Marissa Kalsey knows what it’s like to return to the pole vault runway after suffering an ankle injury.
The Westminster College and Waynesburg Central graduate suffered a broken talus bone in her left foot when she landed awkwardly in a meet at Juniata during her senior year in 2017.
Kalsey was granted a redshirt year for the outdoor season. She came back from what could’ve been a dream-destroying injury to win the pole vault title at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships in record-breaking style. Kalsey cleared 4.22 meters (13-10), breaking the national meet record and her school mark. Ithaca’s Katherine Pitman previously set the record in 2016 with her winning vault of 4.21 meters.
The title was Kalsey’s fourth outdoor All-America honor. She also was a four-time indoor All-American.
Kalsey was preparing for the 2019 season and a run to qualify for the 2020 Olympic trials when she injured her right ankle on a run-through.
“I ran through on one. I had a mental block that day. I ran through a lot,” explained Kalsey. “I stepped in a soft spot in the pit.”
Kalsey was given a number of options to deal with the injury.
“I saw the doctor and he told me I had no ligament left, I tore it off. My ankle was temporarily out of the socket,” said Kalsey. “I could wait until it heals or have surgery to repair the ligament.
“Or, (the ankle) could be (put in a cast) and push it up, so it would mend back together. That would be a risk. I could still have surgery and have all that wasted time.”
Kalsey opted for the cast.
“I have a really good doctor. He casted it and it healed back together,” said Kalsey. “I did rehab, making sure it doesn’t happen again. If I keep rolling it, I’d look into surgery to strengthen it so it doesn’t happen again.
“(Tennessee Sports Medicine) has been so good to me (during her physical therapy).”
Kalsey returned to training at the beginning of March.
“My ankle was so swollen. I could tell it was not a sprain, at least, not your regular sprain,” said Kalsey. “I had at least three months with a casting boot. (The injury) definitely messed up my timeline.
“I know I have height to go to get the standard and where I want to be.”
Although she’s not actually on the runway, Kalsey is finding positives with her work outside of actually vaulting.
“I’m gaining some confidence. It isn’t ideal, but I can use the time to work on my weaknesses, drills, flexibility and strengthening,” said Kalsey. “I need to relax at takeoff. I need to fix that. There’s a lot I can do on the runway to increase my height.”
Kalsey can see her efforts in training and drilling paying off.
“I started to build up my running speed. I’m back up to 100 percent,” said Kalsey, adding, “The runway is a different run. The push-off hurt.”
Kalsey, unlike many vaulters, does not have a gymnastics background, so she’s been working on drills and flexibility on the bars and other apparatus. Waynesburg grad Jocelyn Lindsay, who set the original standard, was a gymnast and current record-holder Taylor Shriver also has a gymnastic background.
“The flexibility stuff is the key. I need to get my chest through. I have to catch up to the pole,” explained Kalsey. “I need to get on bigger poles. I think they will shoot me up really fast.
“It’s going to be the flexibility and plant off the ground. It’s getting the extra height at the top of the pole.
“I do love training, gymnastics and lifting. I do love gymnastics and seeing how the processes work. I do see the differences with that body awareness (from gymnastics).”
As Kalsey broke Lindsay’s WPIAL record, so did Shriver break her district meet record this may.
“I knew it was going to happen. She’s such a good athlete. I stay updated with Coach (Butch) Brunell,” said Kalsey.
Kalsey plans to vault indoors, but the schedule has not yet been posted.
“There’s no schedule yet. That’s the annoying thing about track. It’s so unknown beforehand,” said Kalsey. “Then, outdoor meets in December.”
The standard for the 2020 Olympic trials for women’s pole vault is 4.70 meters (15-5). The qualifying period runs from May 1, 2019 through June 29, 2020. The meet returns to Hayward Field.
Hopefully, history will repeat for Kalsey after she returned from the injury to her left ankle.
“I had a really hard time this year, especially since I have a lot of height to gain,” said Kalsey, adding, “After my last injury, I gained a foot in a matter of meet to meet.”
Competing with the nation’s best vaulters is the ultimate goal for Kalsey.
“I make my own timeline yearly. I have mixed feelings. It sets that standard in your mind, but if you don’t make it, it brings you down,” said Kalsey. “I also realize it’s good to do that to an extent. It’s good to focus on a height.”
Kalsey works as an educator to avail her training schedule, but not necessarily in the traditional classroom sense.
She does online instruction for English as a second language with Chinese elementary school children in Beijing in the morning and tutors students in the evening.
“I really like doing (the tutoring) on my own. I can judge the child and see where the child’s at,” said Kalsey. “I can be creative. I have a lot more freedom to work on their skills.”
Kalsey added of her work schedule, “I love pole vaulting and my schedule allows me to keep training.”
Kalsey began work on her master’s degree during her redshirt senior season and is looking into completing coursework to finish the degree.
“I’m thinking about finishing my masters, maybe guidance counseling or something outside the classroom,” said Kalsey.
Kalsey, who’ll turn 26 in 2020, has no doubts she’s doing what’s right for her at this time in her life.
“I think about the things I could be doing, but at the same time, I’m having the best time and this is the best atmosphere. I can’t think of anything that would give me that feeling,” said Kalsey.
“I had the best experience going to all those meets last year for the first time. Those are the moments I feel like I’m doing what I love. This is the best decision I made, to keep going to these meets.
“I’m living out my dream and working toward my career goals.”