University of Idaho - Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education
Melinda Owen was born an athlete. From a young age when she used to do push-ups with her dad and siblings in the morning, to a high school pole vaulting career that brought her a full-ride scholarship in college. During her senior year at the University of Idaho, Melinda was ranked as best collegiate pole vaulter. She is now taking her vaulting career to another level in Chula Vista, Calif., where is training to bring home a medal in the 2012 London Olympic Games. And don’t think this goes to her head. Melinda is one of the kindest, most giving and thoughtful people. We’re rooting for her all the way!
By working hard, we can make our own luck.
Have you always been drawn to sports, and how did you find the right one for you?
I was most definitely always pulled toward sports. I think it was because of my family dynamics. My father used to wake my siblings and me up in the morning after he got back from his run, and we all did sit ups and push-ups together. When we all finished we got to sit on his back while he did his. He made it very fun for us. We were in clubs depending on the number of sit-ups and push-ups we could do, and we always were trying to get in the next club! Because of this, we all loved being active! And both of my parents were very supportive with whatever sports we wanted to try. We all did pretty much everything that Polson (my hometown) had to offer, but when it came time in high school to make a decision on just three, it was very tough. I ended up picking track over softball (my other favorite) because my older sister was in softball, and my dad felt that it was good we did our own things. Truth be told, we just didn’t get along very well in high school, and so I’m sure my dad was saving himself from a lot of whining and petty fights.
What has been your path so far to get you where you are today?
There is not enough time or space to explain the journey that I have taken to get me where I am today. I can honestly say that what I did on my own part was work as hard as I could physically muster, and because of that the people around me were willing to make sacrifices for me. My high school coach, Darrin Gunlock, did a lot for me even sticking around after all his kids had graduated to see me to my own state championship title! In college I was fortunate enough to have a coach that selflessly worked harder than any other person I have yet met in my 25 years. The time he dedicated to my training was in large part what helped me become the best collegiate vaulter by my senior year. Because of that mark, I was then asked by the Olympic coach, Ty Sevin, to join his small group of athletes at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., where we have been working hard together to bring the U.S. home a medal in the 2012 Olympic Games in London!
Was there any one person or situation that helped you along your path?
Like I have shown in my last comment, there really isn’t one person or situation that got me where I am, but instead it was a combination of very dedicated people and some rare opportunities. My most stable help has and always will come from my faith and family (boyfriend included). Their combination keeps me humble, honest, passionate and loved. Without all of it I would have never became the person I am today.
What is your typical day like? How does that change as you get closer to training for an event?
7:45 a.m. – I wake up to a good morning call from my long distance boyfriend. (This really starts the day off on the right foot!)
8:30 a.m. – I head to breakfast at our dining hall.
9:30 a.m. – I go to the training room for some therapy, which is usually on my ankle and back. (This takes an hour and a half to two hours.)
11:30 a.m. — I grab a small lunch from the cafeteria.
12:15 p.m. – I go down to the track and begin preparing for practice
12:45 p.m. – I begin my warm ups, and then depending on the day, I pole vault or do a track workout. I cool down after
2:30 p.m. – I eat a quick snack.
3:00 p.m. – I work on gymnastics or weightlifting, again depending on what day it is.
5:00 p.m. – I head back to the training room for therapy and an ice bath for an hour to an hour and a half.
Then I take a quick shower, eat dinner at 6 p.m. and I’m in bed by 9:30 p.m.
This is my competition routine starting in January and ending in September. The other months during our preseason, our workouts are way longer, beginning at 11a.m. and ending at 5:30p.m.
What did it feel like to place 10th at the U.S. Olympic Trials? What was the process leading up to it?
That year had been a tough one for me. It was my senior year of college, and I was ranked No. 1 in the NCAA. I no heighted at the regional track meet making me ineligible for the National Championships. I only had a couple weeks to pull myself back together for the Olympic Trials. So, when I made the Olympic Trials finals I was ecstatic, and since I was the only collegiate girl to do so, I felt a slight bit of redemption. This also helped assure me that pursuing my dreams and continuing to pole vault after college was the right thing to do!
Tell us more about your dream of competing at the 2012 Olympic games in London. What steps are you taking to get there?
I have been training side-by-side with some of the greatest pole vaulters of all time. Stacy Dragila, former gold medalist, is one. She has been a wonderful mentor pushing me to be the best in every aspect of my training. Chelsea Johnson, who won a silver medal in Berlin in 2010; Tim Mack, who was a gold medalist in 2004; and Brad Walker, who is an American Record Holder, are just a few. There’s many more!
Although I had surgery after the Olympic trials and the rehabilitation prevented me from entering most of the indoor competitions, I qualified for U.S. Indoor Nationals in Boston and came away with third place! With such a short amount of time to prepare for 2009’s competitions, I achieved more than was even expected of me. I went on to place sixth at the U.S. Outdoors that spring. This indoor season I set a new personal best of 4.45 meters (14′ 8″), which also happens to be the World A Standard! To make an Olympic or World team in the U.S., we will have to compete in one more Outdoor World Championship next summer. Then of course my ultimate goal -- the 2012 Olympics in London. I am confident that the combination of my training situation, coaches and fellow athletes I will be working with will make that dream a reality.
What is the dreamiest part of your job?
All of the places that it has taken me to! Last summer I sat in my hotel room across from the Eiffel Tower and thought, “Life just doesn’t get much better than this!”
What is the most challenging part?
It’s pushing my body past its breaking point day after day.
What is one lesson you’ve learned in your job that sticks with you?
By working hard, we can make our own luck.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly female athletes?
Honestly, I think one of the hardest things I see in sports at this level for women is that women peak in athleticism in their thirties. This makes it very hard for a woman to do this career if they are interested in starting a family while they are young.
Who are your role models?
I probably have someone I look up to in every aspect of my life. My parents continue to be two people I strive to be like. They are two of the kindest, most selfless, hard working people I have ever been around.
Is there a quote or mantra that you live by?
“I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.”
What advice do you have for girls who want to become professional athletes?
Work hard, and when you think you can’t work any harder ... do.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
When I had initially been asked to do this interview for “I Want Her Job,” I was concerned to glamorize a job that has close to zero financial gain. I honestly do this because I love it. When you are working your way up to the top, the hardest part is finding the money to do it. I didn’t used to think about money, my parents supported me through high school, I had a full ride scholarship to college (best sponsorships ever) and now I have come to realize how much money you need each month to make it to the next. I am more fortunate than most track athletes coming out of college because I live and train at an Olympic Center. They provide food, housing and free coaching. This lightens my burden tremendously. I have competed well enough to get my flights, lodging and food paid for from most of the big meets, but I still have insurance bills, cell phone bills and many other things I cannot alone afford to take care of. I have had some very giving people help me with some of my expenses, my parents being the most generous! I guess in the end, I have made the decision to do what I love because I love it. I hope that soon I will be able to support myself in this endeavor, but in the mean time I am so very thankful for the help I have been given.