Pole vault champ honoured at gala night for female stars

RUBBING shoulders with A-listers like seven-time world surfing champion Layne Beachley, INXS musician Kirk Pengilly, high-profile surgeon Charlie Teo and NSW Governor Marie Bashir is something Bendigo pole vaulter Madeline Lawson could well get used to.

The 17-year-old Victorian champion sampled the celebrity lifestyle when she attended a  celebration in Sydney for recipients of grants from Beachley’s Aim for the Stars Foundation.

Maddie was one of 28 successful applicants in 2013, receiving $3000 to help cover the costs she incurs travelling to train and compete.

High-achieving females from all walks of life – sport, the arts, community volunteers, students and business women – were honoured at a gala presentation and charity auction.

They also enjoyed a trip to Manly beach to surf with the Aussie legend, attended workshops designed to help them achieve their goals and were treated to a pamper package as they prepared for the 1920s-themed ball at The Ivy nightclub.

“At one stage, I had two people doing my make-up and three people doing my hair – it was awesome,” she said. “I just needed someone to come and massage my feet, really!”

“On the night, we were awarded a trophy and Layne had recorded a speech for each of us about our achievements and why we were chosen as grant recipients.

“It was really interesting to listen to what the others had done, because when you talk to them they are always so modest and don’t say much. Everyone there had their own story to tell.

“The youngest was a ballerina aged about 12 and the oldest were women in their 40s.

“One lady had lost her daughter and started the Heart to Heart Foundation for young women who have been through struggles, and she works through their issues with them using art.

“She showed a short video and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. She was so inspirational. I was sitting there thinking, I’m just a pole vaulter and not anything special.

“But I guess someone else might look at me and be inspired because I travel 1000km a week, going to Melbourne to train three times a week throughout year 12.”

Other highlights from the three-day program in September included sharing morning tea with Marie Bashir during a rare tour of Government House, meeting medico Charlie Teo at the presentation dinner and having her photo taken with rocker Kirk Pengilly.

“I was a bit nervous asking for a photo,” she says of the encounter with Beachley’s musician husband.

“But in one of the workshops, we got taught how to introduce ourselves: ‘Hello, I’m Maddie Lawson, I’m a pole vaulter and I’m aiming to be in the Olympics’.

“So I told him who I was and that I was one of the grant recipients and before I could say anything else, he said he already knew who I was! Talk about role reversal.”

I’m excited about finishing school because now I can say I am a full-time athlete. – Pole vaulter Maddie Lawson

Despite recently finishing her final VCE exam, life is not about to slow down for the bubbly teen who last month won the Victorian All Schools under-18 pole vault.

Her “gap year” will involve plenty of training on the poles and in the gym as she eyes a berth at the world junior track and field championships in the US next July.

“I’m excited about finishing school because now I can say I am a full-time athlete,” Maddie says. “I haven’t been training all that much because I’ve been so busy studying.

“But I actually jumped really well at All Schools. The qualifying height for world juniors is 3.95m and you only have to do it once, so hopefully I will get that before Christmas.

“Then it’s just a case of jumping as high as I can, as many times as possible.”

Maddie knows the benchmark height is well within her reach – her personal best competition leap is a lofty 4.01m, achieved in Melbourne 12 months ago.

Australia has three talented female pole vaulters in Maddie’s age category and there are only two places available at the prestigious under-20 event.

Last year, she qualified for the world youth titles but missed a berth on the Australian team, finishing third at the national championships after injuring her ankle 10 days before the meet.

“It was frustrating but… it’s made me more determined for this year,” she says.

“I’ve got sponsorship from Feelgood Fitness and have been going to gym three times a week and my strength and fitness has improved enormously. It might be really hot or I might be tired from studying, but I really want to make it, so I just go and do it.”

Mid-2014 will be jam-packed with international opportunities for young athletes.

World juniors run into the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Youth Olympics in China follow two weeks later, .

That could mean Maddie and her two main pole vault rivals will all get the chance to fly for their country during at least one of the competitions.

“Fingers crossed this could be my year,” she says.

With school over and her 18th birthday looming in February, Maddie is gearing up for a move to Melbourne to be closer to her coach, Mark Stewart. He is based at the Box Hill Athletics Club, where she is now a member.

She will head to Tasmania with several of her Box Hill training partners after Christmas to take part in a fully funded display competition aimed at raising the profile of pole vaulting.

That will be followed by a trip to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra in January for a training camp with members of Athletics Australia’s junior high-performance squad.

It sounds like a taxing schedule, but Maddie says there are plenty of light-hearted moments amid the serious physical work.

Take her last AIS camp, for example, when the nation’s top athletics prospects found themselves with time on their hands at Canberra airport as they awaited flights home.

“We staged an airport decathlon,” Maddie laughs, explaining how the group hurled a phone cover as a discus, hurdled over rows of seats in the departure lounge, used a medical crutch to pole vault over seats and performed running races and the long jump in slow motion.

There was even a mock medal presentation at the end.

“People were watching us and laughing and some were even filming us on their phones.”

If Maddie has her way, she will be seeing much more of airport interiors in future.

“That’s pretty much what I want to do with pole vault – travel and just see where it can take me,” she says. “It’s already taken me to New Zealand, Perth and Poland in the past. Hopefully it will be America next…”


Layne Beachley
Layne Beachley

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