The sport of gymnastics has been extremely generous to the Center Grove girls track and field program in recent years.
An unintended tradition started by 2012 graduate Sydney Clute and continued through the efforts of Casey Elliott is now being carried on by Trojans senior Melissa Nelson.
It’s as follows: One-time gymnast trades uneven bars for fiberglass pole.
A correlation exists between the school discontinuing its gymnastics program in 2010 and its recent string of talented female pole vaulters.
Nelson is merely the latest to apply strength, speed, focus and daring to an entirely different athletics pursuit.
“No. 1, Melissa is super strong. She works really hard in the weight room and is pretty quick having once been a gymnast,” Trojans coach Wes Dodson said.
“Gymnastics is such a big thing around Center Grove. That fearlessness, they’ve already developed that. And fearlessness has to be an element. If you’re not willing to turn your body upside-down, you’re not going to be successful.”
Nelson didn’t even attempt pole vaulting until two years ago when as a sophomore her personal best was 9 feet. Last season she progressed to where she captured the title at the Shelbyville Regional with a best of 11-3.
RAISING THE BAR
Name: Melissa Nelson
School: Center Grove
Family: Parents, Matt and Dawn; sister, Shelby, 18
Favorite TV show: “Breaking Bad”
Favorite food: Italian
Favorite movie: “Pretty Woman”
Favorite athlete: Nastia Liukin
Favorite team: Indiana Pacers
IF YOU GO
What: Girls track and field regional
Where: Shelbyville High School
When: 6 tonight
At stake: Berths in the IHSAA Girls Track and Field State Finals on June 6
Nelson returns to Shelbyville this afternoon in an attempt to make it to the IHSAA Girls Track and Field State Finals for a second consecutive season.
She kept her postseason plans on track by using another winning height of 11-3 to take first at last week’s sectional at Franklin.
Nelson realizes it took something negative to happen for her to embrace something entirely different from what she had grown up around as a gymnast from Grades 1 through 9.
“I was going to do high school gymnastics, but they discontinued the program,” said Nelson, a twin who is six minutes older than her sister and lone sibling, Shelby, a Center Grove lacrosse player.
“Sydney was a gymnast who pole vaulted, and Casey used to be in gymnastics, too. Gymnasts have a lot of upper body strength, but to pole vault you have to be inverted. With gymnastics you’re used to that.”
Both Nelson sisters are outstanding students, the grade-point averages at 3.9 ranking them in the 70s academically in Center Grove’s senior class of more than 500 students.
The similarities don’t stop there, but they do slow down.
Shelby Nelson is headed to Purdue University late in the summer to study biology, as she wants to one day be a veterinarian.
Melissa plans to attend Indiana University and is unsure of a major at this point, though Illinois State University entered the picture late to show interest in Nelson as both ends of the student-athlete equation.
Nelson cleared the opening height of 10-6 at the 2013 state meet on her first try. She went no further and finished in a tie for 14th place.
These being her final attempts as a high school vaulter, Nelson would like nothing more than to be on the award’s podium the evening of June 6.
“I was so nervous last year. I was just happy to be there. This year I would like to get top nine,” she said. “Last year was my first time pole vaulting at IU, but over the summer I jumped there twice a week for six weeks.”
All that practice might not make perfect, but should Nelson earn a second straight drive to Bloomington it will all be worth it.