Caleigh Lofstead is off on the runway vaulting for Vanderbilt University. The 19-year-old from Camas couldn’t have imagined a better takeoff to her college career.
The two-time high school state champion leaped a personal best 13 feet, 5.25 inches to finish in second place at the Vanderbilt Indoor Opener Dec. 3, 2016.
“I jumped a new (personal record) at my first meet,” Lofstead said. “It was a good way to kick it off.”
Although she didn’t get higher than that initial vault, Lofstead surpassed the 13-foot mark seven more times during Vanderbilt’s indoor and outdoor season. She earned seventh place (13-2.25) at the Southeastern Conference Championships, competed in the NCAA East Regional meet and claimed a spot on the All-SEC Freshman Team.
“I was really surprised with how well I did,” Lofstead said. “I didn’t jump the heights I wanted to outdoors, but that was a good way to end the season.”
She took fifth place at the Notre Dame Invitational (13-3.5), fifth place at the Music City Challenge (13-5), second place at the Yellowjacket Invitational (13-1.5), fourth place at the Tennessee Relays (13-1.5) and third place at the Virginia Challenge (13-0.75). She also leaped 13-1 at the SEC Indoor Championships.
Lofstead cheered Vanderbilt teammate Sarah Bell all the way to the NCAA National Championships June 8, at Hayward Field, in Eugene, Oregon. Bell earned eighth place with a vault of 13-7.25.
“It’s awesome that I have people like her to push me,” Lofstead said of Bell and other vaulters in the SEC. “It’s a whole different level of competition from high school. I want to use this as motivation to work harder, not get down on myself when I don’t place as high as I want to.
“We have such a great program, the coaches are great and the girls are so close,” she added. “It’s just the perfect place for me to do what I love.”
Lofstead loves living in Nashville, Tennessee. But to her, no other place compares with Camas.
“Nashville has a lot of character. The music and the history there is really cool,” Loftsead said. “I love everything about Camas: the small town atmosphere, growing up in the Pacific Northwest — nothing compares to that. Both are such good places. I’m lucky to live in both of them.”
The first semester at Vanderbilt was a challenge for Lofstead — moving from a place she called home to a city across the country where she didn’t know a soul.
“There (are) not many times in your life when you get thrown into a new situation and you have to make to new friends,” Lofstead said. “In the long run, it was a great experience being pushed out of my comfort zone and maturing.”
Back home in Camas after her first year of college, Lofstead has advice for current high school graduates.
“Don’t go in with any expectations. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, wherever you go,” she said. “There (are) not many times where you get to pick up your life and start over. Enjoy the moment, embrace the challenge and have fun.”
Lofstead will return to Nashville in August, going after big vaults and even bigger dreams. Her goal is to make it to nationals next season, while she continues to study to become a nurse.
“I love vaulting. I can’t imagine giving that up,” Lofstead said. “There are days where I think life would be much easier without this, and then there are days when I’m reminded about how much I love this. Just clearing a height shows that I’m going in the right direction and all my hard work is paying off.”
No matter where pole vaulting or nursing takes Lofstead, she can always count on Camas.
“This is where I grew up and made so many memories,” she Lofstead. “No matter where I go, Camas will always be home. I still feel that small town love, even from 2,000 miles away.”