Q&A With New Haute Volée Megan Clark
We are so excited to introduce Oiselle's flying pole vaulter! Fear factor, failure, and beautiful courage. Help us welcome Megan Clark to the Haute Volée!
JESS: CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR POLE VAULT CAREER UP TIL NOW?
MEGAN: Pole vault has been a huge part of my life since I was 14 years old. Over the first year, I didn’t take it too seriously and had no idea what I was doing. A year into my vault career, my family moved to New York and I joined a local pole vault club team, the Hudson Valley Flying Circus. In the two years that I spent with the Flying Circus, I progressed a lot technically and got the chance to compete and train with some of the best vaulters in the Northeast. By my junior year, I managed to jump high enough to get on college coaches’ radars and really become enmeshed in the pole vault community. Just before my senior year, my family moved to Ft. Benning, GA and my mom took over as my vault coach. My high school didn’t have a pole vault pit, poles for me to jump on, or a vault coach, and the nearest club team was hours away. My family really stepped up by providing poles, traveling to meets, and coaching me. Without their support, I wouldn’t have been able to compete at all that year.
At Duke, I made a lot of changes. I worked really hard to fix bad habits, to commit to healthier eating (sweet tea was a serious weakness of mine), and to get stronger and faster. I struggled quite a bit in the first few years, but I managed to improve. Over the course of the four years, I learned more about the sport and increased my personal best by over two feet. After finishing fifth at Olympic Trials this year, I was offered the opportunity to continue training at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA.
J: YOUR EVENT IS INCREDIBLE. YOU LITERALLY FLING YOURSELF OVER A BAR… WITH A POLE. WAS THERE AN INITIAL FEAR FACTOR FOR YOU? HOW DID YOU GET OVER THAT FEAR?
M: It has to be maladaptive to run full speed while carrying a pole that’s more than twice your height, only to jump and completely invert with nothing but a fiberglass pole keeping you from sudden death. Okay, that was a bit dramatic, but you get the point— pole vault is insane. I’ll admit it. When I tell people that I pole vault, usually one of their first questions is how I brought myself to do it for the first time. The truth is, that when you start vaulting, it looks very different than what you’re seeing on tv. When I started jumping, it was into a sand pit. There was no turning upside-down, no bend in the pole, and really, nothing to be afraid of. Then we transitioned to jumping into the actual pole vault pit, but still, we took it slow. I learned to swing up, then how to swing on poles that were small enough for me to actually bend, and it took years for me to be able to get upside down at all. I didn’t have a moment when I stood on the runway, gathered all of my courage, and then did it. Your vault takes shape over months and years of training.
That being said, there have been moments when I’ve had to woman up. I’ve broken poles. I’ve landed in places that I shouldn’t. I’ve made mistakes that could have ended really badly, and in those moments, I've had to dig deep, compose myself, and find a way to silence a completely rational fear.
J: YOU GREW UP IN A MILITARY FAMILY. WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO MOVE AROUND SO MUCH?
M: Between kindergarten and 12th grade, I went to nine schools, and lived all over the country. Moving around essentially forced me to restart in a new place every couple of years, and I think that helped to shape who I am today. For one, it made my family incredibly close. We always leaned on each other, and my brother was the only friend that I got to bring with me. As a result, I have a really strong support system in my family. They’re the most enthusiastic, critical, and yet supportive crew I could ask for. A less obvious benefit of the constant relocation is that my friend groups were constantly changing. While that sounds pretty far from ideal, it shielded me from a lot of the peer pressure that my classmates experienced.The social consequences of decisions that I made were short-lived. I was free to make choices based on the academic and athletic goals that I had set without strong peer influences.
J: CAN YOU PINPOINT A MOMENT WHEN POLE VAULT BECAME A PASSION?
M: I realized that pole vault was a passion of mine while I was in New York. I don’t think there was an “aha” moment, but over the time I was at the Flying Circus, I fell in love with the event and what had become my vault family. I loved everything about it. I loved that if I worked hard, I could see the progress. I loved the adrenaline rush. I loved that I could be friends with my competitors. And most of all, I loved the feeling of falling back down to the pit after setting a lifetime best.
J: WHAT INSIGHT DO YOU FIND IN FAILURE?
M: Failing and learning to be resilient are incredibly important in life and in pole vault. The vault is interesting in that failure is built into the event. You get three attempts at each height. If you miss all three, you’re out. How you look at the missed bars, how you adjust, and whether you can recover from failure determines a lot of your success in pole vault, but also in life. Failure inspires growth and change.
J: YOU WERE PRE-MED AT DUKE, CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT MED SCHOOL?
M: Before I even realized that track was something that I could continue after college, I dreamt of pursuing medicine. Track didn’t change that. After I’m done with pole vault, I want to go into pediatric orthopedics.
J: THE POWER OF CHOICE. HOW HAS IT CHANGED YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO THE SPORT? TO MEDICINE?
M: Pole vault is a huge part of me, but it’s something that I do— it doesn’t define me. I have two dreams, and I intend to chase them both. After I see what I’m capable of in the pole vault world, I plan to go to medical school. In college, these dreams were in constant conflict with each other, but now, I find that they give me a sense of freedom and power. I vault because I love it and I have nothing to lose because I have a plan. Then, when I go to medical school, it will be because I’m ready and because I want to.
J: IF YOU COULD SPEND ONE DAY WITH ANY TRACK AND FIELD ATHLETE (DEAD OR ALIVE), WHO WOULD IT BE?
M: From the beginning of my vault career, I’ve always looked up to Jenn Suhr. She has been a phenom in the sport for over a decade, winning silver in the Beijing Olympics, gold in the London Olympics, and holding the indoor world record. Jenn has been my mentor from the beginning. When I met her for the first time as a mediocre high school vaulter, I had no idea what impact she would have on me in the coming years. She, and her coach Rick Suhr, came to club team practices and helped to coach me. They supported and encouraged me when I was just a kid in high school, and now I’m lucky enough to be able to compete in meets with a woman that I’ve looked up to for years.
J: WHY OISELLE?
M: In a short time, Oiselle has created phenomenal products and has inspired the track and field community. It’s a company that values individuality and empowers women. That’s something that I want to be a part of!
J: SPEED ROUND! GO!
Favorite color? Blue (duke blue to be specific!)
Sweet or salty? If I had to choose, sweet. But in a perfect world, both!
Winter or summer? Summer!
Dog or cat? Dog!
Ocean or mountains? Ocean!
Plugged in or unplugged? Plugged in!
JESS: Thank you so much, Megan. We are so proud to be part of your support system and can't wait to watch you soar!