Article By: Ellie Kindlund (Class of 2017)
The competitor sprints, approaching the small hole into which she must precisely lodge the high tip of her pole. Pole planted, she presses hard to bend it, hanging at the end like a pendulum, and at the perfect moment she swings her body upside down. At the top of the arc, she shoots up over a bar set more than double her height. She lets go and falls back-first to a mat.
A second-year pole vaulter at The Master’s University, Madi Cole (‘18) is used to committing everything to each vault and launching full-force into the air. The pole has to bend to get the height. But for her, that mentality extends to life away from the pit.
Head Track Coach Zach Schroeder describes Cole as ambitious and driven: “She’s somebody that is really willing to go above and beyond, get out of her comfort zones. That’s obviously the reality you have to have if you’re going to compete in the pole vault.”
Above and beyond: that’s the vaulter’s goal. That difficult hanging in the balance—waiting for the moment to swing—gets you there.
IBEX, TMU’s extension campus in Israel, had grabbed Cole’s attention when she heard about it during her first week on campus. Her Old Testament classes only helped fuel her desire to go. However, her commitment to the team and desire for excellence in her sport meant a semester away was probably unrealistic. She picked up an application anyway, just in case.
“People are always weighing the options,” Cole said, describing the life of a college student. Between church and school and sports and Bible study and student life, stewarding time takes wisdom.
Maybe, she thought, she could step down from track a year early and do IBEX then. Nevertheless, to avoid that last resort, she asked her coaches if they thought she could go while remaining on the team. She expected a no.
“And they were like, ‘Well, yeah, I think so,’” she recalled, smiling. While distance runners simply can’t compensate for missing a semester’s worth of training, vaulters who are willing to recognize the risk and effort required may find it is just possible.
Knowing the work ahead of her, Cole turned in her application for fall 2016, so she could come back to train at Master’s during her senior season and finish strong. Then, she hung in the balance, praying for the moment when she’d swing and invert her day-to-day life in California.
She was on the waitlist all summer, and only weeks before the fall 2016 group was going to board a plane to Tel Aviv she was accepted.
“And then,” she said, “I went to IBEX.”
Any IBEX-er will tell you it’s a strenuous semester, crammed with travel, school work, and just to put a cap on the exhaustion, lots of hiking. But Cole said it was her favorite semester rather than her hardest. Used to budgeting her time on the track team, she balanced her class work, travel and conditioning assignments.
“Really, after breakfast you were busy the rest of the day until the evening,” she explained.
So twice a week, she would get up earlier than most of her classmates and watch the sunrise from a hilltop with the coast in the distance, after running to a neighboring village with a friend or two. Other days she sprinted on nearby basketball courts and did strength training on the bleachers.
Training in Israel offered some pretty special routes. Once, Madi remembered, they ran to Abu Gosh, an Arabic town in the opposite direction of the usual run. They drank water at an ancient spring and explored the ruins of a British fort on the way back to the Moshav, their home for three months.
Madi enjoyed learning about the Jewish people and their culture inside and outside of class. God’s plan for Israel came to life the more she explored it and lived among the people.
“We, as Gentiles, are ‘the ends of the earth.’ The gospel didn’t come to us first. It came to the Jewish people, and they were the light to show the rest of the nations the way to the Lord,” she said. “And to think that we are now included in that fold is amazing, and it really hit me when I was over there.”
Her favorite trip took the group to Galilee, where they passed along the coast through the sites of Jesus’ ministry. As she stood in the Shephelah, the sloping lowlands between the coast and the mountains, she pictured the criminals that stayed with David as he hid from Saul, hundreds of them spread out in the huge caves of Adullam.
“I’d absolutely go back,” she said. “I’m so thankful that I got to go to IBEX and the way the Lord worked it all out with track.”
As an athlete, going to IBEX is a sacrifice. Cole knew that not being able to do weight training during the fall would be the biggest physical deficit, but she agrees with Coach Schroeder that, “with her drive to excel she will be able to compensate”.
After the inversion, the pole-vaulter has to let go of the pole and trust she’ll fall to her back on that mat. Cole is the first Master’s U track athlete to return to the team after IBEX. Training several hours daily, spending time with her team and competing in day-long meets, Madi is back to the life of a student-athlete. She is trusting her training and thankful for the support of her coaches as she seeks to excel in her calling.