The scene: brazen sun setting on Hononegah’s Kelsey stadium after my oldest brother Ben’s track meet, waiting for the results so we can go home. My little 8-year-old eyes soak in that monstrous black rubber oval and transport my scrawny body to the Olympic stadiums. Fans cheering, camera lights everywhere, the full weight of that elite level bearing down on me. My mom lets me run a lap, the 400m, my favorite event to date–and don’t you doubt it. The Glons were Olympic junkies. My parents went to Montreal, and would’ve gone to LA in ’84 had I not been born. My first 400m PR (personal record) was 2:00, what I thought (and was told) was decent for my age. Ben would break the school’s pole vault record that year, and we couldn’t have been prouder.
Fast forward to when I first set foot in Hononegah’s halls. I’m the youngest of four and enter into a decade-long legacy of being the youngest Glon. I start to make my own footprints and soon no longer hear “Oh, you’re soandso’s sister?” Also riding on my back was a vast history of football (soccer in America). All my siblings played, over 10 years of club and four years of high school, and both my parents coached for as long as I could remember. I grew up at my siblings’ games, gnawed on My Little Ponies with my best friend, took road trips with my dad’s college team, and went to Denmark to compete with a 2nd ranked team through the Sirens club. My house had a football field as a main feature, where my siblings passed weeks upon weeks of self-induced practice. Their competition for longest juggling streak was legendary in our household.
So when girls’ soccer season rolled around in the spring, far be it for the newest Glonner to put on cleats and take the field. Nope, I traded them in for mid-distance spikes. I wasn’t all that impressive on the track–I just had heart. I only ran a 63-64 second 400m, and got put on the relay teams at times. I tried out triple jump, but ended up wrecking my hip, and I shouldn’t have to explain about shin splints. When my junior year came around, and college loomed on the horizon, I sat up late one night watching the Sydney Olympics. I felt shivers run down my spine when Stacy Dragila became the first gold medalist for women’s pole vault. An American, a fellow citizen of the country I called my own, made history. I knew instantly that my heart, strength, determination was being called, called to the runway. I would be a pole vaulter, not matter what it took.
Luckily, Illinois followed suit and made it an official girls’ event statewide for the 2001 season. I jumped at the chance (pun intended) and spoke with our boys’ coach about the idea. Polaski (Pol for short, appropriately enough) was all for it. I took home videos he gave me and tried to carry out his instructions as best as possible. I kept up on my weightlifting, did push-ups at home, and usually had to be kicked out of the stadium at the end of the day. The glorious day came when I got my own pole, a UCS Spirit I named Bellatrix, for Orion’s shoulder star since my shoulder clicked and was sometimes weak. I’d discover later that it was also named the Amazon Star, further confirming the wisdom of my choice in names.
And on that first glorious practice with my own pole, I broke it. No joke. We had wooden pallets under our pit to keep it off the muddy ground. I missed the box and wedged it between one of these pallets, only to break the tip when I took off. I could imagine UCS shaking their heads when they heard the story–“This is why women shouldn’t vault”–but whatever their reaction, they replaced it. And a good thing, too. Because I kept at it, and I loved it. My very first competition was at Sterling High School, where they had female vaulters for longer than I was alive. Their girls SOARED over heights I only dreamed of. Despite the intimidation of excellence, I came out with 6′ 6″ as my first PR. Coach Black from Sterling approached me after I was geeking out with my mom, and asked if I had vaulted before. I explained a bit of my history, saying it was my first meet, and he said it was odd, because I looked like a natural.
I must clarify at this point, dear readers, that I had never been called a natural at anything. I had a gift for writing, sure, and a masterful way with words that had earned recognition ever since middle school. I was a skilled archer, practicing til I had numb fingertips in my grandpa’s backyard. I loved running and grew a set of lungs for midfield position in football. I got hand over fist compliments about my Native American dancing. And yet, I was never a natural. This coach, whose vaulters were near doubling my first height, used that word.
I was hooked.
I excelled and took first in Conference, in Sectionals, and earned a 6th place medal at State. I was stoked to be sharing a room with one of my biggest athletic role models—a fellow basketball player, sprinter, and high jumper to boot. I earned a qualifying spot in 2002 as well, but was struggling with correcting my form and didn’t make finals. At our end of the year banquet, despite not being a team captain, I earned our team’s MVP award, which was yet another dream come true. I had underclassmen at my graduation party that were sad to see me go, someone they looked up to on a team where mostly the conceited cheerleader type did well. Leaving Hononegah, it felt odd to have left such a mark, when I at first never thought I’d ever rise to the challenge of that caliber.
At Lawrence University, I continued vaulting and making my teammates’ heads shake at my dry humor. During the fall of my sophomore year, I tore my left ACL—my take off leg—and feared the worst. Pole vaulting is demanding, despite how easy some make it look, in a number of different ways, most of all on the body. All that pounding, all that twisting, all that force on the take off leg worried me from day one of recovery. But it all went away during the first practice for which I was medically cleared for vaulting; the first vault, just a basic drill to swing my legs up in a position that looks like the number four, gave me indescribable joy. In my senior year, I broke both our indoor and outdoor records, resetting them to 10’ 2”. Coach approved my request to make a last chance meet in Milwaukee, hoping to qualify for Nationals, as I was only inches away in practice. Alas, that was one dream not to be, and graduated with a Field MVP award from the team.
I had no job prospects, and so returned back home in June. I investigated coaching vault at Hononegah, but my first job let out at 5 pm, and it’d be impossible to get there in time to benefit the team any. My second job had me rise early to start my shift by 6, letting me off by 3, and thus began my coaching journey. Danny Savage didn’t have any specific vaulting coach and welcomed my offer. Three years later, one of my first vaulters I had had since her sophomore year took 1st place in the conference. Vaulting specifically had to be held at a different location from the rest since the original host school had no pit (private school, too costly under their insurance). Oddly enough, that had been the same situation with my senior year conference, and in celebration, I gave her my 1st place conference medal from my senior year, too. The other assistant coach told me she was speechless for most of the ride home, truly touched by the gift. I think that helped solidify a coaching legacy for my alma mater.
There is not much and, simultaneously, mountains I can say about my seven years at a coach. Like being a scouting advisor, I learned as much from them as I hope they did from me. I made some poor choices, granted, and learned from them. At times, I felt inadequate as a coach due to all of my time obligations. I attended practice the same day that our family dog died, and their energy cheered me up. For the first time, I was point blank thanked for my effort and expertise by one of my vaulters, a humbling and new experience that has permanently left a mark in my mind. I recruited two of my athletes to our scout troop, whom remain my good friends to this day. Hearing or reading the phrase “Tell me a joke, Glon” never fails to bring a smile on. I got to drive them down to the State meet this past season, an eye-opening and enjoyable experience, to be sure. I was proud to share in all their victories, and humbled seeing their success outshine my own.
Just this September, I up and moved 600 miles east, away from my childhood home and livelihood and family and a majority of my friends. I was dropped into gorgeous country, just as the leaf-like fur of the highlands turned to gold, orange, and a dozen shades of red. I became familiar again with long lost friends, discovered delicious food and coffee, and laughed until my head hurt. Much of my time after the move was put into building a ramp for an aging relative, slimming down my possessions, and accomplishing a couple projects that’ve been held at bay for months. A newly upholstered couch and a bookcase from my grandpa’s scrap wood are just two of them. With all the ups and downs, both seen and unseen, It is one of the best starts to a great adventure I could ask for.
In the quiet solitude of our study, cat lounging on a blanket occupying 1/3 of my desk’s territory, I finally see a green Tae Kwon Do belt staring back at me after weeks of searching. Seeing my brother go through Judo in our younger days, martial arts has always been a draw for me. Lawrence gave me that opportunity, and as part of my activity fee. I exceled through the ranks to my blue belt (halfway to black), but due to scheduling and physical demand, I wasn’t able to complete the advancements. Tradition in our school was to pass our belt to a person who had inspired us. I gave my white belt to my scout troop, the yellow to my grandfather, and the green was supposed to go to Dragila. I saved it all this time, hoping against hope that I’d get that chance, like so many others I had been given. Even though it’s a long shot, I email the address given on the Dragila vaulting camp website…and wait.
Nothing for a couple weeks. I assume they just ignore it and can’t accept packages for security reasons. Surprisingly, an email DOES come in, and I’m elated! It was an apology for missing my message, and I was given the go ahead to send the package. Signed: Stacy Dragila. I mean, really? An email from one of my biggest role models!? It seemed all a dream.
I had to elaborate on this over the three pages not to brag about my accomplishments, not to garner sympathy for my struggles, but rather to explain how drastically my life was changed from something as “simple” as pole vaulting. My personality, work ethic, humor, dedication, desire to do something great with what I’ve been given—all of this I owe in part to Stacy Dragila, a gift that can never be equaled.