Just when it seemed like she would be grounded, Shaylah Simpson soared to new heights.
She had nothing to prove in pole vault at the Meet of Champions in Queen Creek.
Simpson had been the leading girls pole vaulter at Desert Vista for the last four years and already won the state 5A-I girls championship this year with a jump of 12 feet, 6 inches.
She also owned the state record of 13-2.
But with the sun on her shoulders, the wind at her back and a knot in her stomach Simpson went one better than that when she cleared 13-4 for a state record.
“When I woke up that morning I was really sick,” Simpson recalled. “My stomach hurt, I couldn’t eat anything all day, I felt queasy, and I had a headache.”
That isn’t usually a recipe for success.
“I think it helped,” she explained, “because I didn’t put any expectations in myself. I thought, ‘I’m sick, but we’ll see what happens,’ and I ended up jumping 13-4.”
Airplanes get a better lift going into the wind, but not pole vaulters. That afternoon the wind shifted behind her.
“I was so thankful that there was a tailwind,” Simpson said, “because it made it so much easier to run down the runway.”
As long as she was pushing the envelope, her coach, Jeff Guy, raised the bar to a national record height of 13-9, and she almost cleared it.
“It didn’t feel like 13-9 and I wish I had a couple more chances, but we have the Southwest (meet) coming up, and I think I can do it,” Simpson said. “I can’t be too intense about it because if I get too serious I’ll just wear myself down, so I’m just going to have fun.”
Earlier in the season things didn’t look bright for a state championship or a record leap.
“I injured my knee, and it really started hurting,” she explained. “I was going to physical therapy and I wasn’t progressing like I had hoped and I had a little bit of doubt. But I just flipped that around.”
Desert Vista’s girls program became the first in the country to have five girls clear 12-1 in the same season.
Simpson’s teammate and best friend, Heather Arseneau, also vaulted 13 feet this season.
“Everyone had such great performances this season,” she said. “They all deserve recognition for what they’ve done.”
This fall Simpson is headed for Arizona State University, but she plans on competing in the Southwest meet in Albuquerque this weekend and possibly the first Nike Nationals meet for high school age athletes in Eugene, Ore., in July.
Then, she plans to take some time off.
“I’m looking forward to a break,” Simpson said. “I have a job, and I want to make some money before I become a poor college student.”
After four seasons that started when she set the state and school freshman record at 12 feet, Simpson finds it hard to leave Desert Vista.
“I think I’m going to miss track more than school,” she said, “and Jeff Guy is the one and only coach that I’ve ever had, so it’s going to be sad to say goodbye and go to a new team, but it will be good experience.”