Caleigh Lofstead already knows a thing or two about difficult challenges.
Propelling your body 13 feet into the air is challenging enough. But in about a week, the Camas High product also will graduate with a double major from Vanderbilt University, and do it in four years, all while maintaining a busy schedule as a track and field athlete at a prestigious college.
Even with an opportunity to compete next year at Vanderbilt, Lofstead won’t compete in the pole vault for the Commodores. She’s going to nursing school.
“I am done,” Lofstead said. “I know there is the possibility of taking that extra year of eligibility, but I don’t think it’s manageable with nursing school. … I’m just going to bow out now, I think.”
The decision ends nearly a decade-long pursuit for Lofstead to go higher in the pole vault. It’s a pursuit that started when she was in the eighth grade.
A competitive gymnast growing up, Lofstead took the advice of a gymnastics teammate and joined the Willamette Striders track and field club in Oregon City to learn how to pole vault.
“I was not very good when I first started,” she said. “In my first meet, I didn’t clear the bar. But I went back to my next meet a month later and finally cleared six feet. I just loved it. It was something different, something fun. And the more I practiced the better I got.”
As a freshman at Camas High School, she would post a season best of 10 feet, 6 inches at the 4A state meet and placed sixth. As sophomore, she matched a season-best by clearing 11-9 at state to place third.
That summer she started hearing from college coaches. And as she went higher in competition, the more attention she drew. Lofstead would win her first 4A state title as a junior, clearing 12-7.
“But at the time, I was only looking at schools that were closer to home, on the west coast,” Lofstead said. “I didn’t even know where Vanderbilt was, or even what Vanderbilt was, until I got an email from my coach (at Vanderbilt). Then we talked on the phone, and I realized how good of school it was.”
Lofstead would go even higher her senior year, setting a personal best of 13-3, then going on to win a second 4A state title. She also accepted the high challenge of getting a Vanderbilt education when she committed to the Nashville, Tenn., school.
It’s a decision she has never regretted.
“I’ve loved everything about it,” she said of Vanderbilt. “My teammates were so incredible. They made the experience so much better. I’ve also made really great friends outside of the team. School was definitely tough, but it pushed me and prepared me for nursing school, especially at Vanderbilt. I learned a lot of time management with travel and everything from track. It was definitely one of the best experiences of my life.”
Lofstead will complete degrees in medicine, health and society, as well as children studies.
“I came in pre-med, but then sophomore year I decided I wanted to go nurse practitioner,” she said. “And Vandy has a really good nursing school, so it worked out that I was already here.”
Lofstead learned she was accepted into nursing school in February toward the end of promising indoor track and field season.
After reaching the NCAA regionals in her first three years at Vanderbilt, Lofstead had aspirations of reaching nationals during her senior season. But then her season was ended prematurely.
Even though the NCAA granted seniors like Lofstead an additional year of eligibility, and even though she would still be at Vanderbilt, ultimately she decided nursing school and track wouldn’t mix.
“The thought did cross my mind a little bit to keep vaulting,” she admitted. “But there was a girl on our team when I was a freshman who had a fifth year of eligibility because of an injury. She started nursing school and halfway through the track season, she had to quit (track). I talked to her. With traveling (with the team) and having to make things up (in school), it wasn’t super manageable to do both.”
While she’s disappointed she won’t get to finish her track career the way she wanted — and even more disappointed that Vanderbilt has delayed 2020 commencement ceremonies to 2021 — she says she’s come to terms with her decision and is ready to embrace next challenge.
“I’m definitely ready for the next part of my life,” Lofstead said. “I really enjoyed track, but I’m ready to move on now. … I’m really excited about nursing school, and I’m ready to put all of my focus on that.”