By Al Stover
Pole vaulter Keisa Monterola charges and plants the pole in the box, launching herself in the air. She throws her body over the bar before descending down to the pad as the crowd roars throughout the arena.
Monterola, a transfer student from Clackamas Community College (CCC), placed fifth at the 2011 Pan American Games with a mark of 14 feet, 1 ¼ inches in Guadalajara, Mexico, Oct. 24. She will be looking to break Eastern’s pole vaulting record and qualify for the 2012 Olympics.
Monterola represented EWU and her home country of Venezuela in the games.
While her 14-1 ¼ mark is less than a foot better than the Eastern pole vaulting record of 13-2 ¼, it does not count because she was not competing in an NCAA sanctioned event, according to Eastern’s athletic website.
From her approach to her takeoff, Monterola visualizes her jump until she leaves the ground.
“Right in that moment, everything goes so fast,” Monterola said. “I don’t think about anything except for being aggressive [because] that is what it will take me to finish my jump.”
To prepare for the October competition, Eastern jump coach Eric Allison helped Monterola focus on extra techniques and base work.
“It was a lot sooner than we would normally get someone ready, so it was a little bit rushed,” Allison said.
The preparation for the games was difficult for Monterola as she had just finished the process of moving from Clackamas, Ore. to Cheney and getting ready for school.
“I was worried because this was a big competition,” Monterola said. “I needed to be ready, I wanted to be ready. Eric got me ready in three weeks, which was impressive.”
Although she did not achieve her goal of winning a medal, Monterola was proud to represent her native country and the university.
“I was competing against world champions,” said Monterola. “It’s a whole new level, so competitive. I got close to the podium.”
With the Venezuelan team having already picked their coaches, Allison was unable to go to Guadalajara, Mexico.
“I thought she was going to jump around 13-6,” Allison said. “I was pleased, especially after only three weeks of training. She’s not in vault shape yet. I think it speaks highly of how far she’ll go this year.”
Monterola’s parents got her into sports when she was four years old.
She has been pole vaulting since she was 12 years old with Russian coach Alexander Radchich.
“Vaulting wasn’t very common for girls,” Monterola said. “I got the national record and made the national team. Nowadays, there’s a lot of girl vaulters trying to do what I did.”
Monterola’s pole vaulting ability progressed over the years.
In 2005, she won a silver medal in the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Youth Championships and the South American Junior Championships, clearing the 13-11 mark in both competitions.
Although she had successful training in her own country, Monterola’s transition from Venezuela to the U.S. was difficult. After spending a year in Seattle, Monterola transferred to CCC where she pole vaulted and was a jumper for the track team.
“It was a really hard transition because I didn’t have a coach for a year in Caracas,” Monterola said. “It was a whole [new] process, like starting from zero.”
Head track and field coach Keoni McHone remembers Monterola’s determination, as well as the struggles she endured when she first came to CCC, such as the running and sprint exercises.
“She wasn’t used to the conditioning,” McHone said. “On top of that, [she was] not getting the nutrition she needed.”
Despite initial problems, Monterola was able to adapt.
She placed first at the 2009 Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges (NWAAACC) track championships in the long jumps and pole vaulting.
In 2010, she would place first in pole vaulting while achieving a personal best of 14-2 ½.
Monterola would also win a gold medal in the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games with a record setting mark of 13-9 ¼ on July 25.
Although she had reached a new level of success, McHome recalls Monterola always having a smile on her face whenever she was competing on the CCC track.
“She enjoyed the time she had with all of the other athletes,” McHone said. “She still liked to have fun, make friends and do the other things a collegiate athlete likes to do.”
With the Pan American Games over, Monterola will be adjusting to the Eastern practice schedule to prepare for the upcoming season.
“We can still do quite a bit for her strength-wise and speed-wise,” Allison said. “There’s some technical flaws in her jump that we can clean up.”
Monterola is focused on training for the upcoming indoor and outdoor track seasons.
She knows she has a long way to go if she wants to qualify for the Olympics and break the school record.
“I know I can qualify for the Olympics,” said Monterola. “If I can jump 14-1 in three weeks, I can jump higher than that with training longer.”
Monterola’s pole vaulting accolades
• Venezuelan indoor national record holder
• Venezuelan outdoor national record holder
• 2005 IAAF World Youth Championships: Silver
• 2005 South American Junior Championships: Silver
• 2009 NWAACC Track and Field Championships: First
• 2010 NWAACC Track and Field Championships: First
• 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games: Gold
• 2011 Pan American Games: Fifth