Pole vaulter Scout Cai is over the top

SEVENTH GRADE. It’s a time when many kids try to be part of the “in crowd.”

Scout Cai took a different approach. She became part of the up-and-over crowd in middle school — up and over a pole vault bar, that is.

“My friends were doing it, and it was like, ‘I don’t want feel left out,’” Cai recalled of her introduction to the sport. “So I did it with them.

“It definitely took some time. I think eighth grade was when I realized I was pretty decent at it,” she said. “I just rode with it in high school, and here I am in college.”

During Cai’s college career at SPU which concluded last spring, she vaulted to numerous honors, from conference championships to All-American recognition.

“We knew how special she was in high school, and she certainly has had some moments here that justified that,” Track and Field Head Coach Karl Lerum said.

As a junior in 2019, Cai earned All-American in the pole vault with an eighth-place finish at the NCAA Division II Championships, and she also made All-American in the heptathlon by placing seventh in that two-day, seven-event endurance test. (In 2018, she placed fifth in the indoor pentathlon for another All-American award.)

After her 2020 outdoor track season was canceled because of the coronavirus, Cai took advantage of the NCAA decision allowing student-athletes to keep that year of eligibility and use it in 2021.

“Honestly, it fit right into my plans to take a gap year and get ready for [physical therapy] school,” said Cai, whose collection of honors also includes several for academic achievement.

Pursuing both the heptathlon and the pole vault can pose a significant physical strain, so Cai chose to focus on the pole.

“I do miss the multis sometimes,” she said. “But I think over the years, I did what I could in the multis. Pole vaulting is my favorite event, and focusing on that was more important to me than doing other events.”

That focus yielded rewards. On April 30 at the Buc Scoring Invitational meet in Spokane, Washington, Cai cleared 13 feet for the first time — 13 feet, 2 ½ inches — to break the Great Northwest Athletic Conference record of 13 feet, 1 ¾inches. A few minutes later, she went even higher at 13 feet, 3 inches.

“Everything just clicked that day,” Cai said. “The weather was perfect. I was more relaxed at that meet compared to other meets. I felt like, ‘Finally! I finally hit 13 feet.’”

Cai went on to win her second straight GNAC pole vault title and again qualified for NCAAs before taking off her uniform for the final time.

“A lot of good memories of Scout are thinking about the first time she did this, or the first time she did that, as well as different things she has qualified for at the national level or scored at the conference level,” Lerum said. “Scout is unlike any kid I’ve ever worked with. I think she’s very unique and special.”

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