Raising the bar for pole vault in New Zealand, 13 year old Kerry Charlesworth recently smashed New Zealand records up to and including the W19 national record at a recent meet in Auckland. Kerry is three centimeters off the 13 years world outdoor record set in 2002, with her sights already set on the 4.15m world record for 14 year old girls. I recently caught up with Kerry and coach, national senior men’s pole vaulting title holder Jeremy McColl, at Sovereign Stadium, home of Kerry’s club, Bays Cougars, on the North Shore of Auckland.
Do you have a nickname Kerry?
Yes, my family and friends sometimes call me Care Bear and Jeremy calls me K-May. (May’s my middle name)
Who is your favourite athlete?
Yelena Isinbayeva (Female World Record holder ~5:02m)
What or who is your favourite band or singer?
I don’t have a favourite. I listen to the Edge.
What song do you know all the words to?
‘Bubbly’ by Colbie Caillat.
What sporting present have you asked Santa for?
Fill in the Blanks Kerry:
My favourite TV show is… CSI.
I like to read… anything about sports.
My favourite icecream flavour is…vanilla.
I love to eat…chocolate.
My most treasured possession is...my christening bracelet.
If I wasn’t training, I would spend more time…studying and hanging out with my friends.
On my days off training I like to spend them…horse riding.
Over the Christmas period I plan to…be in Australia for holidays meeting with family from England.
When I was little, I frightened my parents the most when I…was five and told my parents to come and watch me do the giant (a complex gymnastic swing) on the backyard swing. I had just seen it on TV and it looked fun to try so I did.
I am inspired by…Jeremy and Yelena.
When did you start pole vaulting?
Seriously, in January this year.
How has gymnastics prepared you for pole vaulting?
It has given me body awareness and confidence.
You came from England when you were nine and have represented New Zealand overseas as a gymnast. Are you looking forward to more trips overseas as a pole vaulter?
Yes, definitely. We are planning to go to Germany for training camps in June or July next year. Jeremy has contacts in Germany so I’ll go over in the school holiday period.
(Jeremy: “After that, maybe a couple of trips to Australia next year if Kerry can get some new poles. She needs to prepare for the World Youths in 2009”.)
You are the third child in a family of four. Older sisters, Jessica and Pip are also champions in their disciplines. How have they influenced you in your athletics career?
They support me. They understand. We all do different things. (Older sisters Jessica and Phillipa are both gold medalists in Hammer and Javelin, respectively) We plan to be at the Olympics together one day. I went to HOT meets with both of them before I became involved.
You recently rocked the athletics world with your amazing NZ record breaking pole vault of 3.90 metres. Let’s talk about that moment. How confident were you before the jump?
Pretty confident because I’d done it in training before, I’ve jumped over four metres.
Do you have a routine before a jump that helps you focus?
I go through the jump in my head before I go. Even though I am standing still, I can still feel what I am going to do...what I need to do. When I’ve imagined a jump, I can actually feel like I’m doing it. I think about my technique like having the right angles and timing.
What do you feel Kerry?
What helps you stay focused?
Concentrating on technique, staying focused and not letting anything distract me...like the starter’s gun or other competitors. These are things I need to get used to.
That was a proud moment for all. I know that your coach was incredibly pleased with your performance on the day as was everyone watching. What has been the reaction of your school, family and friends since?
The school is still hyped about it. (Kerry attends Rangitoto College on the North Shore, where previous Cougar, W19 pole vault record holder, Jenni Dryburgh also attended until 1996) They have hung newspaper clippings all over the place and I had to stand up in assembly after it happened and show everyone what 3.90 metres looks like. My friends and family were proud of me. We went out for a celebration dinner.
You describe yourself as an obsessive pole-vaulter, focusing on minute details that will help you improve your technique and overall performance. At 13, what else do you obsess over?
(giggle) Nothing else, only pole vault… (I’ll ask you the same question in a few years Kerry…)
What helps to keep you grounded with all this attention?
I look at how far I have come and get on with training. I try to relax in between. Dad tells me to clean my room. I go horse riding with Mum.
Do you find it difficult to balance training, school and friends?
My friends understand. They have to train as well for their sport, but teachers don’t (understand). Studying and training together is hard but it’s getting better. I have more time after school now because we have changed our training schedule so I can fit homework in. I see my friends on a Sunday. That’s my day off.
I have to ask Kerry...being a teacher…Which is your favourite subject?
I like Science, because I find it interesting and I can understand it. And I like creative writing. (Why?) I’m good at it. (Fair enough!)
Is she a good student Jeremy? In your opinion, what makes Kerry an outstanding pole vauter?
Yes, definitely. Kerry has body awareness, discipline and dedication to the sport. We have a good relationship between athlete and coach and we can share a lot. (Jeremy is the current National Senior Men’s Pole Vaulting Champion.)
How long did it take for you to recognise her talent?
I knew her from gymnastics because I coached her when she was there so I knew she could perform at an elite level.
What kind of training is involved in pole vaulting, Jeremy?
It depends on the time of year. In winter, it’s long distance. Now, we are doing sprints. We do a lot of upper body conditioning. We go inside and outside depending on the weather. We have two running sessions a week – distance and speed sessions after a vault session.
What do you call distance Kerry?
….a run around the hill and back, (giggle). I don’t have that type of fitness. I have body strength. I like fast. I don’t like long distance.
How important is that level of fitness when they are older Jeremy?
Very important at the top level. They need to develop their explosive speed like some of our top sprinters.
Tell me about the poles used?
Kerry uses a skinny pole at the moment. Their body weight determines the type of pole they use. The higher the body weight pole you go up onto, the higher it’s going to flick you up, but you have to be strong and have good technique or else it could flick you the wrong way.
You are just 2 cm short of the 13 year old outdoor world record by German Pole vaulter, Lisa Ryshich. I know that you also want to break the indoor record of 3.95 set by 13 year old Greek Pole vaulter, Ekaterini Stefanidi, to be the best ever by a 13 year old girl. Are you confident that you can achieve this before you turn 14 on the 13th December?
I should be able to. I have done it in training.
And what happens if you don’t?
Then I don’t mind. I’ll aim for the next one. (4:15m for the 14 year old world record held by Vicky Parnov from Runaway Bay, Australia since July 2005)
You have been competitive in gymnastics and now pole vaulting since a very young age. How have these experiences helped you achieve some of your goals at the young age of 13?
I’m used to competing. I think I work well under pressure so when I’m trying to beat someone else, it helps me set goals. That’s probably what gave me the motivation to get where I am today. I was at the lowest height when I started and I wanted to get to the Olympics with my sisters.
What future do you see for yourself in pole vaulting?
International competition. The Olympics is my ultimate goal. Before that the Commonwealth Games and before that the World Youth’s.
Jeremy adds: We’ve worked it out. This year, she needs to average 3.80m. Next year, 4m, so by the time she is 15, Kerry should be averaging 4.20m. That’s an increase of 20 metres a year which is the goal. And she’s already over her mark!
What’s the best advice you have been given?
To keep on going. Never quit even though sometimes you are forced to. Never give up. (Who gave you that advice?) My parents did.
What advice would you give to a friend who was interested in learning about pole vaulting?
I’d say the same thing to them. Don’t give up. It takes a while to get the technique but once you’ve got it, it all works. And have self confidence. I have learned that if you aren’t confident when you are jumping then you don’t jump well. If you don’t put your full energy into it, you won’t get the results.