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Two-time national champion Olivia McDaniel plans return to pole vaulting, despite demanding work schedule as a nurse

COURTESY: D3PHOTOGRAPHY.COM - Scappooses Olivia McDaniel clears the pole-vault bar on her way to winning the NCAA Division III championship outdoors this year for Linfield College.Olivia McDaniel starts her day when many other people are ending theirs.

At around 4 p.m., McDaniel typically is waking up and getting ready for a long night at Randall Children's Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in North Portland.

McDaniel works as a labor and delivery nurse, putting in 12-hour night shifts three days a week. Nursing has long been a passion of hers. It started when she was 15 years old and the former Scappoose High student was diagnosed with a severe genetic heart defect that kept her at the same hospital for 56 days.

"There's a lot of scary memories and a lot of good memories there," McDaniel said. "But it feels good for my first job to be giving back to that community that saved my life."

The girl with the heart condition has become more than a full-time nurse.

She was a two-time collegiate national champion pole vaulter who recently completed her eligibility at Linfield College.

And she isn't ready to hang up the pole.

This year, McDaniel, a former Linfield wildcat, won both the indoor and outdoor NCAA Division III championships in the women's pole vault.

She won the indoor meet in Boston on March 8 with a vault of 12 feet, 11.5 inches.

She captured the outdoor title in Geneva, Ohio on May 23 with a clearance of lifetime best of 13-5.25, improving her previous mark of 13-1.5.

McDaniel said she never imagined she would be a national champion.

She started pole vaulting late in high school, after doctors told her gymnastics would put too much stress on her heart.

At Scappoose High she was barely getting over a bar set at nine feet. She even joked with her coaches that she was probably the most under-recruited athlete in Linfield history.

"I was not recruited at all," McDaniel said with a laugh. "I never pictured myself being a collegiate pole vaulter. I had already committed to go to Linfield for nursing school."

Luckily for her and the Wildcats, Linfield admissions counselor and pole vault coach Dayson Tiogangco happened to be at her state high school track meet and recognized her athletic ability.

Even though there were technical things for her to iron out, he had faith that she could be a good athlete for the Linfield team.

His faith was well-placed. McDaniel had the solid upper body strength and core to succeed. She quickly went from vaulting nine feet to 11 feet, good enough to make nationals as a sophomore. And she only continued from there.

Still, the indoor championship this year caught her somewhat off guard. After placing 14th in the 2018 D-III outdoor nationals, she had hoped more than anything for a good indoor showing, with a national title being a bonus. It was a goal she had set for herself the previous summer, but it still seemed like a long shot.

"It just seemed like a far-fetched goal," McDaniel said. "When I ended up winning that championship in March, that felt pretty sweet."

With the title in hand, she and Linfield head track and field coach Travis Olson knew there would be a target on her back. Fortunately for her, she delivered in spite of that.

"I was the clear favorite going into the (D-III outdoor) meet," McDaniel said. "My coaches told me it was my meet to lose."

McDaniel, who finished her college career with three consecutive Northwest Conference championships, was voted Linfield's Female Athlete of the Year.

She also was named one of three finalists for the Oregon Sports Awards' Ad Rutschman Small College Female Athlete of the Year Award. And she is up for the NCAA Women of the Year honor.

While McDaniel accomplished plenty during her time at Linfield, one thing she just missed out on was the school record set by Catherine Street, another former Wildcat. Street, from Wilsonville High, won the NCAA indoor and outdoor titles in pole vaulting as well while pursuing a nursing degree.

Street's best pole vault as a Wildcat was 13-11.25 — only six inches higher than McDaniel was able to clear.

"Catherine Street is someone I look up to," McDaniel said. "I still have that number in my head."

McDaniel has often heard that she would have the record at any other D-III school, and she weathered plenty of comparisons to Street during her time at Linfield.

"I was compared to her since day one," McDaniel said with a laugh. "Everyone was like 'Oh, you know Catherine Street?'"

Olson, meanwhile, looks at McDaniel's body of work and at where she started and where she ended up, and how she went from an unknown, raw freshman to national champ — all while balancing her pursuit of a nursing degree. It was no small feat.

Olson also noted that the school record didn't become a legitimate possibility for McDaniel until her senior year and that he pushed her to get it.

"I think she got really good in such a short amount of time," Olson said. "She had a couple good attempts at (the record). If she's coming in jumping 11 feet (out of high school), she's definitely getting that school record."

What was most impressive about McDaniel's college career was her ability to juggle pole vaulting with nursing.

During her senior year, she was working 12-hour clinicals and living in Portland on top of handling her classwork, with track and field practices in McMinnville. Instead of blasting her favorite songs or listening to a favorite podcast on those long drives to and from Linfield, McDaniel would throw on a recorded lecture from her professors.

Other wrenches were thrown into her career, such as when McDaniel worked in Kenya in 2018 providing testing for HIV/AIDS and treatments for malaria.

She even considered giving up pole vaulting, largely because of her nursing pursuits and the demands to get that career off the ground.

But the Linfield coaching staff worked closely with her to make both aspects of her life doable for her.

"We just had to make it work," Olson said. "It wasn't a burden at all because we were going to do anything we could to make it work for her. But it was a juggling act, for sure. The schedule changed all the time."

Somehow, it turned out amazing well for everyone and in different ways.

"It was fun," Olson said. "I enjoyed the situation and how it all turned out."

McDaniel's challenges included giving up nights with friends to focus on school and athletics, and even dealing with an injured quadricep and the so-so showing at nationals her junior year.

But keying in on both pole vaulting and nursing ultimately made her better.

"It just came down to discipline," she said of keeping such a tight schedule. "Lots of people at Linfield think you can't be a nursing student and be a collegiate athlete at the same time, and that's just not true. It just takes discipline and prioritizing your goals."

Said Olson: "You have to have focus, and she was extremely focused and determined to be successful in both realms. She couldn't put anything else on her plate ... she just was school and our team ... and she didn't add anything else on there, because that's what she wanted."

McDaniel took some time away from pole vaulting after claiming her second national championship. She is now back working with renowned event coach Rick Baggett at Willamette Striders Track Club in Oregon City.

It can be difficult for McDaniel to find the time for training and workouts, because nursing takes up so much of her schedule.

Still, she manages to do sprint workouts three days a week and hits the gym on days off from the hospital. And, when she finishes her night shift at 8 a.m. she'll spend some time recovering with a trip to the sauna or pool and maybe some weight lifting before going to bed to rest up for her next shift.

McDaniel is eyeing the next indoor season as her potential return date to pole vaulting. That should come in January and February, though she doesn't have a date in mind yet for her next meet.

McDaniel hopes to become a nurse practitioner one day. Whether that keeps her in Portland or leads her somewhere else, she won't be too picky. She also hopes to return to Kenya to do humanitarian work. Olson said he has confidence in her abilities, wherever life takes her.

"She's got a bright future," Olson said. "She's going to be successful. She's already successful. She's doing what she loves where she wants to do it, and it's all because she put the work in."

In any event, McDaniel is not ready to call it quits as a pole vaulter.

"I feel like I have some higher bars to clear," she said, "and I have not even come close to reaching my full potential in this sport.

"We have some big goals, big plans hopefully for my pole-vault future. We're not done yet."COURTESY: D3PHOTOGRAPHY.COM - Olivia McDaniel, a two-time national pole vault champion for Linfield College, works full-time in Portland as a nurse at Randall Childrens Hospital.

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