One of Australia’s rising athletics stars, pole-vaulting prodigy Elyssia Kenshole is primed to hit new heights in 2021.
Touted as ‘one to watch’ in 2021 by World Athletics, it has been a meteoric rise in the sport for Kenshole, who only started out in the sport a few years ago.
Taking up the pole vaulting after persistent injuries as a gymnast, Kenshole admitted she would wouldn’t have made the switch without those setbacks.
“I was set on doing gymnastics for the rest of my life, I’d done it since I was three,” Kenhole told The Inner Sanctum.
“But it got too complicated with injuries – every time i got rid of one I got another one.
“So we (my mum and I) got into the idea of trying something new.”
Kenshole said pole vaulting and gymnastics have many transferable skills
“It definitely came naturally from a gymnastics perspective,” she said.
“Because you need to have the strength and the spatial awareness so you know what you’re doing and where you are.”
A gifted junior athlete, Kenshole was also competing in running and field events, with success.
When injuries began to reoccur however, she knew she had to make a choice.
“I started getting a lot of injuries again, I was a triple jumper and a sprinter as well as a pole-vaulter.
“And triple jump’s very hard on your body.
“I had shin splints, I had stress fractures, so it got to the point where I had to choose.
“And I loved pole vault so much, the environment I was in was so much better than it was for the other events, so I decided to stick with pole vault.”
Kenshole appeared at the state championships for the first time in 2019, where she won for her age level, then placed in the open women’s level, coming third.
She then represented Australia for the first time at the Oceania Championships in June 2019, and came second, an impressive feat considering she lost her poles in transit to the event.
“Losing the poles along the way didn’t help.
“One of the things you learn is that when you travel overseas it’s really hard to travel without poles, Because they are 15 foot long, so they are really hard to manage.
“But it’s a learning curve, how to deal with losing stuff along the way.”
Since then Kenshole has risen to be the number one pole vaulter in Australia for u/18-u/20 and number two in the world for u/20s.
And with the Tokyo Olympics coming in July of this year, Kenshole is still an outside chance of a berth.
But she has other goals in mind.
“Coming off this injury I think I’m better off going for nationals, I haven’t won a national title yet so i think I should work on that,” she said.
“There is a chance that I could somewhat qualify for Olympics this year.
“We were looking the other day where I am [ranked] in Australia for the open age group, which they could take me as a young athlete to get the experience for the next couple of years.
“But [it’s] probably not what I’m looking for this year, but definitely something that I am working towards in the future.”
Over the last 12 months, the Covid shutdown combined with a stress fracture has allowed her to tinker with her craft, and prepare for the future.
“I got diagnosed with that (stress fracture) in June, it was definitely hard but it was a blessing in disguise that it did happen,” she said.
“When I did go back to the track, all I did was work on technique, and that’s something that I really needed to work on.
“Because when I started, I was rushed into jumping because I was so strong and so powerful, so my coach decided to neglect the technique side of things and move straight into trying to jump as high as I could.
“I think it was a good thing for me, my body got 12 months of rest because we haven’t had any competitions and we had time to work on things that I wouldn’t have been able to work on otherwise.
“I got to take a step back, and take my time with everything that needed to be fixed.”
When asked what training can be done without the mat and bar, Kenshole said it was not easy to train without them.
“There’s a lot of sprinting and running that we have to do- the faster you are technically the higher you’re gonna jump,” she said.
“A lot of Gymnastics stuff is necessary as well for knowing how to land safely and if you land on your head, you know how to get out of stuff.
“But it’s difficult if you can’t get to the mats, you don’t have a pole, and you don’t have the facilities.”
Kenshole admitted one of the most difficult aspects of the sport is the mental battles that ensue.
“I remember landing on my head once after a jump, and I landed on the track, so I didn’t land on the mat. After that I sort of lost it and I said to my coach I can’t do it I’m too scared,” she said.
“If you don’t have the mental capabilities for the sport, it’s very hard to do it.
“You get into this mental block, because when we do it, we are flexing fiberglass, [which] when you think about it, that shouldn’t happen.
“So it is kind of scary, I think when something happens.”
Thankfully, Kenshole has a strong support network.
Her parents assist with all facets of life, and her coach, Bill Georgantas has been extremely supportive throughout her journey.
“My parents, they’ve done everything for me since I can remember. My mum does everything for me, she said I’m not allowed to make any decisions until I’m 30 [laughs].”
Kenshole said the influence of the coach cannot be understated.
“You have to trust in them fully, because of how dangerous the sport is,” she said.
“He puts in as much time as I do, if not more.”
Kenshole also knows there’s one thing that’s more important than any other.
“You just gotta believe in yourself,” she said.
“If you don’t believe in yourself you’ll never reach where you want to get to.”
“You can have so many people telling you that you’ve got the talent, you’ve got the genes, but if you don’t believe in yourself then it’s never going to happen.”