Head Over Heels, Heels Over Head

Katy Cameron races down the runway. Her legs drive while her heart thumps the beat. She glides smoothly, picking up speed while slightly lowering her vaulting pole. Her thoughts evaporate. Her muscles take over. She reaches the end of the line, glances down briefly. Still accelerating, she jams the pole into the back of the box and catapults through lift-off.

"It's the coolest thing . . . like I'm flying," says Cameron. "Sometimes I compare it to being a cross between Tarzan and Peter Pan."

For a little over two years now, Cameron, a junior from New Orleans, Louisiana, has made the most of her opportunity to pole vault for the Kenyon track and field team, and she's developed into the finest female athlete the sport has known on this campus. Her preflight routines are scrupulous, her jumps exhilarating. She's a tenacious competitor. And she's absolutely head over heels in love with her sport.

Cameron's success is reflected in a series of achievements-clearing ten feet, setting College records, and earning spots on the all-conference team. Equally impressive, though, are the obstacles that she's had to surmount, starting on the day she first picked up a pole as a sophomore in high school. Pole vaulting is a notoriously difficult sport, and not a particularly popular one. Cameron has endured awkwardly sparse state meets, countless lonely practice sessions, and a fatiguing, four-year quest simply to develop correct form.

Her Kenyon career has coincided with a period of transition in athletic facilities. "I remember when Wertheimer (Fieldhouse) was being torn down and how happy we were that it signaled the beginning of a new era for our track teams," Cameron says. "We were so excited about the promise of the new athletics building, but at the same time it meant that while construction was going on, we would be without a facility for quite some time."

In short, she had no place to practice. "I wasn't going to let that stop me," she says. So Cameron, together with Assistant Coach Kathy Thayer, strapped poles on the roof of a car and drove to Denison. Twice a week, she made the thirty-mile trip to get in forty-five minutes of practice with women she quietly delighted in defeating on the weekends. She also crammed in a few extra jumps during various high-school practices at the Mount Vernon High School track.

And on some evenings, after the Ernst Center swimming pool had cleared out, she would run through her vaulting motions under water, in slow motion, as a way of training her muscles while giving Thayer a chance to closely assess her technique.

"Yes, I've had to make sacrifices," says Cameron, "but Kenyon has done everything it could to help me out."

Meanwhile, she's done her best to give back to the program by serving as an unofficial spokeswoman and promoter for her sport. Each year she scours the freshman class in search of potential vaulters. She hits the phones hard, chatting with incoming freshmen just to
"feel them out."

But some of the hardships have faded. This spring, Cameron has been able to practice right here at Kenyon, on the College's brand-new outdoor track.

"I know what I've been given here at Kenyon is special," says Cameron, who is pursuing a pre-med program in the hope of becoming a nurse practitioner. "It was worth the wait, and I'm not going to take it for granted."

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