Surgery doesn't cut into pole vaulter's determination

By Brian Gomez

The soft-spoken tone of her voice belies just how much noise Katie Morgan has made since she vaulted into national prominence two years ago. Since then, the Corona del Sol High School junior has become a pole-vault competitor of loudly proclaimed stature.

Her most recent stirring, however, did not come with her fists clenched around a Fiberglas pole; it was the outcome of an unexpected visit to the hospital emergency room.

In mid-June, less than a week before she was scheduled to leave for junior nationals competition at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., Katie began experiencing severe pain in her abdomen while practicing in front of several family members.

She shook off the aches and managed to clear 12 feet before becoming violently sick to her stomach.

She was taken to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Phoenix, where doctors performed an emergency appendectomy.

Katie remained hospitalized overnight and was forced to miss the competition, spoiling her chances of advancing to the junior world finals in Jamaica.

Now, four weeks after coming out of what she admits was the worst condition of her life, Katie is heading down the road to recovery.

She is staying patient, she says, and not trying to push herself too hard--the same tactic she used this spring when creeping onto the national scene and establishing herself as one of the country’s top 10 pole vaulters, as recognized by Track & Field News.

“I don’t need to go really high right now,” said Katie, who captured the Class 5A state pole vaulting title in May with a leap of 11 feet 6 inches.

“I don’t need to try to outdo it—as long as I can keep it up.”

Katie began training last week for the first time in a month by doing some light running and a little tumbling. She plans to be lifting weights again by the time school resumes Aug. 12.

“I’ve just been kind of taking it easy,” Katie said. “I had been working out constantly since last June.”

The former Kyrene Middle School runner isn’t rushing to get in shape, especially since she won’t be part of Corona’s cross country team this fall.

She passed up an opportunity to return as the Aztecs’ top female runner so she could direct her focus elsewhere.

“I kind of think I have a better future in pole vaulting,” said Katie, an All-Arizona girls track second-team selection.

“I’m going to work out harder and just concentrate on it.”

Katie’s dedication to the sport has become evident in recent years. She was an avid gymnast in middle school, but stepped away from the mat after spraining both her ankles multiple times and suffering numerous back and wrist injuries.

“I quit gymnastics and there was nothing I could do like that,” Katie said. “Pole vaulting came along, and it’s as close as you’re going to get.”

The 5-foot-8 athlete didn’t start pole vaulting until enrolling at Corona. After notching an eighth-place finish at state in 2001, she steadily progressed in the sport under the guidance of Corona girls track and field head coach Jeff Guy.

“Everything I do in pole vaulting is because of him,” Katie said. “Everything that has happened is because of him.”

First-place finishes in the Meet of Champions (Queen Creek) and Great Southwest Meet (Albuquerque, N.M.) solidified Katie among the best in the nation.

After awaking at 4 a.m. June 8 to catch an early-morning flight to Sacramento Calif., for the 43rd annual Golden West Invitational, Katie battled swirling winds that caused problems in her step, but she still managed to finish in fifth place.

Katie has her sights set on clearing the 13-foot mark, which she has nearly done before during practice.

But she also wants to reclaim the state record she once held with a mark of 12 feet 6 inches.

At 12-7, Lake Havasu senior April Kubishta is the current state record holder.

“Going higher and getting that record I lost are my main goals. It’s going to be harder and harder each year, but hopefully, I can keep up with it,” Katie said.

“I just try to go out and do my best. I don’t try to beat somebody else.”

Despite easily winning the title by six inches over Michelle Lang and Kristen Jensen, both of whom attend Desert Vista, Katie had one of her worst outings of the year at state.

A combination of mental lapses and fatigue from also competing in the high jump, an event in which she placed seventh with a mark of 5 feet, 2 inches, may have prevented Katie from clearing 12 feet on the pole vault, something she did in every other meet last season.

“I’ve got to keep moving,” Katie said. “I usually stop and just fail at it. I need to work on keeping going and finishing it off.”

Katie ran the 4-by-400-meter relay last year at Corona with sophomore Sara Adams and seniors Erin Norris and Latoya Imadiyi.

She also filled in occasionally during the 4-by-100-meter relay. Katie has toyed with the idea of adding the long jump to her repertoire next spring.

NCAA regulations stipulate that coaches cannot officially recruit athletes until the end of their junior year. However, Katie is already figuring out how she is going to use her designated five campus visits.

Katie lists the University of Arizona, UCLA and the University of San Diego as her top choices. She has not yet decided on a major.

Reach the reporter at brian.gomez@wranglernews.com.