Chloe Cunliffe just wanted to do something scary.
Bored with sprinting and jumping events in track and field and weary of competitive gymnastics, the freshman at West Seattle High School turned to her father, Michael, a longtime coach, for the answer.
One afternoon in the spring of 2016, Cunliffe’s father pointed her to pole vault, an event suited to her daredevil mentality.
“I love doing stuff that’s out of my comfort zone,” Cunliffe said. “I would definitely say I’m a daredevil.”
Fast forward to Saturday at the prestigious 44th Arcadia Invitational, 13 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, and the fearless senior is celebrating her literal rise to prominence.
Cunliffe carved out her own spot in the history of the Arcadia, one of the most competitive meets in the country with more than 4,000 competitors, setting a national high-school outdoor record with a vault of 14 feet, 8 inches. The record vault came after she sprained her right ankle after hitting the bar on a missed jumped.
The Arcadia has been billed as “Home of National Records,” and Cunliffe became the 26th national record holder out of the event. She broke the record, set in 2015 by future Olympian Lexi (Weeks) Jacobus, by half an inch.
“There was some fist pumps and a celebration,” Cunliffe said. “There have been some frustrating moments, but it’s been pretty natural for me. For me, it’s something that’s just thrilling.”
The Washington State University signee, still eligible for junior nationals, qualified for the U.S. Track & Field Championships on July 25-28 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
Cunliffe hails from a family of athletes, including older siblings, Hannah, and Sam. Hannah set the NCAA women’s record for the 60-meter dash (7.07) while running for the University of Oregon and now runs professionally for Adidas. Sam, a former basketball star at Bishop Blanchet and Rainier Beach, sat out 2018-19 basketball season to become eligible for the University of Evansville (Ind.) next season after seasons with Arizona State and Kansas.
Chloe took seventh at junior nationals in the long jump at age 10, but that event wasn’t exciting enough.
“I quit because I didn’t think it was that much fun to run and just jump in sand pit,” she said. “I wanted something that was a little more dangerous, so I decided to do gymnastics and then pole vault. I’m not afraid to get hurt for some reason. I wanted to go back to track, but I wanted something that’s kind of scary.”
Cunliffe went from clearing 9-6 on her first competitive event June 22, 2016 for Northwest Pole Vault Club to eclipsing 13 feet in less than two years. At the state meet last year, she broke the state record and won by clearing 13-8 1/2.
It has been combining the skills of a competitive gymnast with her sprinting and jumping skills that have vaulted her to the top of the nation.
“Being a Level 9 gymnast, the pole vault honestly seemed way easier and safer to me, which probably helped me a lot,” she said. “It was kind of easy to go into it.”
On March 17, Cunliffe put up a national high-school indoor record of 14 feet, 9.25 inches at the Pacific Lutheran University All Comers meet. She was recovering from a sprained wrist when she put up that mark.
Cunliffe plans on adding the 100 meters and long jump later this season as it should help her build on her foundation for the pole vault. She competed in those events as a sophomore and junior for the Wildcats.
“She has this tremendous work ethic day in and day out, pretty much 365 days out of the year where she’s doing all the right things to continue to get better,” West Seattle coach Will Harrison said. “And, she’s very meticulous. In just about three years of starting the event, she’s the greatest high schooler that there’s ever has been in the U.S. There’s no more amazing way to put it. The sky’s the limit and she continues to rapidly improve.”