Morgann LeLeux aims high

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Morgann LeLeux aims high

Unread postby PV Official » Fri Apr 08, 2011 6:47 pm ... 4ac&page=1

Gymnast turned pole vaulter Morgann LeLeux aims high
Fourteen-foot vaulter from Louisiana has brains, brawn and background to be nation's greatest at her event.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011
By: Dave Krider |

If not for a debilitating sickness that still affects her, Morgann LeLeux likely would be the greatest female pole vaulter in USA high school history.
A senior at Catholic (New Iberia, La.), LeLeux contracted Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) in late June and for quite a while it was not diagnosed. It is one of the most aggressive forms of mononucleosis and it will remain in her system – combated by medication – until it runs its course.

She surpassed her best of 14 feet, with a vault of 14 feet, 1 inch in the first outdoor meet of the season - the Erath (La.) Invitation - and is now the national leader by nine inches.

Last month, LeLeux won the prestigious New Balance Indoor Championships at 13-8¼ in New York City. At full strength she would have had a great shot at the national indoor record of 14-2½.

This spring she is shooting at the national outdoor record, which is 14-2. She has topped that height several times in practice.

"I'm not going to lie – at the beginning of the season I was kind of crushed," LeLeux said. "I was freaking out. It was my senior year and I could barely get over 13-0. The medicine at least made me want to get up (she once spent four days in bed)."

LeLeux's first love actually was gymnastics, which she started at age three. She was talented enough to win five state titles and reach Level 10.

As a sixth grader, she added the pole vault because her father, Shane LeLeux, was a college vaulter and has been coaching the sport for 20 years. He owns the New Heights Gym in New Iberia with both indoor and outdoor facilities. He currently trains 45 vaulters and arms them with their choice of 200 poles.

"I basically taught her how to pole vault in one day," Shane pointed out.

Morgann obviously was a quick study, because in her first meet as a sixth grader she cleared a surprising 8-6 and soared to 9-6 in her second outing. That was better than any of the varsity vaulters were doing at Catholic High.

"It wasn't that hard at all because gymnastics was such a good foundation," she said.
Pole vaulting became her No. 1 priority as a sophomore, which according to Morgann, prompted her gymnastics coach to leave her because he saw the handwriting on the wall. Still, she reached the national tourney on her own that year.
"I realized I could not become an elite gymnast," Morgann said. "I would have to give up my whole life and move to a different gym. After college, you're pretty much done with gymnastics. With pole vaulting, you can make a career. I realized I was good at it and people liked watching me do it. As long as I have people cheering me on I'm good to go."

Most elite gymnasts are small, but Morgann is a powerful 5-7 and 140 pounds. According to father and daughter, Morgann can bench press 200 pounds.

"She's bigger and stronger than almost any of the guys I have," Shane noted. "She is stronger than most 20-year-old athletes."

Said Morgann: "I can beat all the guys in our gym (in weightlifting)."

It's somewhat ironic that she chose to specialize in the pole vault, because she's no fan of heights.

"I'm actually crazy scared of heights," she said. "I don't like airplanes. I like roller coasters, but I don't like fairs. I've been doing it for so long that it's just something I do. I haven't had any serious injuries."

Morgann may not like heights, but her goals are remarkably lofty.

"I want to be the first American to jump 15-0," she said. "(Someday) I want to jump 17-9. My dad jumped 17-8 in college, so I've got to jump 17-9. I don't care if I'm 80 years old, I'll do it. As soon as I jump 17-9, I'm going to shut it down and end my career."

To approach these marks, Morgann admits she'll need to work on all facets of her physicality. Some she might not have control over.

"I'm going to have to get a heck of a lot faster, a lot stronger and figure out how to jump like a boy," she said.

Shane is the first to concede that his talented daughter "is not a top track athlete. We have to teach her how to run and then we have to teach her how to run with a pole. Then she's going to jump really high.

"She is just a freak. She is Showtime. Any time there is major competition, you better look out."

Though competitive, Morgan concedes there is much room for growth.

"Gymnastics has helped me in everything but running," she said. "When I run for the vault in gymnastics I just take off and lean forward. With the pole vault you have to keep your shoulders up. This is the first year I'll be focusing more on pole vaulting than gymnastics."
Carrying a strong 3.7 grade point average, Morgann demonstrated her intelligence when it came to picking a college. She said she was the one who interviewed 13 college coaches, eventually choosing the University of Georgia (over Auburn and Penn State) so she can continue track and gymnastics.

Asked about the Olympics, she replied, "I want at least to go to the trials in 2012. It won't be a big deal and my life won't be over (if she doesn't make the USA team). (The year) 2016 is going to be my year. I want to break world records."

National pole vault expert Greg Duplantis, who lives in nearby Lafayette, La., sees Morgann reaching many of her goals.

"The first time I saw her, I thought she would be the first high school 15-footer," he said. "She already would have if she hadn't gotten sick. Morgann is very gymnastic, elegant and smooth. She's so fit, so strong and super advanced.

"She's more of a gymnast on a pole. She's done a lot with a little training. She's pretty raw pole vault-wise. When she becomes a good runner, she's going to be really, really good. She can jump 16-0 out of high school. I can see her jumping at a world-class level."

Despite her success in track and gymnastics, Morgann has ambitions beyond sports.
"Dancing is her first love," Shane said. "She's a better dancer than a gymnast or pole vaulter. Her ultimate goal is to be a Broadway star. If she wants to do it, she will do it."

Morgann, who won a dance contest in New Orleans, said she hopes to go to New York following her vaulting career and try out for a back-up dancing role on Broadway. She wants to attend Juilliard and live in New York City. She loves Times Square. Her ultimate dream is to choreograph her own shows.

Don't be surprised to see Morgann LeLeux some day on "Dancing With The Stars."

"I don't put any limits on that kid," Shane said.

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