Anjali Mead takes pole vaulting seriously.
So seriously, in fact, that she was willing to leave her Richmond, VA home at just 14 years old to attend an international sports boarding school in Florida whose curriculum for track and field athletes boasted a well-known program for pole vaulting.
With a middle school personal record of 12’ in pole vault and the motivation to do whatever she could to improve, Anjali says she spent a frustrating year in Florida. Not only did her technical form begin to unravel, but her focus and motivation took a big hit, too. “Not getting better when you’re bringing your A-game every day was really bringing me down,” she says. “The combination of factors that I needed to take my pole-vaulting to the next level just wasn’t there for me.”
Anjali and her family learned through the track and field grapevine that Olympian Tim Mack, gold medal winner for the USA at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, was coaching at SPIRE Institute & Academy (IA) in Geneva, Ohio. Well-regarded internationally as an outstanding developer of talent, Coach Mack’s presence at SPIRE led Anjali and her parents to look into the international sports boarding school in northeastern Ohio near Lake Erie.
Anjali’s parents were not only looking for a top-notch pole vaulting program for her. They were equally interested in finding a rigorous academic curriculum for their 15-year-old daughter, as well as a support system that included teachers, advisors, performance coaches and a college placement team.
During their first visit to SPIRE’s 480-acre campus, the family was impressed with how every element of the international sports academy and boarding school worked in concert to help student-athletes reach the next level. With a blended learning environment of college-preparatory academics, a robust personal development and career preparation programs, as well as one of the largest indoor and outdoor track and field complexes in world, the family instantly recognized in SPIRE a multifaceted program that builds strong, confident, mentally tough athletes who learn to embrace a challenge and thrive under the pressure of competition.
After just one lesson that weekend with Coach Tim, Anjali could feel her motivation to excel in her chosen sport returning. During the summer of 2020, she participated in a pole vault camp led by Coach Tim, picking up the inches she had lost in her PR in just a few days. Finally feeling like she had found her pole vaulting rhythm again, Anjali enrolled in SPIRE Academy in the Fall of 2020.
Since then, Anjali has been working closely with Coach Tim, fine-tuning her posture on the runway, transitioning from the approach, sticking her take-off, flight and landing, adjusting her grip and experimenting with pole size and weight. John Wallace and his staff at SPIRE’s performance training center are working with her to build strength and increase her flexibility.
Shortly after her arrival at SPIRE, everything came together for Anjali. “I call it my breakthrough,” she says. “I jumped four times in a meet, getting higher each time. On my last jump, I hit 13’ in my last jump– a whole foot higher than I had been jumping. It felt great to know I was on the right track again, and that if I worked hard and listened to Coach Tim, John, and the rest of my team, I could reach my goals.”
“Anjali is a physically gifted pole vaulter with the focus and intention any athlete needs to excel,” says Coach Tim Mack. “She’s not only really fast with great, long levers, she’s mentally tough and very resilient. She’s a sponge– she takes everything in, and she never, never quits.”
Coach Mack says Anjali is especially fortunate to have the strong backing and constant support of her family. Her parents and 8-year-old brother park their RV at a camp not far from the SPIRE campus about once a month to visit with Anjali, watch her train, or attend a meet. In between, Coach Tim uses a video training app to document Anjali’s progress and upload it to her parents’ cell phones so they can follow her progress and enjoy her increasing success.
“At SPIRE, we’re committed to developing technically skilled track and field athletes like Anjali who love to train and live to compete,” says Coach Tim. “We do this through an intensive regimen of long-term athletic performance development that includes technical training and customized competition.”
“It’s a process,” he continues. “I tell all our athletes, including Anjali, to trust the process– because the process works. It worked for me, and it will work for them. With hard work and focus, they’ll achieve their goals…and more.”