Athlete vaults from Venezuela

By Erika Meyer, Sports Writer

From Venezuela to the U.S., as well as going from gymnastics into pole vaulting, senior Keisa Monterola has endured it all.

From the age of four, Monterola started out as an avid gymnast. At 12 years old, Monterola developed a passion for pole vaulting after enduring an injury and not having a gymnastics coach, which made her want to look for something different.

“A Russian coach would come around the gym to look for athletes and recruit for pole vaulting and he talked to me once, but I had no idea what pole vaulting was at the time,” said Monterola

After injuring herself and taking time to step away from gymnastics, Monterola retired from gymnastics and two weeks after she looked into pole vaulting

“I didn’t know much about track and field at all,” said Monterola, laughing. “I only knew about running events and that was it.”

She practiced pole vaulting with a Russian coach named Alexander. At the time, out of 15 athletes, Monterola was the youngest at age 12.

“Starting out I was good … and I stuck with it,” said Monterola. “I fell in love. … It was something different.”

Monterola is Venezuelan and came to the United States in spring 2009 to compete in pole vaulting.

“I was looking for a coach and wanted to study abroad,” said Monterola. “I had offers from different universities, but it never really went through because I didn’t really speak English and I didn’t know how to make the connections.”

According to Monterola, one of her friends Ricardo Diaz from Venezuela, who studied in the U.S. and was a pole vaulter, helped her make contacts with coaches. The first stop was a full-ride scholarship offer at the University of Washington.

“I trained for about three months and studied English at the same time,” said Monterola. “But they required me to take the SATs, and I took it two days after I arrived so my English wasn’t very good. I didn’t know what I was doing and of course I didn’t do well on it.”

Due to SAT scores and not speaking English well, Monterola did not get accepted into UW.

After training at UW, Monterola ended up going back to Venezuela for a year and to study more English. Before she knew it, she got into contact with the coach from Clackamas Community College.

“I went back and took a nine-month intensive English program,” said Monterola. “Then I was on the track team for Clackamas Community College.”

During her time at Clackamas Community College, Monterola placed first in pole vaulting at the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges Championships. She had a personal best with a height of 14-2 1/2. She also placed first in the long jump with a mark of 18 1/2.

In the 2010 season, Monterola redshirted and competed in the Central American and Caribbean games where she set the games record with a mark of 13-9 1/4.

After she was done at Clackamas Community College, Monterola started to look at other colleges, but was having a tough time.

“At my age, it was getting a little complicated for me, because of eligibility wise, not a lot of universities were not interested because they didn’t know how much time I had left,” said Monterola.

In the fall of 2011, Monterola transferred to Eastern. This was her first opportunity to compete on a full-ride scholarship in Division I.

“I knew some of the coaches down at Clackamas,” said pole vaulting coach Eric Allison. “The coaches brought her up here with a visit. She liked it.”

During the 2011-2012 indoor season, Monterola broke the Eastern school record and Big Sky Conference indoor record in the pole vault with a jump of 14-4 at the UW Invitational. This mark automatically qualified her for the NCAA Championships, where she placed fifth overall with a mark of 14-1 1/4.

She won the Big Sky title in the pole vault with a height of 14-2, winning by over a foot and earning her the women’s Most Outstanding Athlete of the Meet award at the Big Sky Championships.

Monterola also competed in the long jump at the indoor championships, placing fourth overall with a jump of 18-3 to rank ninth all time at Eastern.

For the 2011-2012 outdoor season, Monterola won the pole vault at the BSC Outdoor Championships with a jump of 13-7 1/4.

In 2012, as she qualified for NCAA Division I National Championships, Monterola had to withdraw and go back to Venezuela due to a family emergency. She was unable to meet the Olympic Standard by an inch.

“After that, it was really rough and had to come back right away because of finals,” said Monterola. “A lot of people thought I wasn’t going to come back, but I did because I wanted to do it for my parents and my brother.”

Monterola cleared three heights in the pole vault during the indoor season, with her best mark of 12-10 1/4. She was unable to defend her indoor title in the pole vault at the Big Sky Indoor Championships. Monterola also competed in the long jump as she hit her longest mark of 17-4 3/4.

For the outdoor season, Monterola defended her title at the Big Sky Championships, clearing the bar at 13-3 1/2. She then competed at the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds, but failed to clear a height.

“She has done really well here,” said Allison. “She has broken school records indoor and outdoor. She has a good career, won conference three time out of four. Two years ago we missed going to the Olympics by an inch.”

Monterola, now 25 years old, is competing in her last indoor season. She has already qualified for the Big Sky Conference Championship during the Candy Cane meet at Eastern on Dec. 6.

“So far she has jumped 13-5,” said Allison. “She sits 14th in the nation and they take the top 16 for nationals. She is at an okay mark right now, but expect her to have a higher mark to qualify for nationals.”

She is still apart of the Venezuelan national team, and according to Allison, Monterola will be gone for a few days at the end of January to compete in the Venezuela national meet.

Entering her last quarter, Monterola plans to walk at graduation in June to experience a ceremony after she was unable to walk at her high school graduation in 2006.

“I wasn’t able to experience my high school graduation,” said Monterola. “During the time I was competing in a meet in Canada for my [Venezuelan] team. So I am really excited to graduate and walk in June.”