Iyana Irving, a Pole Vault Champion with Heights to Reach

Iyana Irving relaxing in her backyard Iyana Irving shattered the women’s pole vault record at the 6A Central Valley Conference District Championships in Salem, Oregon. As a junior in high school she cleared 11’ 2”. Just imagine the height of a ten-foot basketball rim and add another foot plus two inches to that.

The pole vault is an event which a person uses a flexible pole made out of fiberglass or carbon fiber. It has been an event at the Olympic Games for men since 1896. For the women, it has been an event since 2000. The women have taken this event to a higher level.

Not many athletes have the courage to try this event – it takes a certain kind of person. The technique is one you just don’t learn overnight. The steps used during the approach are crucial. The plant on the box and the takeoff must be of perfect timing. The swing up and the extension must be done in one motion controlling the body as it prepares to turn. The turn and fly-away are the final two motions that could mean clearing the bar.

Iyana is the daughter of Troy and Loretta Irving. She has an older sister, Ayla, and a younger brother, Gavin. She was raised in a middle-income-class neighborhood – a pretty normal environment. She had friends in the neighborhood throughout the elementary and middle school days, but as they got older some moved away and others went their separate ways in the local area.

“My family has always been close and open. I always felt trusted and loved,” Iyana said.

Iyana attended Brush College Elementary School and Walker Middle School. She has always been a little shy when first meeting someone, but once she got to know the person she was very friendly. Her peers know her as a friendly and an outgoing athlete.

I had a chance to talk to Iyana’s elementary P.E. teacher from Brush College Elementary.

“I remember Iyana being a hard-working girl and always having a positive attitude. She was great, and her main focus at the time was soccer. She had a great work ethic – setting goals and achieving them. I would have never guessed she would be doing the pole vault event – that’s great!” Loni Espinoza said.

Iyana herself admits that soccer was her main sport and she still enjoys playing soccer. In middle school she participated in track and field – the hurdles and the high jump. She seemed to like getting up in the air – it was exciting for her.

Eric Herber, a high school teacher at West Salem High School, approached her and suggested she try doing the pole vault when she got to high school. He seemed to think she had the speed and at the time she was small – a perfect fit for pole vault.

“When I got to West Salem High School I decided to try the pole vault. I discovered that I really liked it. There’s something about being up in the air – it’s a rush. I enjoy it every time I plant the pole in the box and fly over the bar,” Iyana said.

She’s never really had any serious challenges in life, but it was always difficult for her to choose a sport to do or what events to do. Right now she plays soccer, which has always been her passion – she even plays club soccer. Her improvements in the pole vault from her freshman year to her junior have been so impressive that she is starting to lean toward track and field.

Iyana’s best friend is her cat “Sassy”. She really enjoys her Siamese pet and keeps very close to the furry friend. She also has a boyfriend, Spencer, who is someone she can talk to about anything – they’ve been friends for a very long time. Two girls she’s very close to as well are Haley Houston and Sara Morschack – she grew up with them and sees them pretty much every day.

“I love hanging out with my friends, I feel I can be myself and also talk to them about anything,” Iyana said.

Iyana is an original name – there isn’t anyone I know that has that name.

“My mom was going to name me Isabel. Then she changed it to Ayana. She wanted people to be able to sound out the “I”, so she changed it to Iyana, which also gave my name uniqueness,” Iyana said.

Iyana’s parents have been very supportive in her sports adventures. Her mom would take her to practices, games, track meets, etc. She speaks highly of her parents and is so thankful for the opportunities and foundation they’ve laid for her.

“My mom is the best – she is the one that takes me everywhere. All my games, track meets, etc. She’s an amazing mom – so thankful to her, we’re like best friends,” Iyana said.

Iyana does heart-touching things for others. One time she was helping at a basketball camp. This camp was for youth girls. There was a little girl that was very shy and it seemed that she didn’t really want to be there. She was afraid and a little lost. Iyana made a decision to hang out with her the entire time to help her feel comfortable. The little girl started smiling and felt more comfortable knowing she had someone like Iyana to hang out with and guide her.

“I just wanted her to feel comfortable being who she was and not for her to pay attention to what others thought. I wanted her to have a fun experience instead of being frightful,” Iyana said.

The pole vault event requires great upper body strength. Iyana has been enrolled in a weight training class since her freshman year. She started working on her speed and building a higher level of stamina. This young lady knew what she needed to work on.

“I try to work on my abs, and upper body strength – core strength is really important. I also do squats which helps me in soccer. This has been great for the pole vault event too,” Iyana said.

By her junior year, Iyana was excelling in track and field. She was becoming one of the best in the Central Valley Conference and in the state. The conference consists of six high schools, McKay, Sprague, North Salem, South Salem, McNary, and West Salem.

“I just kept thinking to myself what it would feel like to be at the top of that awards stand. Several weeks before the district meet that kept going through my head,” Iyana said.

One week before the district championships, Iyana was practicing. She normally takes 6 steps before planting but recently increased to 7 steps (only one foot is counted so 14 steps). As she planted, the fiberglass pole bent and she used her arm strength to push herself up before turning in the air. Something went wrong and she came straight down with her head landing next to the box. Iyana was hurt, but because of the padding around the box she survived the fall.

Iyana Irving at the District Championships

Some athletes might not want to continue this dangerous event after a fall like that, but not Iyana. With only a week left before the district championships, she collected herself and got back on the horse.

“I learned as a little girl to get back up if I took a fall, so naturally I wasn’t going to let that fall keep me from competing at district. I got back up on my feet and tried it again,” Iyana said.

It was a beautiful day on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. The women’s pole vault competition got under way. Iyana was ready and hungry to complete the journey traveled since her freshman year. When the pole vault event came to an end, a district record had been broken. Iyana cleared 11’ 2” to prevail over the entire conference. She had set a record and put herself at a second-place ranking in the state of Oregon. She qualified to compete at the state meet for the first time.

“I was so happy and excited, not only for myself, but for my parents too – I got to see how proud they were. My mom was so happy that she started crying – that really touched me. I was standing at the top of the award stand, I can’t describe the feeling. It felt so good – it definitely put a smile on my face,” Iyana said.

She had a week to prepare before heading to Eugene, Oregon. Some of her teammates qualified as well. The 6A OSAA State Track and Field Championships would take place at Hayward Field – Track Town USA.

On Friday May 23, Iyana performed at Hayward Field in front of thousands of people. She did a great job and placed very high. Laura Taylor won with a clearance of 12’ 8”, Tory Edwards placed second at 11’ 3”, Marissa Taylor received third at 11’ 3”, and Iyana Irving placed fourth with a clearance of 10’ 6”. Two of the girls are seniors which gives Iyana a good shot at winning next year.

“The experience was more than I could ask for. I couldn’t believe that I was actually there! I knew that I had to treat this meet like a normal one. Thanks to this year’s events I’m already looking forward to competing next year – I can’t wait to compete again I want to win it next year,” Iyana said.

Iyana plans to talk to Rick Baggat, a pole vault coach for the Willamette Striders – a track club in Oregon City, Oregon. Her plans are to hopefully compete in Reno, Nevada, this summer.

This young lady is not only an amazing athlete, but with a 3.2 GPA at 5’6” with a physically fit body and her charming personality, she will be competing in a pageant for the Miss Oregon Teen USA crown next November. Don’t be surprised to see her at the top of that competition – we wish her the best.

“My goal is to clear twelve feet in the pole vault. If I can do that, Division I schools will look at me and possibly offer me a scholarship. I love the University of Oregon, I’m hoping to go there, but if another college offers me a better deal, that’s where I will go,” Iyana said.

Iyana, what are your hobbies?

I like golfing with my Dad, boating, wakeboarding, and hiking – outdoors stuff.

What kind of music do you listen to?

R & B, hip-hop, and country.

How do you study?

I study with my sister, Ayla, she is so smart. Her and my brother are both smart. Ayla doesn’t always like helping me, but she still does.

Favorite college?

University of Oregon

Favorite athletes of all time?

Michael Jordan (NBA six-time World Champ) and Megan Rapinoe (USA Olympic midfielder – soccer)

What advice can you give a young athlete?

Never give up on anything – get back up. When people tell me I can’t do something, I work that much harder to prove them wrong. I shouldn’t be able to clear 11’ 2” in the pole vault – but I did it. I used to be weak and tiny but that didn’t stop me.