Parents dread the thought of a 3 a.m. phone call about their child.
But last Monday in the wee hours, Brad Ahbe called his wife, Suzie, from Edmonton, Alberta, to let her know their daughter, Kelsie, a 2009 Green High graduate, had officially made the Canadian Olympic track and field team.
“We were flippin’ out,” Suzie said. “It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least.”
The anxiety-creating question had been: Would Team Canada take two or three pole vaulters to Rio de Janeiro, where the Summer Olympic Games begin Aug. 5?
Hours earlier, at Canada’s Olympic qualifying meet, Brad, a Canada native and a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, had watched his daughter clear 4.35 meters (14-3¼) to tie for second place. All athletes competed through miserable weather, and when the final tally was complete, Kelsie slipped to third on the tiebreaker, landing on the bubble.
A major chip in Kelsie’s corner was that in 2015 she had achieved the Olympic qualifying standard of 4.50 meters (14-9¼).
Waiting into the early morning for a confirmation email from Team Canada, Brad eventually fell asleep, but Kelsie kept checking.
“I didn’t sleep at all that night,” she said.
Finally, the good-news email landed.
“There was always a chance they were going to take her, and a chance they weren’t going to take her,” Brad said. “Within 30 seconds we phoned Suzie.”
For Kelsie Ahbe, who began pole vaulting as a sophomore at Green High School, it was a “blessing” that she was even able to compete at Edmonton. A stress fracture in her foot and a hamstring tear had severely limited her training in the runup to Canadian Nationals.
That’s why there was so much joy among her mentors, former coaches and teammates, friends and family, and a support network stretching from Summit County to Bloomington, Ind., to Knoxville, Tenn., and back to Canada.
Her parents are thankful for the “close-knit” circle of people who have supported their daughter, including current coach Tim Mack.
Months before the big meet, despite the injuries, Mack assured Ahbe. “There’s always a way,” she said he told her.
Ahbe, along with other Olympic hopefuls, has been training in Tennessee with Mack, a 2004 U.S. Olympic gold medalist in the pole vault. Stretched between venues and coaching athletes in the U.S. and Canada, Mack arrived in Edmonton late Saturday for Sunday’s pole vault competition.
“I was ready to do it without him being there, but it did prove important having him there,” Ahbe said.
Athleticism, faith, and perseverance always have been hallmarks of Ahbe’s remarkable career.
A two-time All-American and Big Ten champion at Indiana University, Ahbe had in 2011 become the second 14-foot vaulter in IU history, but then fell short of her goals in 2012.
“I’m not special for working through adversity,” she said. “It’s not an easy road. Through pole vault, I’m challenged physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”
She redshirted the indoor and outdoor seasons of 2012-13. The decision enabled her to step back from competition and refocus, while also completing her degree in public health.
At the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Championships, Ahbe cleared a school record of 4.40 meters (14-5¼), captured second place, and earned her second All-America certificate.
Ahbe won two OHSAA state titles in pole vault and was a four-year soccer standout at Green. She is believed to be Green’s second Olympic track and field athlete, following Mark Croghan, a three-time Olympian and five-time U.S. champion in steeplechase.
But it was her ability in gymnastics that prompted then high school teammate and state champion vaulter Carrie Kayes to recommend she give pole vault a try.
Dan Gourley, Eric Allan and Maedene Pfouts, Ahbe’s track coaches at Green, are beaming with pride and sharing stories of her competitive tenacity and sportsmanship.
“I am thrilled for her,” Allan, who coached Bulldog pole vaulters for eight years, said. “She knows how to deal with pressure. She also was screaming and cheering for everybody else on the track.”
Green’s pole vault tradition includes five state championships won by Kayes (2005), Ahbe (2007, ’08), and Morgan Estes (2012, ’13), and dates to 1986 when Croghan and champion pole vaulter Brian Kelly led the Bulldogs to a state title.
Her mother said Ahbe celebrated making the Olympic team for “about 10 minutes.”
“My thoughts went to, ‘What do I have to do in the next four weeks to get ready?’ ” she said. “I’m going for a purpose. I want to be competitive. Who knows what could happen?”