Name: Alina M. McDonald
Personal bests: 12'6"
Hobbies: I pole vault and lifeguard at the local YMCA.
Academic interest: I want to major in Exercise Science.
How did you get involved in the sport and why?
When I was in my freshman year of high school, I ran cross country with the Carolina Homeschool Cougars. When track season came around, I planned on doing it. My homeschool team found a college student, Kristen Crenshaw, to teach us the pole vault basics. She vaulted in high school herself, and she offered to take some of her free time to teach anyone from the team that wanted to learn how. Once she was found, my coach and fellow teammates asked if I would like to try it out. I, being an adventure/thrill seeker, excitedly said yes. I started the sport because I like doing extracurricular activities.
What does it mean to tie for a U.S. no. 14 in the pole vault and set a JDL facility record?
Tying for U.S. no. 14 in the pole vault was exciting for me. It is the highest that I have ever been ranked in this sport. However, it shows me that I still have a lot more work to do. It has been one of my indoor season goals to break the JDL facility record. I have yet to break it, but I am at least tied with it for now. Tying the record, also tied my personal best height. Getting back up to my PR this early in the year is exciting because it shows that I have a great chance of improving a lot over the course of indoor and outdoor season. I happy with my performance so far, but I am not satisfied.
Indoor pole vault rankings
Being a home-schooled athlete, what positives and negatives have you experienced from a student and athlete standpoint?
From a student standpoint, being home schooled is amazing. I have ADHD, so being able to learn and study in a room without so many distractions is great for me. I actually attend the online South Carolina Virtual Charter School. This is great because I still have teachers and deadlines, but I can be in a distraction free environment while I learn. The only negative to being home-schooled is that I don't get a school day full of friends. I do, however, have classmates online, and I can talk to them in/before my live class connect sessions with my teachers. From an athlete standpoint, it is great to be able to travel to meets during the week without having to worry about missing school. I can just take school with me. I can train in the mornings with my coaches if the weather is supposed to be bad in the afternoons. Being able to sleep in a little later than public school times is nice because I can have more energy for the rest of my day. The negatives from an athlete standpoint are a little frustrating. Because I am home-schooled, I can't attend big meets like the Taco Bell Classic, regional or state qualifiers, and the state meet. I don't get the chance to break the state pole vault record. I do wish I could have that chance. Many people ask me why I haven't gone to compete with the school in my district since they passed that law. I choose not to because my team has been together since before that law was passed. I have all of my home school friends from around Spartanburg county on my team. I guess I am loyal because I started with them, and I want to finish with them. Being on a home-schooled track team is harder than on a public school team because we are not funded. Anything we do is paid for out of pocket. Pole vaulting isn't a cheap sport, so it gets pretty expensive.
Do you have any family members involved in the sport? Please explain.
I do not have anyone in my family that has ever pole vaulted. My dad took up the job as the pole vault coach for my home school team since Coach Crenshaw became too busy with school. My dad has studied a lot about the vault and learned a lot of coaching techniques from Rusty Shealy, Eric Morrell, and Brian Riggs.
What goals do you have for the rest of the season and outdoor?
For the rest of this indoor season, I hope to fully break the JDL facility record and clear at least 13'. I was so close the last meet that I attempted it, so I believe I will get it very soon. For outdoor, I hope to improve dramatically. I want to be able to clear 14' at least. I believe that with God and my continued dedication, anything is possible.
Do you have any post season meets planned?
I plan to do the UCS Invitational at JDL Fast Track on February 21. That will be my last indoor meet of the season. I will do any meets that my Homeschool team gets signed up for. I know we are planning on attending the Trojan Relays for sure. I also should be attending the Coaches Classic as long as it doesn't get rained out this year. That is one of the only big meets that I am allowed to attend, so I am excited about getting to go. I plan on doing USATF over the summer. I will be attending the Meet of Champions when it happens. I will be attending as many unique vaulting competitions as possible, like the Winston-Salem Street Vault.
What plans do you have for the future?
Once I graduate, I hope to continue my vaulting career. I plan on attending college, but I haven't decided where yet. I am having issues with the NCAA and my online school credits. Every college in the country accepts credits from the K12 curriculum. However, I just found out in October that the NCAA decided in April to not accept the K12 curriculum credits. They most likely won't accept my 10th through senior year credits. I find this completely unfair because I did not find out about it until October. I hate that they may deny my right to compete in college athletics, just because of how I decided to receive my education. It is really bothersome that they didn't decide until April, but are saying they will probably deny everything from 10th and 11th grade also. I at least have the chance to get my education elsewhere to fix this year's credits, but I can't go back and re-do the other years. I won't. I have put in hard work to make good grades. I don't understand why the NCAA won't accept me academic wise when any college will. Why is college athletics the one thing that denies my academics, when the academic stand point accepts my academics? If I can't get this issue resolved, I will attend college in-state, and I will continue to train with Rusty Shealy and Brian Riggs. I will have to compete as an unattached athlete in any open meet that I can find. I pray I can vault for a college, but if that isn't what God has planned for me, I will still train and compete unattached alone. I have been doing this my whole career so far out of high school season, so I can continue this way if that is what it takes.
Pole vaulters seem to be a close-knit group, how do you balance the competitive and support side during an event?
The best example that I could possibly give you is by telling you about mine and my best friend Amanda "Jackie" Barnes' relationship. Jackie is a wonderful friend and amazing vaulter. She has the best personality! I get along with her very well. We are also competitors for each other. We do not let the competition ruin our friendship. We push each other to improve, but we do not get mad if we lose to each other. We cheer each other on no matter who is winning. If she is winning, I cheer her on and hope that she gets a PR. If I am winning, she always still cheers me on as well. Jackie is my friend and I would never wish bad on her just so I can win. I would rather lose and have her as a friend than to win and not have her as a friend because I was wishing for her to do bad. The key is to always be friendly. "Treat others how you would like to be treated."
Do you remember your first event, please explain?
My first pole vault competition was at Broome HS. I only pole vaulted six feet. I have definitely come a long way. I had a hard time with stamina because I had to leave to be the anchor of my teams 4x800m relay. I was very out of breath when I had to come back and vault. It was pretty decent for a first competition though.
How do prepare for the indoor and outdoor season, and when do you start?
It is hard to describe when I start because I don't really ever stop. I do sometimes take a break at the end of summer to let any possible injuries heal. I prepare by training year round with Rusty Shealy in Columbia.
What has been your motivation and what is always your motivation?
I am very competitive. I like to strive for perfection.
How do you balance academics, athletics and other responsibilities?
Well, it is definitely very difficult. I have to manage my schedule. Because I have to train in Columbia, when I go, it takes up most of my day. So, I usually don't get too much time to do homework on those days. All of my morning time is spent in live class connects with my teachers, so I have to wait until later to do actual homework. I have to pay for my own vaulting, so I work as a lifeguard at the local YMCA to earn money. I work the 4:45-9 a.m. shift to save the rest of my day for work. I have to wake up at 3:50 a.m., so it is really exhausting. When I get home, I usually sleep for an hour, then I start my school work. I usually don't have any class connects with my teachers on Wednesdays, so I get to nap that day of the week after work. I now have track practice in the evenings from 4:15-6. My homeschool team only has mandatory practices on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, so I take off Wednesday and Friday evenings to have more time to finish school work. I do all of my homework on Monday afternoon and when I get home from track practice, Wednesday afternoon and evening, Thursday afternoon and when I get home from track practice, and Friday morning to evening. If I am unable to get all of my homework done on the weekdays, I will finish the weeks assignments by Sunday at midnight. I try to get it done before Sunday though because Sunday is the Lord's day, or day of rest. It definitely gets exhausting at times when my teachers assign a lot of homework.
What would you like to see happen in the sports?
I would like to see them abolish the new box collar. It makes poles come back and hit the crossbar, and it isn't even helpful for people my size. I can fit right through it.
Do you see yourself coaching one day?
Yes, I would actually enjoy coaching a high school team or some other team. Any excuse to stay connected to the sport when I am old would be great.
What challenges or injuries have you encountered in the sport? How did you stay motivated during this time?
I have had my share of injuries. Back on Dec. 6, 2012, I was practicing at Rusty Shealy's, and I tore two of the three ligaments in the side of my ankle. I was in a boot for a month and couldn't vault for three months. It felt like it took forever to heal. I had to go through a lot of physical therapy, and still don't have my old range of motion in that ankle. Luckily, I was able to vault again by the time the first outdoor track meet came around in March. It was very hard to get back off the ground at first. Before that first injury, I had no fear of vaulting. However, once I got injured, I kept running through. It took some practice and pushing through the fear, but I overcame my fear and PR'd by the end of HS season. I still have fear of re-injuring my ankle. The orthopedist said that if I re-tare those ligaments, it will take surgery to fix them. I still wear my brace, to this day, when I compete for extra support in case of an accident. I am a retired swimmer. I swam on a swim team for nine years. I swam while my ankle was injured to stay in shape. I wold just hold the buoy between my legs and pull myself through the water. It definitely helped keep my body in shape. I did ab workouts to keep by core strengthened. Last summer, I competed for a month on a torn quad. It hurt bad, but I didn't want to miss USATF JO Nationals, so I pushed through the pain. I took the month of August off to let my quad heal. I even went through physical therapy again. While I was injured, I went up to Brian Riggs from Rock Hill and was able to do workouts on the bars at his local gymnastics center. He taught me how to do hip circles and clear hips on the strap bar. It helped teach me how to drop my shoulders in the vault. I also was able to do pool vaulting sessions with him and his team to keep my form. I owe him a lot for his help. I still train with him now that I am better. When I first got back into vaulting, I couldn't get off the ground again. It was very frustrating. It took a few weeks of practice before I could even leave the ground on drills. I wanted to quit so badly, but I refused to back down. I eventually was able to push through with the support of my family and the help of my coaches. I wouldn't be where i am right now without any of them. The most important thing in pole vaulting is to never give up.
Favorite athlete(s): Sergei Bubka, Jeff Hartwig, Yelena Isinbeyeva, Lazaro Borges, and Jenn Suhr.
Favorite food: I can't decide, I have too many favorites. I am not picky.
Favorite bands: I like most hip-hop and Christian artists/bands.
Favorite quote: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13
Favorite training shoe and competitive shoe: The Nike PV2.
Inspirational person in your life: Even though I have a lot of inspirational people in my life, I would have to say my mom is the most. She reminds me to keep my eyes on God and my goals. She reminds me that with Him, anything is possible.