Midlothian freshman McKenna Dunn was nervous when she stepped up for her first pole vaulting competition.

The competition was her first as a member of the Trojans’ indoor track and field team, and her first official performance after months of training.

What was on the minds of those watching was different, however: It was history.

On Jan. 17, Dunn became the first pole vaulter to compete for a Chesterfield County school in about 20 years. She also became the first Chesterfield athlete to compete at an official VHSL girls pole vaulting event.

This weekend, she will compete in her second state meet.

In the early 1990s, Chesterfield County did away with pole vaulting. None of the schools had pole vaulting pits — and still don’t — which drove administrators to cut it from Chesterfield track programs.

So how did a freshman, relatively new to the sport, overcome Chesterfield’s pole vaulting limitations?

Dunn was a gymnast for years, and a talented one. She started when she was about 6 years old and competed until last year, earning the status of a Level 9 gymnast.

But injuries took their toll. She broke her wrist repeatedly, and despite the fact she said her time as a gymnast was worth it, she decided it was time to move on.

Last fall, one of her friends from gymnastics wanted to try pole vaulting, and Dunn joined her in trying it. She immediately fell in love with the new endeavor, as well as track as a whole.

“It has a lot to do with my gymnastics background, I feel like,” Dunn said. “It’s a challenging sport, and I like challenges.”

With the recommendation of some coaches from St. Christopher’s, she eventually ended up with Kyle Bishop and Bob Disse at the Aim High Pole Vault Club in Mechanicsville, where the two coaches train many local athletes. Bishop is an assistant coach at Highland Springs, and Disse is an assistant coach at Maggie Walker.

Bishop says that female gymnasts develop an incredible athleticism, and the body movements translate well between the sports.

“And they’re not afraid of heights, so that helps,” Dunn’s mother, Anne Marie, added.

But Dunn, her mother and her father, Scott, were unaware of Chesterfield’s pole vaulting ban. Bishop said he thought they should try to get an exception to the rule.

“(Coach Bishop) was really into it. He wanted to try it and see what would happen,” Dunn said. “And my mom was not going to go down without a fight.”

Her parents worked with Midlothian principal Shawn Abel to see if Dunn could join the Trojans’ track team. Abel had to discuss the idea with the school’s risk management, as well as administrators from Chesterfield County Public Schools.

With tons of help and support from Abel, administrators, her parents and her coaches, Dunn got her chance shortly into the indoor track season.

“Knowing that I could bring back something they took away a long time ago, it felt like I was really helping the team,” Dunn said.

Dunn has made a big impact. She has recorded multiple first-place finishes — most recently at the 4A South championships Saturday at Caroline, her second region title in two tries.

“That’s incredible. To come out with limited experience … and win is just a testament to her coachability and drive to be successful,” Bishop said.

She also participates in the 4×100-meter relay (4×200 indoors) and 100-meter dash (55-meter dash indoors), trying to apply her athleticism in any way possible to help the Trojans. Her dedication to the sport and the team has been a huge asset for Midlothian coach Stan Morgan — at practices and in her results.

“It’s meant a lot,” Morgan said. “She wanted to be a part of the team … and the kids love her. And she’s going to help us.”

Dunn’s best performance of her young career came at the 4A indoor state championships in March. She cleared 10 feet for the first time, earning her third place in her first state competition.

“We about fell out of the chair,” Anne Marie said. “That was a very shocking moment.”

While Dunn was the first athlete to bring vaulting back to Chesterfield, it appears she won’t be the last. Her efforts and those of her parents and coaches already have opened the door for new pole vaulters.

Sophomore hurdler Josh Rominger, a member of the Midlothian boys team, picked up the event for the outdoor season. As more athletes try it, the more pole vaulting will grow in the area. Dunn got the movement started.

“We’ve got all the proper procedures down with her. We now know what we need to do,” Bishop said. “And if an athlete in Chesterfield wants to participate, there’s a procedure now.”

“She’s kind of a trail blazer.”

from: http://www.richmond.com/sports/article_dc87b9a3-5302-5a38-adb7-b9af8c0f3afd.html

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