Greensburg Salem's Courtney McQuaide was in eighth grade when she decided she wanted to go out for the track team.
The only problem was that her parents didn't want her to.
McQuaide had been a recreational gymnast since she was 2 years old -- and still is to this day -- and mom and dad felt that adding another sport might be too much.
But that didn't dissuade McQuaide, who, much to her parents' chagrin, took it upon herself to sign up for the Golden Lions track team anyway. Soon after, McQuaide was introduced to pole vaulting coach Jeremy Lenzi, who suggested McQuaide try the pole vault because of her strength and background as a gymnast.
A few years later, McQuaide's decision has propelled her to new heights -- literally.
"Now my parents are thanking me for doing the pole vault," McQuaide said, laughing.
McQuaide, a senior, is one of the top pole vaulters in the WPIAL. She owns the school record in the event and has the top reported vault in the WPIAL this spring. Last Friday, she broke the meet record at the Butler Invitational.
"She's very talented and I've had very few girls I would put in the same sentence as far as work ethic goes," said Lenzi, who is in his 21st season at Greensburg.
McQuaide's performance at the Butler Invitational was exceptional. The weather conditions were far from ideal. It was cold, windy and rain fell intermittently.
McQuaide thought to herself, "I'm probably going to kill myself vaulting in the rain."
Fortunately, the rain stopped just before the pole vault competition began. Vaulters retaped their poles, and McQuaide then reset the record book. Her vault of 11 feet, 10 inches was the best in meet history. It also gave McQuaide the school outdoor record, which complemented the 12-0 she vaulted to set the school indoor record in winning the state championship last month.
"I was really surprised by the way it turned out. I didn't think I would vault as high as I did," McQuaide said.
McQuaide has come a long way since she her first vault -- a 7-footer -- four years ago. Her technique has improved by leaps and bounds, so to speak, and she's gotten considerably stronger. Lenzi said that McQuaide's commitment in the weight room has played a big role in the higher vaults.
As a junior, McQuaide tied for seventh at the WPIAL Class AAA championships by vaulting 11-3. That earned her a trip to the PIAA championships, where she tied for seventh with a vault of 11-6.
Both McQuaide and Lenzi cited the excellent competition locally as being a significant factor in McQuaide's development. Greensburg Salem competes in Section 1 along with Norwin and Hempfield Area. Norwin's Kelsey Plecenik is the defending WPIAL champion and placed sixth at the PIAA championships. Hempfield's Bridget Guy finished third at WPIALs and fourth at PIAAs.
"There's not a section in Pennsylvania that's better for vaulters than our section. And it's why they've gotten to be so good," Lenzi said.
Added McQuaide: "It also helps that we have a really good friendship. I like competing against them. We actually cheer for each other on the runway."
Next week will be a busy one for McQuaide. Thursday, she'll compete in the prestigious Penn Relays at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. Then, next Saturday, McQuaide will square off against Plecenik and Guy at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association championships at Latrobe.
McQuaide said she will attend Slippery Rock University and major in exercise science. She plans on competing in the pole vault, as well.
As McQuaide's high school career winds down, her coach said she is dreaming big.
"I try to set realistic goals and I try to get them to dream big," Lenzi said. "Realistically, we want to place high at the county meet. We want to place high at the WPIAL meet. We want to place higher at the state meet.
"Realistically, she could get 12-6 or possibly go 13 feet. Now into dreams, it's win the county meet, win WPIALs and win states. She's chasing those dreams."