Soaring to new heights
For Laura Taylor, the bar has always been set pretty high.
And, no matter how high that bar is set, Taylor seems to soar right over it.
Whether it be in pole vault competition during track and field season, or in the classroom, Taylor always seems to take things to new heights.
It was that way for Taylor at Tualatin High School, where she was a 2014 graduate, and it was that way at the University of Kansas, where she graduated this past spring.
At Tualatin, Taylor was a two-time Class 6A state track and field champion in the pole vault. In 2013, she won the state title with a winning height of 11 feet, 9 inches. The next year, Taylor triumphed with a meet-record mark of 12-8 — despite suffering a sprained ankle during the competition.
As it turned out, that was just the start of things.
That's because, at the University of Kansas, Taylor soared to new heights.
Competing for the Jayhawks women's track and field team, Taylor won a Big-12 Conference championship and twice earned All-American accolades, among other achievements.
For Taylor's work in the classroom, the all-academic honors started piling up — starting with her freshman season, and continuing all the way through her graduation, and beyond.
And the honors kept getting bigger.
One of the biggest honors came back on July 12, when Taylor was nominated by for the 2018 NCAA Woman of the Year honor.
"It's just a great honor, I'm so pleased," Taylor said by phone from her Austin, Texas, home earlier this week. "Just being nominated means so much."
The NCAA Woman of the Year award honors graduating female collegiate athletes who have exhausted their eligibility and distinguished themselves in academics, athletics, service and leadership throughout their collegiate careers.
The finalists for the award will be chosen in September, with the winner being announced during an annual award ceremony to be held Oct. 28 in Indianapolis.
Taylor was nominated for the honor by the University of Kansas.
"I was totally surprised, and it's a huge honor," Taylor said.
And one of many.
"The awards kind of got mixed together," Taylor said with a laugh. "It was like a chain reaction."
Sure, there were plenty of all-academic honors. The 5-foot-8 Taylor was a three-time U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-Academic honoree and she was an All-Academic Big 12 Conference selection all four years at Kansas.
But there were also some very prestigious honors — such as the Outstanding Woman in Sport at Kansas, presented by the University's Emily Taylor Center.
"That was a complete surprise," Taylor said. "I hadn't even heard of it before."
There was also a ceremony where she was presented with that honor.
"I'm not one to boast, so I didn't tell anyone about it, and I went to the ceremony by myself," Taylor said. "It turned out to be a huge ceremony. My coaches were like 'what the heck?'"
There was another surprise — another good surprise — as Taylor was named a recipient of the Big 12's Prentice Gautt Postgraduate Scholarship.
Taylor received that award at the University of Kansas' celebration for senior athletes.
"I had no idea they were going to give out awards," Taylor said. "But all of my coaches knew about it for weeks. It was the biggest surprise I've ever had."
Oh yeah, there was also the 2018 Dr. Gerald Lage Academic Achievement Award, which is the Big 12 Conference's highest academic award.
"It was a special couple of weeks," Taylor said. "It felt good to be appreciated."
East to Kansas
After graduating from Tualatin High School, and being a two-time state champion in the pole vault, Taylor certainly had options of where to continue her scholastic career at the collegiate level.
But there was one key factor that helped lead her to the Lawrence, Kan., university — Tom Hays, who was the Jayhawks' vertical jumps coach.
"I was mainly looking for a coach that would help get me to where I wanted to be," Taylor said.
And, where she wanted to be was at the top.
"As a freshman, you dream about it," Taylor said. "You're on the team with the seniors, and you see them with their Big 12 championship rings. I was like 'wow, if I could do that, it would be awesome.'"
As a Jayhawk freshman, Taylor cleared a then personal-best 13-4.25 and also had a seventh-place finish in the Big 12 Championships in the pole vault during the 2015 outdoor season.
During the 2016 outdoor track and field season, Taylor took fourth place in the Big 12 championships with a height of 13-3.75. She then set a new personal best with her 14th place mark of 13-6.25 at the NCAA West Preliminary Round.
"It didn't feel like it was hard," Taylor said of the start of her collegiate pole vault career. "But I struggled during my freshman indoor season, but I didn't know way. I wasn't used to such a large work load. It was hard, but it felt right. My coach was amazing. He supported me from the beginning."
And the best was still yet to come.
Up, up and away
Taylor really seemed to put things all together during her junior season at Kansas.
During the 2017 outdoor season, Taylor claimed second place in the Big 12 championships with a personal-best vault of 14-1.75.
She went on compete at the 2017 NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships, held at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field — the same place where Taylor claimed her two high school state titles.
At the national championships, Taylor earned second-team Outdoor All-American honors by placing 14th with a height of 13-7.25.
"It was really nice to come back in front of the home crowd and come out as an All-American," Taylor said.
The 2018 indoor season turned out to be a championship season for Taylor. She triumphed in the pole vault at the Big 12 Indoor Championships, held Feb. 23-24 at the Lied Recreation Center, in Ames, Iowa, with a height of 14-2.75.
"To be a senior and win the Big 12 championship and get a ring, it's like a dream come true," Taylor said. "It's like, 'wow, I did it.'"
Taylor, following her victory at the Big 12 Indoor Championships, then went to to finish in sixth place, giving her first-team All-American accolades, at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships, held March 9-10 at Gilliam Indoor Stadium, located in College Station, Texas, with a mark of 14-3.5.
"I didn't think any of that would happen," Taylor said of the All-American honors. "To be first-team All-American is as good as you can do."
To be an All-American pole vaulter certainly must take a lot of work and dedication.
To be a top scholar as a college student much also take work and dedication.
To do both is downright impressive — and it can't be easy.
"It takes a lot of commitment and time," Taylor said. "It's not each with such a full schedule, especially when you try and balance in a social life, too. It's not easy, but I loved it."
And that balance that Taylor loved didn't come right away.
"After my freshman year, I figured out the balance," she said. "I've always loved studying and learning. I was super intrigued by my classes, and I wouldn't have had it any other way."
Taylor graduated from the University of Kansas this past spring with a major in Exercise Science.
"Studies have always been a huge factor for me," she said. "I've always strived to keep my grades up and stay well-balanced."
Taylor is now applying to graduate schools with her sights set on Pre-Physician Assistant studies.
"I hope to start the next chapter in my life — my career," she said. "I love health care. I don't want to look too far ahead, but I want to get into Orthopedics."
Well, no matter what the future holds for Taylor, one thing is likely for sure — she'll be ready to soar over any obstacle in her path.