'Monkey' takes home top honor in pole vault event

Northwestern pole vaulter Kimberleigh Riggs competes in the Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships.
Northwestern pole vaulter Kimberleigh Riggs competes in the Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships.

The nickname "Monkey" was pinned on Kimberleigh Riggs in her childhood. Her parents, Brian and Carrie Riggs, called their only daughter Monkey because she would climb on to the counter tops in the kitchen to forage through cabinets.

Riggs is now 15 years old and still climbing.

She won the state title this spring in the pole vault. Saturday, she won the South Carolina Junior Olympics in the Intermediate Division (15-16 age group) by clearing 11 feet.

Riggs' next competition will be July 10-13 in the Regional Junior Olympics. South Pointe High School will host the four-day event, which will bring in the best athletes from Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Only the top five finishers in each event from each state will participate.

A win at the regionals would earn a spot in the National Junior Olympics the final weekend in July in Omaha, Neb.

Riggs is a rising junior at Northwestern High School. She achieved her personal best at the state meet this year with a vault of 11 feet, 6 inches.

Chances are good her parents could be heard yelling "Way to go, Monkey!" at the state meet as they were Saturday from the bleachers at Winthrop's Irwin Belk Track.

She said she is really excited about the upcoming regionals. "I came here with a goal to advance."

Success is no stranger to Riggs. She is a three-time state champion in gymnastics. She plays trumpet and is section leader for the Purple Regiment Band at Northwestern. She is a pitcher for the Trojans' softball team.

"She doesn't do anything half-hearted. She is going to give it her all or she's not going to do it," her mother said.

"She excels in whatever she decides to do," added the proud father.

The timing required to excel in gymnastics was what led Northwestern coach Calvin Hudgins to encourage her to try the pole vault as a freshman.

Rusty Shealy, former Brookland-Cayce and USC coach and currently runs the Rusty Shealy Pole Vault Camps, has coached a number of pole vaulters. He was on hand with several of his students. Second-place finisher Sandi Morris is one of those students.

"Pole vaulting is such a mind game. You have to be focused," Morris said.

She cleared 10-6 Saturday and will face Riggs again in the regionals.

"Kimberleigh has improved majorly. I saw her twice before the state meet when she went 10 feet. Then she went to 11-6."

Shealy said Riggs and Morris looked good Saturday. He expects them both to improve through the summer.

"They will be the first over 13 feet. I think they have the ability and will make it look easy," Shealy said.

Riggs is easy to find among her competition. She is the one with just one sock, an orange tie-dyed beauty, pulled up to her left knee. It actually serves a purpose as she is in the air. She aligns the leg with the pole -- part of the timing -- during a vault.

The idea came from teammate and fellow pole vaulter Charlie Snipes.

Riggs knows her sport and listens to her coaches.

She starts some 80 to 82 feet from the pit. She counts as her left foot strikes the runway. "Seven lefts" she says will get her in the air -- climbing to what could be a spot in the National Junior Olympics.