Reaching new heights in pole vault is the status quo for Hays High alumna Meagan Gray.
Entering her fifth year at the University of Oklahoma, Gray, despite her relatively short stature, envisions herself hitting those new heights in her final collegiate competition.
“With me being so short, I’m always looking for new heights to clear and it’s always been a struggle for me to get to those higher heights,” Gray said. “It’s very addicting when you clear heights, and you just want more. You just want more every single time. It’s like never good enough for you.”
Gray didn’t start pole vaulting until the seventh grade; in fact her first passion was in competitive gymnastics. Since she was five, Gray participated in gymnastics, and she credited the sport for her easy transition into pole vaulting.
“Pole vaulting is honestly really similar to gymnastics,” Gray said. “I think it was a pretty easy transition and I loved it. I think it just taught me to be especially aware of my body, more than anything. I mean gymnastics uses all the muscles in the body, and it challenges you both mentally and physically.”
Accolades and awards stacked up for Gray during her athletic career as she went on to become nine-time All-American, to set school records, and to finish as the top-ranked pole vaulter in Texas for both indoor (13-feet, 4-inches) and outdoor (13-feet, 9-inches) competitions. Gray claimed the gold medal in the pole vault at the 2015 UIL state track and field meet.
Her performances helped her to earn a full scholarship to Oklahoma. Gray said she couldn’t have done it without the help of former coaches Mitch Phillips, Jason Ferrell, Danny Preuss and Elite Sports coach Glen and Brooklin Dickson.
“Their support has been unwavering throughout my high school and college career in pole vault,” Gray said. “They are individually amazing and I love them all.”
The beginning of her college career, however, started out incredibly rough as she was diagnosed with the rare disease Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) in August of her freshman year. The life changing diagnosis was rough on Gray, as she described it as a challenge for her emotionally and physically.
“I went into school and I was sick, and they had no idea what it was,” said Gray. “I had to see all kinds of doctors, and I actually had to be hospitalized for it. I had to get about five chemo(therapy) infusions to fix my ITP.”
After several rounds of chemotherapy Gray overcame ITP, and went on to compete in the outdoor season later in her freshman year.
More setbacks occurred soon after. Just as she overcame ITP, Gray suffered two stress fractures in her lower back.
The injury didn’t stop her from competing later that season as she went on to make Regionals in the outdoor competition her freshman year.
Over the course of the next three seasons Gray went through multiple coaching changes. Gray admitted it took up to two full years before she felt comfortable to the point where she was pole vaulting like she had been before her injury and illness. Even with all the setbacks, Gray set new personal records during those three years, including outdoor (14-3.00) and indoor (13-9.00). She credits Jerel Langley, her coach at OU, for being supportive and patient throughout the entire process.
Now as a fifth-year senior, Gray will only be competing in the indoor competition, but she has set her goals high. After failing to qualify for Texas Relays this past season, which was the first time she failed to qualify in the past eight years, she is now motivated and refocused on achieving her new goal of reaching Nationals. In addition to reaching Nationals, Gray intends on shattering her current personal indoor record this upcoming season.
“I guess my overall goal for indoor is to make it to Nationals,” Gray said. “I know what it’s going to take to place, and what I want is to get 14-8.00. So that’s my goal.”