With the Olympics underway, students at South Middle School got to go flying with a former Olympian on Thursday.
April Steiner Bennett, who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, visited several Henderson County schools as part of the “Jump Back into School” stick-jumping program.
Students in South’s physical education classes took turns being lifted into the air with the help of bamboo sticks.
“It was kinda scary at first because I’ve never done it before and I thought I was going to go up really high,” said seventh-grader Kaytlan Kemp.
The student were under the careful supervision of Bennett and Steve Thomas, who is the program coordinator for Vault Safe which tries to introduce stick jumping to the P.E. curriculum to schools across the country.
“I was a little bit nervous, but I didn’t think they’d let anything happen to me,” said seventh-grader Teriana O’Nan.
Bennett said the program was started to promote pole vaulting as a sport.
“It’s bigger than just our sport. It’s about getting kids to get out of their comfort zone,” she said. “They are very introverted. They are on their phones, iPads and their electronic stuff. We want them to branch out and try something physical.
“The most rewarding thing about it to see the kids who have never had an adrenaline rush like they get from flying through the air,” she said.
“It was a cool experience,” said seventh-grader Zander Wilson. “I didn’t think I would like it, but it was actually fun. Going through the air and doing all of that jumping was pretty cool.”
Bennett and Thomas also presented their program to students at Chandler, East Heights and Spottsville elementary schools. The students at East Heights were able to Skype with Olympic pole vaulters Sandi Morris and Lexi Weeks from Rio.
Bennett is town to compete for the fourth time in the Jammin’ and Jumpin’ Street Vault on the Henderson riverfront Friday night. It will be the final competition for the Arizona native, who tied for sixth in last month’s Olympic trials as she jumped 14-9.
Facing more injuries, as well as younger competitors, Bennett decided it was time to stop chasing the Olympic dream.
“You start dealing with more injuries as you get to be a veteran athlete. I have some things that have been nagging all year. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have lasted another four years even if I had the finances to do it,” she said.
The realization that her professional career is over has been setting in for the 36-year-old. “I’ve been struggling all month with realizing that there are no more rings in my future. It’s always been about that,” she said.
Because of a commitment she made in the spring, she will make Henderson’s event her final competition.
“In the beginning of the year, I ran into the Kentucky crew. They said, ‘If you’re not in Rio, we want you in Hendo.’ I said, ‘Absolutely’ They run a great competition. It’s easy to compete. The community is supportive. We just have fun.”
Bennett will compete along with the other pro-elite vaulters beginning at 7 p.m. Originally scheduled for Saturday, the men’s competition will also be conducted along with the women. The program schedule was changed because of the high probability of rain and thunderstorms on Saturday night.