By Tim Oberle, U.S. Army Cadet CommandApril 29, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas (April 29, 2013) -- With a storm brewing on the horizon last month during the 2013 Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays in Austin, all eyes in the stands were instead focused on the field where the real thunder was taking place.
Cadet Sam Kendricks, a sophomore in general studies at the University of Mississippi and star of the Ole Miss track and field team, recorded the highest NCAA pole vault since 1998, shattering the Ole Miss and Texas Relays record with an attempt of 19 feet, 3/4 inches. The effort was good for the NCAA's fifth-best ever.
What most of the track and field aficionados in the stands that day weren't privy to were Kendricks' accomplishments off the field. Besides soaring over 15-year-old collegiate pole vault records and studying for his undergraduate degree, the Oxford, Miss., native also finds time to serve his country, training to become an officer at the Mississippi Army ROTC program.
Balancing the workload can be tedious and time-consuming. The inordinate amount of time it takes to prepare for collegiate-level athletics and excel in the classroom is often too much to handle.
For those closest to Kendricks, his accomplishments on and off the field don't come as much of a surprise given the sophomore's work ethic and maturity. In fact, the prevailing talk surrounding Kendricks' accomplishments focus more on his ability to make others around him better than the dominance he displays on the track.
"Sam has an amazing personality," said Lt. Col. Nathan A. Minami, a professor of military science at the University of Mississippi. "He is always there to support his classmates, even though he competes on the national level and always takes the time to reinforce positives to the other Cadets. He has a huge personality and inspires a great amount of motivation in everybody around him."
Kendricks is currently the top pole vaulter in the nation, and is preparing to try out for the next Olympics. Kendricks just missed making the Olympics last year, finishing one spot out of the rotation.
In addition to training for the 2016 Olympic team, he is applying for the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program. The program provides outstanding Soldier-athletes with support and training to compete and succeed in national and international competitions and in the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
"Pole vaulting is a very goal-oriented event," said Scott Caldwell, an assistant professor of senior military at Ole Miss. "You set goals and go after them, and once you achieve your goal you raise the bar. Sam was able to take that same mentality and apply it to his education and military training as well. As a result, it has affected the way the other Cadets look at things. They look at him managing all three levels and excelling at everything he does, and it forces them to look at themselves and see if they are doing everything they can in the classroom and as a Soldier.
"Some students are satisfied just making the grade, even though they are fully capable of getting an A. When they are around Sam, they realize they are capable of more and hold themselves to a higher standard," Caldwell explained.
In a sporting landscape where athletes routinely engage in self-promotion and often show little concern for the team concept or the success of others around them, what stands out most about Kendricks is his insistence on helping others reach their potential and an aura of genuine humility.
"Sam sets a high bar for others to follow and inspires others to maximize their potential," Minami said. "Here is a guy that could become a professional athlete one day, but still feels a desire to serve his country and to be a part of something bigger. If that isn't selfless service, I really don't know what is. He exudes the concept of the team player and understands that there is a bigger picture out there then himself, which is remarkable at his age."
Kendricks' father has played a major role in Sam's success as both a mentor and coach, serving as both his high school track coach and now as an assistant on the Rebel track team. In fact, it was Kendricks' father who helped Sam make the decision to start competing in the pole vault.
"When I first started track and field, I asked him what event I could be successful at because I wasn't very fast and or tall," Kendricks said. "He told me that with the right training and dedication I could someday be good at the pole vault. So we trained all through high school, and I became better each day.
"All of my success on the pole vault is a shared success with my father, because without him I wouldn't have made it this far," Kendricks said.
His father's mentorship, coupled with countless hours of hard work, paid off March 29, in Austin. But for Kendricks, motivating his teammates was just as important as setting the record.
"I enjoy pole vaulting because the work that I put in is noticeable on the field, and I can see dividends that I get back from my hard work," Kendricks said. "Not only that, my teammates see the results and it makes us all better."
Everybody in the stands that night was able to appreciate the record Kendricks attained, but most fail to realize that pole vaulting carries with it a sense of danger without the proper training.
"When I am conducting a jump there is a certain feeling of power that I get and an aspect of bravery that I appreciate," Kendricks said. "I feel brave going over the bar because I know that I have put in the work to be able to jump that high without getting hurt. You can't jump that high without trusting the training."
When Kendricks isn't studying for school or on the track, he is preparing to become an Army officer. Despite only being in his second year of the program, he has already had a major impact on other Cadets.
"Sam is a guy who is equally committed right now to realizing his full potential on the track field and still inspired to become the best Army officer and serve in whatever capacity the Army needs," Minami said. "He has a strong sense of patriotism and strong desire to serving a higher calling."