Kristen Denk is the new school record holder and third place finisher at the SEC Indoor Championships in the pole vault with a mark of 4.34m (14’ 2”). She is a senior academically but only a redshirt junior athletically. She has been at Vanderbilt since January 2017 when she transferred from the school in Knoxville.
Her career at Vanderbilt has been one of steady ascension vaulting 4.20m (13’9.25”) last indoor season. In the outdoor season she vaulted 14’ 1.25” at Tennessee Relays and was second team All American with a vault of 13’ 7.25” for a 12th place finish at NCAA’s.
This past weekend at the SEC Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Denk broke her own personal record (indoor and outdoor) and the school indoor record. When asked about the meet she said, “I came in at 3.94m. My Pole was a 13’7” 140lb pole.” Meaning, the length of her pole was a just over 13.5 feet and the pole could load 140lb of force. The more weight a pole can hold, the more force a vaulter can put into it and receive a greater return for more height.
She wasn’t nervous going into the meet either. She has competed in multiple high profile meets. “No Nerves, just excitement,” she says. But that lasted until her third attempt at 4.24m. “[I wasn’t nervous] up until my 3rd attempt at 4.24m. I hate third attempts, [I] was definitely frustrated with myself for missing my first two attempts. I was definitely nervous and made myself take deep breaths and just focus on clearing the bar instead of thinking about the consequences of a third miss. [The] consequence being... not qualifying for nationals.”
After clearing 4.24m she progressed to 4.34m. It was an attempt to keep her in the meet against two Arkansas twins who are ranked 1st and 2nd in the country. It was also her personal best and school record mark. It was also the height that would auto-qualify her for nationals (there is no regional qualifying meet in the Indoor season).
“Technically, I did not think it was my best jump. I do not think it was my best jump. However, hearing my teammates cheer for me; knowing that that was the height to qualify me for nationals, I had more adrenaline that ever. I came down the runway with full force and cleared it on my first attempt. Hearing the support from my family; teammates meant everything to me.”
She credits her success to hard work because it doesn’t come any other way. But she cites most of her success to her support network. “[The school record] means the world because I think it represents all of the hard work that we’ve put into it over the last 6-7 years. “We” being my coaches, teammates and parents that have supported and believed in me even in times when I lost motivation and had no confidence and myself.”
She especially finds joy in the relationship she has with fellow vaulters Margaret Ollinger and Caliegh Lofstead. “Caleigh, Margaret; I have a very special bond. Running yourself sick together every preseason can really bring a group together and so when one of us does well its special for all 3 of us. When one of us has a PR, the other 2 of us are jumping up and down screaming with excitement. Next thing you know we’re all jumping personal bests. (We did all jump personal or all-time bests at SECs). It was a really special moment.”
All of that hard work and the great performance demands a celebration, a big dinner out or a shopping trip. But meet days can be long and travel isn’t the easiest as a team. “I ate two double cheeseburgers at 11PM that night.” I mean, that is probably the most gratifying meal you could have, right?
Denk isn’t complacent, though. She knows she still has work to do for the NCAA Indoor and the Outdoor season. Her goals are to finish top 8 at NCAA’s, “It could take anywhere from 13’6” to 14’6”. It just depends how the field performs that day.” She wants to clear a personal best, anything over her most recent vault of 4.34m, and to do that, she wants to get on a heavier weighted pole of 150lb.
And she wants to enjoy the moment. “[I want] to feed off the energy that a national championship can bring, and have fun and enjoy myself.” She also says she wants to, “make my parents proud!”
I mean, who doesn’t?
Denk will compete again on March 8 at the NCAA Indoor Championships in Birmingham.