football season. I heard the crowds screaming. And I said, ‘wouldn’t it be perfect if I could work here?’”
It turned out perfect, indeed. Dragila’s passion is matched by head coach Brad Abbott, a former Boise State track athlete. He knew immediately during the interview process that Dragila shared Rocky Mountain’s kids-first philosophy.
Soon enough, she was hired. “How fortunate are the kids to have an Olympian help teach and coach them?” he says.
Educating the youth
At one point in time, the pole vault mortified Dragila. Her Rocky Mountain athletes have a hard time believing it, considering her successes. But the truth is, Dragila was recruited in 1992 to be a heptathlete at Idaho State, and then one day, Bengals coach Dave Nielsen had the girls try to vault a short distance.
At the time, it was a foreign concept for women. The inception of the men’s pole vault dates back to the 1896 Olympic Games by founding competitors such as Celts, Greeks and Cretans.
But the women? They did not have any Olympic history, nor college history, for that matter. “I didn’t figure it out that first day,” Dragila says.
It’s an event that encompasses sprinting, upper-body strength, gymnastics, even a jungle-gym apparatus to learn swing techniques.
It’s a nurturing process. Baby steps are needed.
Dragila eventually mastered the craft and became the first-ever gold medalist in the women’s pole competition at the 2000 Sydney Games. And now, she can share her arduous journey and experiences with shy athletes who are hesitant to vault fearful heights.
“You have to be able to communicate with the kids in their language and train them,” Abbott says. “She has that way with the girls.”
A fun experience
Dragila can relate to her athletes in a variety of ways.
When she was in high school, she had her struggles. “I kind of choked at state, big time,” she laughs. “You’re young and you’re maturing, and I think I just let it all get to my head.”
That said, she doesn’t want her athletes to feel pressured. She keeps things simple, cautious and does not over-emphasize technique.
Some coaches may push kids to bigger poles and bigger bars too soon. But Dragila keeps things consistent, safe — and most importantly — fun.
“It’s probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had so far pole vaulting — being able to have somebody that’s made it to the top,” Rocky Mountain junior Tessa Thompson says. “You can see where she’s been.
She knows what it takes to get there. “It’s pretty cool to think that she’s able to come and do this with us.”