The crowd at Cessna Stadium on the campus of Wichita State University had started to clap their hands slowly, their eyes focused on track.
And at the start of the high jump runway stood SM East junior Grace Pickell, who was looking at a bar fully two-and-a-half inches higher than anything she’d cleared before in practice, in meets — ever.
She’d just taken first place in the state 6A track meet with a 5′ 8″ jump. As a matter of protocol, the event winner gets to attempt one final jump at a height of her choosing. The state record was 5′ 10.25″. “Why not give 5′ 10.5″ a chance?” she thought.
But with the entire stadium looking her way, Pickell found herself more than a little unsettled.
“I get really bad stage fright,” she said. “Mostly I was thinking, ‘Holy crap, I can’t miss in front of all these people…’”
Adrenaline can do some amazing things.
“You always jump higher in meets than in practice,” she said of the experience. “You get so amped up, sometimes you surprise yourself.”
By clearing the 5′ 10.5″ jump at the meet in May, Pickell set a new state record, and propelled herself onto the national high school high jumping stage.
Last week, she and her family traveled to Albuquerque, N.M., where she competed in an invitation-only meet for some of the nation’s top track and field prospects. She cleared 5′ 10″, good enough for second place (the winner cleared 6′). Now ranked second in the nation, she’ll compete in another national meet in Indiana in two weeks. If that goes well, she may travel to Spain for an international meet later this summer.
Pickell, who says she’d love to jump in college for Arkansas — though KU “would be pretty cool too” — is enjoying her recent success, but has her ambitions set fairly high. Jumping 6′ .25″ qualifies you for the Olympic trials. That’s the goal, she says, even though she knows adding 1.75″ to her current personal-best height will be a huge challenge.
“It seems small, but every inch is huge,” she said. “It’s such a mechanical sport. You drop your shoulder a fraction of a second early, you knick the bar, and you’ve missed it.”