Air Force officer competing in 2016 Summer Olympics

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Air Force 1st Lt. Cale Simmons is a pole vaulter. His twin brother is a pole vaulter. His sister is, too. All three of them went to the Air Force Academy and currently serve. The one thing separating them is that later this year, Simmons will be competing for a medal in the Summer Olympics.

Simmons joined the Air Force World Class Athlete Program so he could continue his career in the Air Force while also doing the sport he loves.  He said this program “allows you to serve your country in a different light” and called it an “opportunity to train and represent my country in the best way.”

He added, “The Air Force granted me this awesome opportunity to expand my development and train in a high intensity setting. It’s super humbling.”

It’s not an easy job, training for the Olympics. Simmons has rigorous training he goes through on a constant basis, a strict diet and nutrition plan, and he has to be constantly aware of the risk of injury. If the physical work seems obvious, there’s actually a lot more that goes into it, too.

“Pole vaulting is a very mental event. It’s tough to do if your head isn’t on right,” Simmons said. “It’s not just at the competitions that you figure that out, either. For me, it goes with the training. Focus on what it is that makes you mentally strong.”

He said a lot of things have to go right in a very fast sequence of events for a pole vaulter to be successful. While every person has their own thing they do to make the jump, for him it’s all about staying focused during practice and avoiding things that might stress him out. And when things get tough, he looks for motivation from his family and friends.

“Competing at this level there’s a lot of ups and downs and it’s great to have your family when you’re at an all-time high. But more importantly it’s the tough days — the long days, the days where everything goes wrong — that it’s nice to have family and friends there to support you.”

He said he also finds support from his military family. 

“It’s a huge motivation to represent my country and represent the military,” he said “and I have all these people behind me and my cause. There are so many sources, big and small, and it’s super motivating to keep trying hard.”

Simmons said he and his siblings are the first ones in their family to join the military and the first ones to pole vault. He’s been following his passion for the sport since high school, and making it to the U.S. Olympic team is about more than just overcoming a challenge.

“This has been a dream of mine as long as I can remember,” Simmons said. “Going to the trials and making the team was one of the most memorable moments of my life. My mom was crying. Everyone was so proud of me. It was one of those moments you’ll never forget ever.”

Simmons said he doesn’t know what the future holds after the Olympics, but he wants to continue his Air Force career and hopefully train for the 2020 Olympics.

This year’s 2016 Summer Olympics are in Rio de Janeiro from Aug. 5 to Aug. 21. Men’s pole-vaulting qualifications begin Aug. 13, with the finals on Aug. 15.