Returning Home: Sandi Morris Builds Pole Vault Area with Dad

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The silver medalist found a silver lining.

Although the normal daily training routine for a professional athlete has been obliterated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sandi Morris has found her ways to cope.

It's not just about trying to keep up with staying in shape and making a run at another Olympic medal. It's also about keeping up with niece, Jamison, and nephew, Sam, who she rarely gets to spend time with by taking a ride in her jeep or a walk to the nearby creek.

It's about making up for lost time with her parents, Harry and Kerry Morris, as well as two older sisters, Crissy and Jami, all who she gets to see once a year. For those reasons, Sandi isn't solely focused on staying on top of her game.

"I've not been here more than a week staying home for a decade," she said. "The only time I see my parents is when they would drive 14 hours to Arkansas to visit me. For me, this has been really special. I've wanted to come back home and live closer to them, but I don't know when that will be. For that reason, there has been a silver lining through all this insanity."

Morris is a former Greenville High standout where she won two Class 3A state pole vault titles and was also an all-state volleyball player. She then moved on to the University of North Carolina and finished second at the USA Junior Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 2011.

Morris then transferred to the University of Arkansas to claim first place at the NACAC Under-23 Championships and SEC Outdoor Championship. In 2015, she won first place at the SEC Indoor, SEC Outdoor and NCAA Indoor championships. She set the NCAA record with a vault of 15-feet, 1 inch.

Watch videos with Morris | State high school pole vault history | A look back at Morris through the years in articles | The stats

Morris went on to win the silver medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. She is the American women's pole vault record holder at 16-feet, 4 3/4 inches and also claimed first place at the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships in 2016 and '17 and USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 2017 and '18. She took silver at the 2017 World Indoor Championships before claiming gold the following year.

Morris now has her sight set on attempting to claim gold at the next Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which was moved to 2021 as a result of the coronavirus. To stay on track, so to speak, she's taken on a project with her dad to make sure her goal can become reality. The pair is helping construct a 120-foot plywood runway near the neighborhood soccer field and tennis court. Sandi said that the idea was in the works before any shutdown was thought about.

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"Dad has talked about it a lot the last three years," she said. "Once my dad gets an idea, it happens. The only thing that held him back was I came out here one week out of the year, and it would be a big waste of money. We plan on also using it to host summer camps and clinics and training sessions and just give back to the pole vault community and grow it."

Sandi said that the lumber was bought "at cost" through contacts of her dad. She added that her sponsor loaned the pit.

"Everything fell into place, and it was a go," she said. "We've got the runway and platform finished. We're just waiting on the pit. That's taking a little longer than expected because the foam that is used to make the pit is also used for hospital beds. That is totally fine with me with everything going on."

Harry is a pole vault coach at Clemson. He said being able to do a project with his youngest daughter tops anything that the runway will provide.

"I had talked about building a facility for her in Greenville through the years, but it's hard to replicate what she has in Arkansas," he said. "She has an amazing coaching staff and weight room and physical trainers and therapists. There's a lot of pieces of the puzzle that goes into being a professional athlete. For 10 years, she's been gone. We always did projects together, and it's been different. It's like going back in time. It's been awesome we can spend time together doing a project together like when she was a little girl. The silver lining is she came back home."

Sandi said that she has purchased weight room equipment and has been doing cross training to stay in shape while trying to balance several interview requests about the runway. She said trying to find time for family, workouts and interviews eats up a lot of her day, but it's worth it being back home.

"It is tiring, but I try to keep it in perspective," she said. "People want to know my story, and it means a lot that so many people care about me. That's very humbling, and I don't mind sharing it."

Morris added that it's also hard being away from her husband, Bermudian Olympian Tyrone Smith, who is finishing courses at the University of Texas. However, her time spent at home is not anything she'd take back.

"It's been really good to come home by myself and spend time with my parents," she said. "I'll probably be here until the end of May before going back to Arkansas, but this is very special to me."

Morris also hopes that high school seniors will also find their silver lining after South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster announced on Wednesday that schools would be closed until the end of the academic year. The announcement ended any hopes of spring sports, which barely got started before they ended.

"There's nothing I can say that will give them back their senior year or memories," she said. "There won't be those proms or senior nights. The only thing that they can do is take that passion that they have for those things and try to harness and use it for the future. It seems like a century ago that I was in high school, and I can promise that the next memories they make will overshadow anything they did in high school. I know it doesn't help right now, but using that passion for the future and those memories is so much more."