Pole vaulting has taken Camas senior Shea McGee to places she would never have imagined five years ago.
“I didn’t even know what pole vault was until my sophomore year, because that’s when I started it,” McGee said last week at the 4A/3A Greater St. Helens League track and field invitational. “So if you asked me five years ago what I’d be doing in college, I’d be like maybe college gym. But I’d never guess pole vault.”
McGee has been a gymnast first and foremost ever since taking up the sport as a preschooler and continuing it year-round ever since.
She’s a three-time All-Region gymnast of the year for the Papermakers, who won state team titles in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
But her desire to keep busy doing other things led her to take up diving for the Camas swim and diving team as well as track and field when she began pole vaulting for the Papermakers her sophomore season.
Last week, she won the 4A/3A GSHL Invitational title clearing 11 feet, 6 inches after posting a personal best of 12-3 earlier this season.
“This track year went really, really well for me,” McGee said. “I definitely got over that 12-foot and plus (personal record), so that was really exciting for me.”
The pole vault also took her to the University of Montana, where she received a scholarship to compete in the pole vault for the Grizzlies.
“I was talking with a lot of college coaches and I met the Montana coach and I just felt like that would be the ideal fit,” McGee said. “He offered me a scholarship, so that was of course like the big eye opener. And then I found that they had a really good wildlife biology program. And that was something that I’d been wanting to do. It just seemed like a good fit for me — the coach and being able to go and fish out there, do outdoor stuff and also do pole vault.”
The pandemic and subsequent lockdown was hard on McGee, who was so used to be being particularly busy.
About a year ago, she began to make regular trips up to Seattle to train with Northwest Pole Vault club under the tutelage of Tim Reilly. During the summer, she also added in private coaching sessions with Mark Lee at Northpointe Gymnastics.
“I would go to gym as often as I could, three four five times a week, just to get the exercise in,” McGee said.
For pole vault, she eventually switched back to working with Rick Baggett at Willamette Striders track club in Oregon City.
She was excited when the opportunity to round out her high school athletic career in both track and field and gymnastics for Camas High this spring, even though the revised calendar meant doing both sports in the same season.
“For the past three years, I’ve done club gymnastics all year round, while doing a high school sport in every season,” McGee said. “So I’d do high school diving with club gymnastics (in the fall), then I’d do high school gym and club gym (in the winter), then I’d do club gym and high school track (in the spring). So it wasn’t that much of change for me, but it was still a lot to handle.”
As she’s done all spring, last week she had a mid-week track and field meet followed by a gymnastics meet on Saturday. Except this time would be the final time.
“I’m kind of sad that my last gymnastics meet is on Saturday,” McGee said last week. “That’s going to be rough. But I’m super excited that I get to finish it out with this team, my friends being there with me. My club coaches will be there and it’s at my club gym (Northpointe). It’s kind of like a bittersweet moment, but I get to end it with my three-year state champ gym team and then also having the support of my club team.”
McGee passed on being a three-sport high school athlete for her senior year because the high school swimming season overlapped with track and gymnastics, plus pandemic restrictions severely limited the opportunities to dive.
“I thought if I did it then I’d actually have to swim, and I’m really not much of a swimmer,” McGee said.
But who knows? If McGee had tried swimming, she might have been really good at it. It turned out well for her when she took on pole vaulting two years ago.
“And I’m so glad that I did it,” McGee said of pole vault. “It’s led me to so many opportunities and I’m so excited for them.”
Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4538, email@example.com or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.