Osceola’s Jen Kistemaker was sprinting around the track, navigating the hurdles with ease until she stumbled over one and crumbled into a heap.
She already knew the diagnosis.
“I tore my ACL,” she said.
It was an injury that could have sent the junior from the peak of her track career to the abyss. But doctors told Kistemaker she could hold off on surgery to repair the 1 ½ -inch-long ribbon of tissue that stabilizes the knee.
That was the news Kistemaker wanted to hear. She gave little thought to suspending her season, especially with a potential state title in the pole vault at stake. Kistemaker has continued to catapult past the competition, winning district and region titles. She is seeded second heading into Saturday’s Class 3A state meet with a height of 11 feet, 1 inch behind Merritt Island’s Amanda Rigdon.
“The doctors said I couldn’t make the tear any worse in my knee if I continued vaulting,” said Kistemaker, who finished third at state last year. “It was more of how much pain I could handle. It hurts, but I’ve been able to manage it.”
Kistemaker comes from a family of vaulters. Her older brother and two older sisters were all state qualifiers. Kistemaker’s mother, Joyce, began coaching the event seven years ago despite never competing in it.
“My mom decided to coach because my brother didn’t have one for the pole vault in high school,” Kistemaker said. “She picked it up on the fly and now coaches it at Indian Rocks Christian. She also coaches me in the offseason.”
Kistemaker was dominant in the regular season, setting the meet record at the Ed Wells/Kiwanis Invitational with a vault of 11-1. Her injury, sustained three weeks ago, has not limited how far she can go. She won districts at 9-6 and regionals at 11-0. She likely will have to go at least 11-6 to win at state.
“Jen would have kept trying to go higher at the region meet last week, but I had to stop her,” said Dave Mason, who runs the 727 track club and coaches Kistemaker. “She’s that determined. It’s remarkable what she’s been able to do.”