By Logan Stanley - MileSplit Correspondent
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Just over two weeks ago, on Jan. 19 at the Pole Vault Summit in Reno, Nevada, West Seattle High School senior Chloe Cunliffe cleared 14 feet.
Not only is the mark No. 1 among high school girls for this indoor season and No. 11 all-time, but it makes her the eighth athlete all-time to have gone 14-0 or higher.
And it was no fluke clearance. Cunliffe has now cleared 14 feet twice in the past year, doing so previously in the spring at the USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships, where she set a meet record and won an age group championship.
"Big [confidence] boost, definitely" Cunliffe said. "When I cleared 14 feet, I was like, 'Wow, okay.' And then I started seeing how far I was over 14."
At face value, clearing that height is obviously quite the achievement. But when looked at more thoroughly, what Cunliffe has done is even more remarkable.
Just two years ago, she hadn't even started vaulting.
So how did she go from novice to one of the best in the country in such a short time span?
There may be a simple answer to that question: Because in the Cunliffe Family, athleticism runs deep.
There are eight total siblings in the family. Seven girls, one boy. Chloe sits in the middle. Their father, Mike, started them out in track and field at a young age.
Even when away from practice, the Cunliffe kids would still set up hurdles and plyometric boxes at home to practice for fun. They would also construct homemade obstacle courses. The environment was energetic.
At first, Chloe did the long jump. But she soon became bored with the event--the lack of excitement bothered her--and left track for gymnastics when she 10 years old. For six years, she was a gymnast.
Maybe it's there where she found her passion. The thrill of being suspended high in the air, the adrenaline brought from the sport; she was enamored with gymnastics.
Then she saw her older siblings--Hannah Cunliffe and Sam Cunliffe--both get swept up into the phenomenon that is NCAA recruiting, and the glamor that comes with it.
The two excelled exceptionally at their respective sports.
Read: Dan Maton Is Next Up In A Family Built For Runners
Hannah starred at Federal Way High School in Washington state as a standout sprinter before moving first to the University of Oklahoma, and then the University of Oregon, where she set the NCAA record in the 60m and was a four-time All-American. She is now a professional runner for adidas.
Sam featured at Bishop Blanchet High School and Rainier Beach High School, also in Washington state, as a touted basketball prospect. A top-50 recruit in the nation, he started out at Arizona State University. He has since transferred twice, to Kansas University and now Evansville University in Indiana.
Seeing that process unfold in front of her, combined with no desire to compete further in gymnastics, led Chloe back to the sport of track and field. With six years of experience as a gymnast and a background as a long jumper, her coach and her father both suggested trying out the pole vault.
For Cunliffe, the new event was love at first sight. Just like gymnastics, she was high up in the air. The adrenaline rush returned.
"I like having the fear component," Cunliffe said. "I really like intense stuff like that."
Now that Cunliffe has cleared 14 feet, she has her sights set on new marks. Her long-term goal for indoors is to reach 14-6.
And for outdoors, that bar is raised considerably.
Long-term, Cunliffe said she wants to clear "at least 15 feet." The national high school record is 14-7.50, set by Arkansas' Lexi Weeks in 2014. A total of 13 girls, including Cunliffe, have soared over 14-feet outdoors.
But while hitting certain heights is always a focus, Cunliffe says she likes to focus on the process itself. Particularly, she wants to work on her technique.
"One of my main goals is getting upside down, because I struggle with that a lot," Cunliffe said.
It's not surprising that even at such a young age Cunliffe is thinking about things like her form and technique. The 18-year-old isn't your average teenage athlete; she has a stable consisting of her personal doctor, chiropractor and acupuncturist that are seen usually weekly in order to keep her body in top shape.
All of this has led her to skyrocket north in the pole vaulting world, resulting in an athletic scholarship to Washington State University. While Arkansas University was certainly in the running, WSU coach Brad Walker, a nine-time USA pole vault champion, and being close to home weighed heavily for Cunliffe.
Pole vault is the main event for Cunliffe. But she stills runs the 100m (13.10) and does the long jump (17-9.25) in order to help with pole vault. She placed second in the long jump at the 2018 Washington state 2A/3A/4A championships, a testament to her versatility.
As for what's next in her senior season, it's still undecided. Competing at New Balance Indoor Nationals is under consideration, she told MileSplit USA.
Cunliffe knows her ascent has been rapid, even a whirlwind at times. The whole process of signing with WSU took just about a month, she said.
But this is what it's like when you go from a virtual unknown to being a top recruit.
Cunliffe is finding that out fast.- - -