ALLENDALE, Mich. -- Kristen Hixson got a big hug from her mother after the biggest meet of her life.
Hixson, a Grand Valley State seniorm set the NCAA Division II women’s record in the pole vault on Thursday, the first day of 2014 NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships.“It was awesome,” Hixson, who cleared 14 feet, 5 1/4 inches (4.40m) on her home track, said. “It’s exciting to be here on our home turf. All my family and friends got to be here and some of them have never gotten to see me vault in person.”
Her vault is a school record at GVSU and the seventh best leap in the nation across all divisions this season.
Her parents, Chris and Karen Hixson of Remus, Michigan, are no strangers to having a kid that’s an elite athlete. Their son, Nick, played in the NFL last year with the Carolina Panthers. Nick, a former pole vaulter, got his sister started in the sport.
“They’ve been so supportive of me and my brother in anything we’ve done since I was little,” Kristen said. “Whether it was wrestling to gymnastics to pole vault.”
“Yeah,” she said with a laugh. “I was probably about 5 to 11 years old. My older brother did it and I always wanted to do what he did. I did really well. I stopped because I was getting older and I’m a girl, so that was kinda weird and I was getting into gymnastics at that point.”
She said it was bittersweet that Nick, who graduated from Hillsdale, got to watch her compete this week.
“He was at [New Orleans] Saints mini-camp this past weekend,” she said of Nick, who is a cornerback. “Unfortunately, he got sent home on Sunday, but fortunately for me, he got to see me jump today.”
Karen Hixson got emotional after getting a hug from her daughter, who automatically qualifies for the U.S. Nationals.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” Karen said. “The best feeling in her entire life. She’s worked so hard for it. She’s such a good girl. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Kristen said it’s fun for her parents to have two elite athletes, but it’s also a drain emotionally.
“They cry a lot,” Kristen said. “They say they can’t sleep at night thinking about us two. My mom called me last Wednesday as I was heading to Louisville and my brother left on a plane Thursday morning.”
In the women’s hammer throw, Heavin Warner, a sophomore from Central Missouri, won on her last throw of the day.
She won with a toss of 207-0 feet (63.10m), which is three feet short of her career best, which was set April 14 at the UCMO Mule Relays with a throw of 210' 2 (64.05m), which is the longest in the nation this year in Division II.
Another athlete from Central Missouri is having a great meet. Madison Smith leads after the first day of the women’s heptathlon with 3,284 points. Ashland’s Macy Caldwell is second (3,261) and Karolin Anders of Alaska Anchorage is third (3,236).
Salcia Slack, of New Mexico Highland, is fourth with 3,203 points in the heptathlon.
Slack, a junior from Montego Bay, Jamaica, was busy on Thursday.
She won the long jump with a Division II best 20 feet, 9 inches (6.32m) on her fourth attempt. Her jump is tied for 16th in the nation across all divisions.
“I’m not surprised by winning,” Slack said with a big smile. “I train pretty hard. This was my PR, so I’m pretty happy.”
In second place was Euphemia Edem of Stillman with a leap of 20-8 (6.30m). She was followed by Antquinta Reed of Pittsburg State who jumped 20-3 1/2 (6.18m) and Shanice McPherson (6.15m / 20-2 1/4), a teammate of Slack’s at New Mexico Highlands.
Slack has an interesting sense of style. She was sporting knee-high white slocks with purple polka-dots on Thursday.
“It’s just my thing. I like to be different,” she said of the socks. “The more white and purple the better.”
Slack said she draws motivation from her biggest supportor back home.
“My son, Vendrey, he’s 5,” Slack said. “He loves watching me run. Some days I’ll come home after having a bad day and i’ll be crying. And he says ‘Don’t worry, Mommy, you are going to go out and win.’ So he’s my motivation.”
McPherson came into the event with the longest jump in Division II this year at 20-3 (6.17). Slack will get a shot to break her own record when she competes in the long jump portion of the heptathlon on Friday.