Growing up a gymnast and quickly reaching Level 10 — the highest level — at a young age, Kat M. always had the Olympics in the back of her mind. When it came to the point where she needed to decide whether to move forward as a gymnast and strive for the Olympics or move on, she went with the latter and ended up switching to cheerleading.
Then, years later, the second-year Atlanta Falcons Cheerleader found herself competing to qualify for the 2012 Olympics – but not for gymnastics.
Instead, Kat was pole-vaulting, a sport that she started on a whim after the Clemson University track coach invited her to try out after he noticed how much the 5-foot-8 cheerleader stood out among her fellow Clemson cheer team.
"He told me with my gymnastics background, gymnasts usually pick it up really fast and since I'm really tall, I have the body type," Kat said. "So I went out to the track and he started teaching me how to do it and I picked it up really fast. So they threw me on the team in January and that was that."
After graduating from Clemson, Kat enrolled in a master's program at the University of Georgia and trained with the track team there. She then took what she had learned in just three years of doing the sport and went into the Olympic trials with zero expectations. Kat ended up placing fifth in the trials when the team takes the top three, missing the team by just a few inches on the bar.
After being so close, Kat figured her track run would end there and she would focus on cheerleading and her professional career. However, she found herself with an itch to stick with the sport and decided to start training to give the 2016 Olympics a shot.
She now trains five or six days a week at Georgia Tech, along with cheer practices for the Falcons and her full-time job as a Business Analyst at Piedmont Healthcare. Some days she does all three on the same day, and although it can get hectic, the ambitious 26-year-old doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon.
"I never let one thing define me," she said. "I don't think I could prioritize one over the other. I obviously love cheering, but at the same time I love the athleticism so that's where track comes in. I've always been really goal oriented and career driven so I honestly don't know which one I would prioritize over the other. Maybe that's why I'm in this crazy predicament right now, trying to juggle three full-time jobs."
Although her track career essentially stemmed from gymnastics, Kat is developing towards working away from her gymnastics background and changing her entire pole-vaulting technique. Having relied on her natural talent up until now, she's now relearning the basics and building from the ground up.
For Kat, a passion for gymnastics introduced her to other passions in her life, cheerleading and pole-vaulting. Because of this, she encourages everyone to not be afraid of new experiences because she's proof that you never know what you can accomplish from trying something completely different.
"I would say if it's something that you're interested in, or even moderately interested in, just don't say no to stuff," Kat said. "Just be spontaneous and go try things. It's amazing the people you'll meet and the experiences you'll have along the way. I just feel like some of the most amazing experiences I've had in my life have come on a whim.
"I said 'why not?' and showed up at a track even though I'd never done track in my life – and it's led me down this incredible road. So just try everything that you're moderately passionate about."