Haley Pryor is a pole vaulter, but she knows all about clearing hurdles. The recent MICDS graduate claimed the Class 3 pole vaulting state championship the first Saturday in June at Dwight T. Reed Stadium in Jefferson City. She did it despite competing on a balky left leg that, at one point, made it hard for her to walk, much less run. “She looked terrible at practice,” MICDS coach Jim Lohr says of Pryor’s workout the day before the state championship. “She was struggling.”
Pryor doesn’t know exactly what she did to aggravate her left quad. But it was bothering her some the week before state at the sectional meet. Her leg wasn’t right, but it wasn’t so painful it affected her. The day before the state meet, it flared up. “I couldn’t even run down the runway,” Pryor, who’ll be 18 on Sunday, says. “I taped it up. It was really inflamed.”
It was the worst case scenario for the 5-foot-11 Pryor. She’d been pointed toward a state championship her entire career at MICDS. Now, with one last chance, it appeared she wouldn’t be anywhere close to her best.
Pryor had already battled back from a devastating knee injury the year before to take fourth at the state meet. While playing volleyball in October of her junior year, Pryor suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Those are the three scariest letters you can whisper in an athlete’s ear. It can often take an athlete a full year to recover from the injury and be back playing their sport of choice at a high level.
Pryor didn’t have that kind of time. She was determined to be back on the track by spring. With back-to-back sixth place finishes her freshman and sophomore seasons, Pryor wanted to give herself a chance at four state medals. To do that her rehabilitation schedule had to be incredibly aggressive. “I wanted that medal at state,” Pryor says.
Once she was on the road to recovery, she had to learn to land again. A high-level gymnast as a youth, Pryor’s feet were trained to point perfectly straight. Your feet are supposed to, albeit slightly, curve away from your body. Because her feet were straight, Pryor’s knees curved in. She had to retrain her feet. “I had to learn how to land with my feet turned out,” she says.
Day after day, she grinded through the rehab. Finally, with less than a month to go before the district meet, Pryor was pole vaulting with the varsity. She qualified for state and took fourth. She wasn’t happy with her performance. She was the top seed after sectionals, but after being forced to change her pole and some wicked weather, Pryor never got into a groove and never felt comfortable at state.
Which is why when her quad started barking the day before her final state meet, it caused so much trepidation. Pryor wasn’t having it. When the state championships began, Pryor focused on her form, her jumps and nothing else. “I didn’t look at (my quad) until I was done jumping,” she says. “I wanted to get over the bar and not worry about anything else.” She would clear 10 feet, 9 inches to win the state title and break her own school record. When she ascended to the top of the podium and had the state championship medal placed around her neck, a sense of relief and accomplishment washed over her. Ah, finally were her thoughts as she stood there with that elusive title in hand.