Learning to Fly

Austyn Rapp is many things, but the real story behind the
Midlothian teenager is not what she can do on the ground
but in the air. Austyn can fly. Nationally ranked as the 14th
best pole-vaulter in the nation, little holds Austyn back. As
the district champion and record holder in pole vaulting for
the last three years, her personal best is an astonishing 12
feet 6 inches. Throughout the state of Texas and nationally,
Austyn has made a name for herself, as she has participated
in the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics and AAU
Junior Olympics.
Prior to pole vaulting, Austyn had been in tumbling and
cheerleading since the age of 5 and, no surprise, traveled
with a competitive cheer team at the ages of 14 and 15 to
compete in a “world championship” two years in a row. By
all accounts, she was on her way to
becoming a nationally competitive cheerleader.
Midlothian, however, was also home to
pole-vaulter Nick Frawley. When Austyn
was invited to watch Nick practice on an
elaborate pole vault run in his own backyard,
her world changed.
“I went to that practice and fell in love. I
had butterflies in my stomach,” Austyn
recalled. She was in the sixth grade and had
never seen anything so powerful and exciting.
As Nick soared through the air, Austyn
knew she wanted to fly, too. A thrill seeker
with a competitive nature, she had all the
qualifications, as pole vaulting is a sport
about power, speed, precision and positively
no fear.
In the track world, pole vaulting is an
event in which a seasoned athlete uses a
pole to lift him or herself up and over a bar. Dating back as
far as the ancient Greeks and Celts, it has been a recognized
Olympic sport since 1896. Women, however, did not make
their Olympic debut until the 2000 Sydney Games. Until
that time, the sport was considered too dangerous and too
rigorous for women. Austyn was completely unaware of her
pioneering efforts. She only knew she was
the only female pole-vaulter for years.
At state and national events, while
other pole-vaulters were busily sizing
up their competition and trying to rid
themselves of growing nerves, Austyn
was truly happy to be among “the
girls.” In fact, it took Austyn some
time to realize that it was she who was
considered the competition.
Described as “tenacious,” “ferocious,”
“dedicated” and “committed” by her
coaches, Austyn has never questioned
the sport that has been relatively lonely
and unquestionably dangerous. “I really
think the sport chose me,” Austyn
said. “I’ve never been scared of hurting
myself. I’m only afraid of failing.” As her
success rose, so, too, did her expectations.
“It’s cliché, I know, but I want to be the
best I can be.”
Still in the midst of growing an
impressive résumé, pole vaulting is not
Austyn’s only activity. She is currently
Miss Teen Ellis County and was third
runner-up in the 2009 Miss Teen Texas
International Pageant, which led to
invitations to both the Miss Texas USA
and Miss Teen USA to represent Ellis
County. She is also the official model
for a local photography studio. While
cheering on the Midlothian High School’s
varsity squad, Austyn was named
“Cheerleader of the Year” in 2008-09
and was three-time All-American and
Top All-American Cheerleader.
Austyn served on the student council,
National Student Advisory Board and
S.T.A.N.D. (Students Taking Action,
Not Drugs), all while serving as
president of the chess club and, most
importantly, she served as spokesperson
for the Jump Rope for Heart program
with the American Heart Association.
“That was very important to me,”
Austyn said.
Today, as college recruiters come
knocking, Austyn’s expectations have
remained high. “If my grades are good
enough,” Austyn smiled, “I want to get
my degree in dentistry.” Specifically,
this young woman with a brilliant
smile wants to give smiles to those in
need through children’s orthodontics.
Education is her number one priority,
but she is also excited to take her pole
vaulting to a higher level — to train
with other female athletes and have that
camaraderie that she never experienced
before. “I want to continue to be a role
model, make my parents proud and
give back to my community,” she said.
“My family is everything to me, and I
love them more than anything.”
As Austyn talks about the highs
and lows of sport, her gratitude to a
community “that has always been so
good to me,” and what she calls her
continued walk of faith, she is described
by those who love her as “grounded.”
It is an ironic statement about the
young woman who loves to fly.
“I heard someone say once that
attitude determines altitude,” Austyn
said. “I loved that! It doesn’t just
apply to pole vaulting, but to my life,
too!” For Austyn, armed with both a
great attitude and altitude, she really
can fly.