An Arvada West High School track and field star jumped into first place at a recent regional competition.
Stephanie Bess, 17, a senior this fall at Arvada West, took first place in the pole vault and long jump in her age division during the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic Regionals June 19-23 in Mesa, Ariz.
Bess’ long pole vault was 11 feet 6 inches, and her long jump was 18 feet 2 inches.
“I think it’s crazy because I didn’t set out to get first place at the meet,” Bess said. “I didn’t set out to be the best. All I set out to do was to do the best I could and keep a positive mindset. I feel honored, honestly.”
Bess, a gymnast for 11 years before starting track during her freshman year of high school, had knee surgery in December and wasn’t able to practice or compete in track for four months.
“I was having problems regaining my strength and trying to get back for state,” she said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get strong enough before state. This summer I’ve been trying to make up for state and trying to get back to where I was before the surgery.”
Track has become more than a hobby for Bess; it’s become a passion and a way of life.
“There were points where I felt like giving up,” she said.
“Track is my life right now, I really love it. That’s where my passion is at, so when I had to get the knee surgery, I broke down every now and then because it was really hard to get back into it. Getting first place, I cried at the meet. I’m just blessed.”
In addition to taking first with her pole vault, Bess also set a new personal record. Her previous personal best was 10 feet 2 inches.
“When I went to Arizona, I made 11 feet 6 inches, and that was pretty big for me,” she said.
Going into her senior year, Bess said, she has already set goals to improve her jumps even more.
Her goals are 13 feet for pole vault, 19 feet for long jump and 40 feet for her third event, the triple jump.
Bess is also looking further into the future.
“I’m planning on doing track and field in college, definitely,” she said. “The Olympics are the ultimate goal. I want to coach, too, in college as a part-time job or when I get out of college because I want to be in the sport a long time.”
Bess is keeping her options open, but she has looked into attending Colorado State University, Oregon State University and the University of Southern California in the fall of 2014.
Trying to get into the 2016 Olympics is her primary goal, she said.
“I don’t know if that’s an actual possibility, but even if I made it to trials, I think that would be good enough for me, having a great success like that,” she said.
Her success at regionals would not have been possible if it weren’t for three people, she said: her mother, Catherine Bess; her sister who helped get her involved with track, Cherie Bess; and her boyfriend, Matthew Sullivan.
“They really inspired me to keep going after surgery,” she said.
“It took such a big hit on me and my confidence level. I was just beat down to a pulp, but they just told me, ‘Don’t give up.’ I think getting first place boosted my confidence. It’s going to help me in the long run to know that it was possible for me to come back from the surgery. The fact that I didn’t give up on myself means more than the medals or winning first place.”