Nina Kennedy, Pole Vaulter – Part 2

Photography by Andrew James Richards & Sean Dalby. 

In Part 2 of our interview with #NewHero pole vaulter Nina Kennedy, the adidas athlete gets real about her goals for the 2017 World Championships and her recent National Championships heartbreak; the mental struggles of professional sport; Nitro Athletics; and whether media interest in women’s sport is a force for good or evil. 

Read Part 1 here

2015 seems like a lifetime ago… [That day] was a good day in so many different ways. The qual for World Champs that year was 4.50m and all I wanted to do that season was jump it. I just had this number in my head: 4.50, 4.50, 4.50. At the time my PB was only 4.41m and I was like, “Can I really jump 4.50m?” I mean, I’m 17 going for a Senior Open Team, is this possible? And I was at that stage where I was just enjoying life and everything was so good and it was coming together – and I cleared 4.50m! Woooo! 

And then Coach said, “Ok, let’s put it to [World Record height] 4.59m.” I was really, really young and nothing really scared me, and I had so much adrenaline on that day. I just did it. Obviously the work I’d done led to that point. All the training was within me. I just thought, “Do the same thing you’ve always been doing and it will work.”

That moment actually always reminds me just to have fun. And not put pressure. When I did it, it was the best feeling ever. I was so… shocked, but also proud of myself. I’m never normally proud of myself, so being proud of myself… To me it’s a big deal. 

I think you always have to remind yourself, because a lot of the time we just go through the process and go through life and we never actually stop and look at what we’ve done. Everyone should do it; tell themselves “Fuck yeah, I’m awesome. I’m amazing.”

Oh my gosh, this year for me has had the biggest downs but also the biggest [highs]. It probably happened two months ago now – I qualified for World Champs [2017]. Qual was 4.55m, I ticked that off and I am super happy. I don’t think it was a highlight as such, not like I won a medal, but more like a personal highlight and a number I had to reach. 

And Nationals… I didn’t actually perform. After I made 4.55m I’ve had a foot injury, so that put me out for two weeks. I went out there, I warmed up and halfway through the warm up I was thinking, “Shit this is really sore.” My Athletics Australia manager just said, “You know what? You’ve qualified [for World Champs], this isn’t an important competition.” That just broke my heart a bit. I just… this is kind of the year. I wish it turned out different, but then I feel like everything happens for a reason. Sometimes you just have to pull the pin and actually look at the bigger picture and be smart. 

I know if I jump my best [at World Champs] I can make the final; it’s a very big goal, but one that I think I can do. I wouldn’t set myself that if I wasn’t ready for it. Yeah, I’m excited. Like I said, I think I’ve grown up and it’s just taking that next step like, can I do it? Let’s see. 

If you actually look at a World Championships or any sport, the best people are so much older. Their experience – like Alana Boyd, she is the Australian Record holder, she came fourth in Rio, she’s amazing. She has been jumping since she was 18 and she only reached her peak late. Like early 30s. That just shows that you have to mature and you have to… I just look that and I think it’s okay to stuff up when I’m younger, but I do think right now I’ve learnt my lesson from last time so yeah. We’ll see. 

It’s going to be a crazy four months [ahead]. And then two months afterwards it’s a really short turnaround for the Commonwealth Games. So I think we’ll have two weeks off and then literally just get straight back into training. It’s super, super busy but also a challenge I’m ready for. Like, let’s do it. 

The dream scenario for me, I know it is an Olympic medal. I don’t know what colour, but that’s what I really want. But I also know it’s achievable. My coach says it to me quite often, if that’s not really the goal then why are you here?

For me I think the major [obstacle] is my head. If my head is in the right space I really think I can get there. So that’s something I’ve seriously been working on, and I think it’s shown this season, which is really cool. 

The other thing, as weird as it sounds, is the lifestyle. And I’m talking having a balanced lifestyle, I’m not talking about the other stuff. The year I left school I didn’t go to uni because I didn’t know what to do, I worked part-time but 90% of the time I was training. That burnt me out. You know, I was training and when I wasn’t training I was thinking about training and it kind of got me into a rut. So that’s something I trying to work on. 

Do you know when I think about [women’s sport] in general, it’s getting more accepted and there’s more awareness. In athletics there’s always been awareness in some ‘pet’ events, like high jump, triple jump and pole vault. I don’t want to say the ‘glam events’… But I think if you get it right you can be very successful. I don’t want to say marketable – I don’t think that’s why I’m excited, although a lot of people will see it like that – but it’s that those [athletes] create awareness for everyone else. People look at them and think, “Wow they’re amazing, let’s do athletics.” 

And also I get lots of little kids coming up to me saying “Oh my god, you’re Nina!” I coach at St Hilda’s [school] and all the girls know who I am which is really weird. I’m not saying I’m going to create a platform for myself, but just inspiring other women is cool. There are some big names in athletics right now like Morgan Mitchell and Ella Nelson, and looking at little kids looking up to them, I think that’s amazing. 

Athletics isn’t massive in Australia, but that’s not the reason I do it. I mean, if I wanted to make lots of money and be famous, I’d do something else. But I wanna do this for me and I wanna push myself in this area. 

With Nitro [Athletics], it was really different and that brought so much talk to athletics. Everyone was like “I saw you at Nitro! How was Nitro?” And I’m like… Nitro is not [an official] competition! But it’s what’s in the media now. If you’ve ever been to an athletics meet, you sit there for like two and a half, three hours and it’s really, really interesting and engaging. But there are breaks and if you’re not really around athletics you might not really understand. I think that’s the whole concept of Nitro, let’s put a completely different spin on it and people will watch it. And you know, I think it worked. But we’ll see, there’s definitely room to grow and expand. I’m really excited. In the beginning I was kind of sketchy, I was thinking “Is this gonna work?” But wait, Usain Bolt’s coming – of course it’s gonna work! 

There were so many people there, it was so much fun. It can definitely be improved but it’s definitely got a platform and it’s ready to go. It was just so much fun and it just reminded me that athletics is meant to be fun, just enjoy it. 

Read Part 1 of our interview with Nina here