Feature Friday: Tori Polk

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Tori Polk a native of Waco, TX and a graduate of Texas Tech University with degrees in both Accounting and General Business, is an American Professional World Class Track and Field athlete specializing in the Long Jump. Tori is also the creator and founder of Polk Apparel, an apparel company that specializes in elite, individual and group uniforms. Her Awards and Honors include:

  • Represented the United States of America in the 2011, 2013, 2014 World Championships
  • 2014 Long Jump World Championship Finalist (5th), Sopot, Poland
  • 2014 Long Jump USA National Champion, Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • 2013 Long Jump World Championship Finalist (8th), Moscow, Russia
  • 2013 Long Jump USA National Silver Medalist, Des Moines, Iowa
  • 2011 Long Jump World Championship Qualifier, Deagu, Korea
  • 2011 Long Jump Pan American Games Finalist (7th), Guadalajara, Mexico

 

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What’s your story?

One of my earliest memories of track and field is of a time when I use to hold my own long jump competitions in the house.  The kitchen and living room in our house connected so what I use to do is run from the back wall of the kitchen to the point where the linoleum floor met the carpet of the living room and jump as far as I possibly could.  As a child most of my peers surrounding me wanted to be teachers, doctors, policemen, etc., but I knew I always wanted to be an Olympian when I grew up. Track and Field has always been a strong force in the Polk bloodline so it only made sense I wanted to continue the tradition. From Kindergarten through 12th grade I was known for my speed as the fastest girl in school; although soccer was my main sport I played all-year round.  I participated in summer track programs no more than a handful by the age of 10, but didn’t truly commit to the sport until middle school.  I excelled at high school track and field competing in events ranging from the 100m dash to long jump to the relays.  I knew from the time I got to high school that I wanted to run track in college and the way to have my education cost covered would be by earning a scholarship.  I spent the summer leading into my senior year with my sister and her husband.  My brother-in-law, who participated in collegiate athletics, helped me prepare for my upcoming track season.  We spent much of the summer lifting weights and doing small cardio exercises.  At that time I wanted more than anything to be the state champion in the women’s long jump considering the previous year I was the runner-up.  My last season of high school track and field turned out pretty good as I set the Central Texas record for the further long jump which still stands today, a finalist in the 200m, and once again the long jump runner-up at the state track meet. I was excited to see my potential as an athlete had endless room for growth and since earning a full athletic scholarship to Texas Tech University; this would be the place to see it all unfold.

Being that I was heavily recruited from many colleges to run the 400m I envisioned a future of long jump as the focus.  Contrary to my vision I spent most of my freshman and sophomore years at college running 4x400m relays and less time long jumping.  Not to mention that these two years were also spent with countless reoccurring hamstring injuries, but the summer going into my junior year I changed my stance on attacking the season so I may get in front of my injuries. The entire calendar track season I worked many hours with our trainer doing preventative rehab and in return that was my first season injury free. For the first time I became an All-American in my individual long jump event.  It was a moment of true clarity standing on the podium as I received my award.  I could recall my childhood dream of becoming an Olympian returning to me all at once.  I knew in that instance this is where I belonged and this is what I wanted to do after college.  “This” being that I wanted to continue to pursue my long jump adventures onto the professional scene as a professional track and field athlete and work my way to becoming an Olympian.  It was from this point on that in the coming years after my moment of clarity that time seemed to slow down. Now with my new reclaimed purpose I was more motivated than ever heading into my last year of collegiate eligibility.  I opened up my senior year with a new personal best jump and punched my ticket to the indoor national collegiate competition.  Unfortunately, in the following weeks I suffered from that reoccurring hamstring injury at our conference meet.  Still carrying faith I participated at the national meet, but was not well enough to make a good showing.  I remember being heartbroken and sadden as this was supposed to be my big year. I was presented with the proposition to red-shirt my outdoor season and without hesitation I accepted his offer.But in the autumn of my fifth year during Christmas break I reinjured my hamstring during practice.  I never fully recovered from the injury that season and finished my collegiate career as a student-athlete on a low that I couldn’t have predicted that day standing on the podium two years prior.

Even with my collegiate career ending I still carried the desire to pursue track and field onto the professional scene. I started this part of my journey when I moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas to train at the University. Fayetteville felt like I was home and with family.  It would be at a church in Fayetteville where I invited the Lord to come into my life.  This is where my personal relationship with God began as I spent more time in church and reading His word daily. My true foundation of faith would be established, not knowing all the adversities still to come. I was able to transfer my part-time job to Arkansas, but the money I was earning wasn’t enough to support me. I would have to make enough to cover all my bills, but somehow still find time to train towards my Olympic dream. Needless to say I ended up holding down a couch of a friend. I spent the fall there until finding new living arrangements, yet unfortunately onto another couch. Training started out well, as it seemed all injuries were behind me. I was able to take part in my first Olympic Trials where I placed 24th also known as second to last.  I was not pleased with my results, but I was happy to have competed at my first US Nationals.

By this time I had moved again at least to a bed now where I was occupying the room of a friend who also ran track, but was away training in another state. The following season was improving as I set a new personal best. While doing warm approaches for competition my foot slipped and caused me to fall into the sand pit. I had no insurance at the time but fortunately, my current therapist put me in contact with a doctor who would look into my injury without cost. On my visit, after x-rays and a diagnosis he informed me I had fractured my foot and would be unable to complete the rest of the season. In the midst of his delivery I held back my tears as I was being sidelined another track season due to injury. From May through September I wore a boot to allow my foot time to heal completely. Going into the next season I was working a new full-time job, which allowed for the flexibility to train and earn just enough money to afford my own apartment.  I spent endless hours rehabbing my foot back to full recovery and training harder than ever.  This season I was given the opportunity to compete at my first international professional track meet. The competition was held in Dakar, Senegal, Africa.  It was unlike any experience I had up to that point. While in Dakar I encountered a tattered infrastructural transportation system and poverty scattered throughout the streets of the city. I visited Goree Island, which played a main role as a hub for the expansion of the European slave trade.  I was able to visit the holding cells and facilities where slaves were once held before being shipped off into the slave trade.  The experience opened my mind and consciousness to expand on unforeseen visions I could not previously fathom from the limited environment of that where I came from and currently lived.  In short, it gave birth to growth within.  In parallel to my competition and athleticism I knew I wanted more, more international competitions and more opportunities to compete against other equally talented professional athletes.

After this season I knew it was time to leave Arkansas and find a new training environment to help me get to a bigger world stage at the next level of making a US team. I moved to Atlanta, Georgia where I would be training with an entire group of professional athletes. Training was going well for me, but it wasn’t showing up in my performances during competition. Late in the season about five weeks out from the US Outdoor Nationals I explained to my coach that I was going to call it quits and be finished with track and field. He suggested I compete my last meet that coming weekend and said he didn’t think it was a wise choice to quit, but understood my position. That weekend I set a new personal best and the following weekend improved again with another personal best.  I improved a total of 6 inches to my performance and reconsidered quitting.  With my jump I was now a contender to be one of the top jumpers at the US Outdoor Nationals.  I was facing only one problem; I didn’t have any money to purchase a plane ticket or hotel to the event. Then one of my training partners covered the cost of my ticket and allowed for me to compete. Once arriving at the event I still had not acquired somewhere to room due to lack of finances. That weekend I stayed with three different friends at three different hotels.  The competition itself was another testimony to God’s hand directing the events of my life. I was the fourth place finisher at the US Outdoor Nationals, my highest placing finish as a competitor at this event up to that point.  I was floored with excitement and pleased with how my season had unfolded!  To my surprise I learned that I qualified in placing so high to make my first US Team for the opportunity to compete at the World Championships that summer in Daegu, South Korea. Look at God! Two days prior to the World Championships, I reinjured my hamstring, but decided to give my best effort since I had made it that far.  I looked like a wounded animal trying to make it down the runway and ended up finishing somewhere close to last for the event. I healed up the rest of the summer then went to compete at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico where I finished seventh overall in the competition.  At this point I am now floating on cloud nine in life.  I had the best season of my track and field career up to this point, I had new personal best, I got to travel all over the world, compete amongst other professional athletes, and most importantly the following season was the 2012 Olympic Trials a chance at seizing my lifetime dream.  Right when I thought my days of homeless living and couch hopping were over my coach informed me that he was moving the training group to Daytona Beach, Florida.

I had no game plan or agenda for transitioning into Florida and only one paycheck coming from my current job that would sustain me during this move. I stayed for two weeks in Daytona with a training partner then moved to staying with a friend in Orlando, Florida. It was an hour commute from Orlando to Daytona. As time passed, the stress of my situation was growing a heavy weight upon my shoulders. My time for leaving my current living arrangements had come and all of my belongings were with me in my car, but I didn’t have a place to go or anywhere to stay, it was rough.  Eventually in the coming weeks one of my training partners invited me to her home and they gave me a place to stay.  I had a new couch to sleep on, I was so thankful!  I managed to find a part-time job that helped with cost, but not enough to make ends meet. I struggled with the challenge of balancing the bare minimum standards of living and trying to maintain training at an elite level of performance.  My stress was at an all time high and I was tired, exhausted, and very unhappy.  Anytime I left the country for competition I was in extreme relief because I knew where I was going there would be free meals provided and a bed to sleep on. By this time the Olympic Trials were at my doorstep.  I ended up competing in one of the most memorable women’s long jump Olympic Trials finals of our time where the top 3 finishers jumped over 7 meters and I came out with a mere ninth place jump of 6.58 meters and obviously not making the Olympic Team. I was crushed! I had the opportunity I dreamed of all my life in my face and was unable to seize the moment. I left that event to head back to Florida and quit track and field forever.  In the following days I spoke to an old friend a conversation that lasted hours through the night and into the following morning. It was as if God was speaking through her.  She helped will and restore my motivation to continue track and field. In the reflection of my 2012 Olympic Trials experience this was the turning point in my career. I realized that competition might have been the last opportunity in my lifetime to make an Olympic Team and decided I no longer wanted to miss any more opportunities. From that point on I owned all areas of responsibility for my long jump discipline.

I moved back to my home state of Texas and stayed with my sister. I knew I needed to find a coach who understood track and could make tailored workouts to expand on my strengths. Needless to say I didn’t find that coach anywhere, but in the mirror. I reached out to my old college teammate turned strength coach to assist in my strength and weight training.  I researched and studied on how to comprise an 11-month macro cycle for training.  I reviewed all of my training in detail starting from high school and leading up where I was at currently. I learned what workouts and exercises made a difference in my performances. I spent hours watching videos of all the greats that came before me.  I had turned into a student of my sport. I trained six days a week by myself with no training partners and cameras for video film review. More than anything I prayed. I prayed about every aspect of my training because I couldn’t see my entire path only the next step in front of me. There were days I cried during workout because it was so hard training alone.  During this all I was working two part-time jobs to pay bills and save money. In previous seasons I had wore fitness apparel during competition that I purchased from sporting good stores, but this season I did not want to do that. Somewhere I got the bright idea that I would make my own uniform and did just that! Overtime it turned into me starting my own fitness apparel company called Polk Apparel. I opened up my outdoor season with my furthest opening jump up to that point.  My performances during the season leading up to US Nationals were average, but I did manage to win my first international track meet that year in Beijing, China.  At US Nationals I jumped right into a second place finish with a wind-aided personal best of 6.80 meters and qualified for my second World Championship team to compete that summer in Moscow, Russia.

At my last competition before heading into training camp at World Championships an old training partner and seasoned veteran of long jump explained to me some areas of my long jump that could be improved upon. I heard him loud and clear, I took his words of wisdom into account and made changes the week of World Championships. On the day of prelim competition I woke in utter fear as I absorbed the reality of events taking place within hours. This would be my biggest stage yet to compete as a self-coached athlete. I couldn’t believe I had made it this far. In the competition I jumped a new personal best and the automatic mark to move on to the finals. On the day of the finals I gave my heart and soul to long jump and finished up placing 8th overall in the long jump barely missing tying my personal best by only two centimeters. All in the same moment I was proud and relieved to see all of my hard work ended in me having my best season of my life up to that point and to have done it all through prayer and faith by myself. At last after seven years of struggling financially I finally received a return in my sport that would allow me to support myself and ease the balance of living and training as an elite level athlete. Coming off the first year as a self-coached athlete and all that I had most recently accomplished I was motivated for the upcoming season. I wrapped up my second season as a self-coached athlete being crowned the 2014 Indoor National Long Jump Champion and qualifying for my third World Championship where I placed 5th making me the only American out of both men and women to make the Long Jump Final of the Championships. I was the 4th place finisher at the US Outdoor Nationals; subsequently I suffered from a foot injury, which put me out for the rest of the 2014 season and much of my 2015 season was also spent in injury. Now at the ripe age of 32 I have moved to Phoenix, Arizona to train with one of the best if not the best long jump coaches in the World, Dan Pfaff, to help me get to the next level of 7 meter long jumping and finally living my childhood dream and becoming an Olympian.

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What was your most monumental moment in Track and Field?

My most monumental moment in Track and Field had to be the summation of my 2012 season of not making the US Olympic team, quitting track and field, only to return the following year as a self-coached athlete and yield my the best season of my life up to that point in my career.

What is your mindset going into the Olympic year?

Taking note of my recent coaching change my mindset going into the Olympic year is to embrace all faculties surrounding that of my training.

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How is your training going so far?

My training for this season is going well thus far. I have learned much since changing coaches and exuding patience within the process of all that is before me.

Advice to Young Athletes

High School Athletes

  • If you’re serious about going to college and running track and field whether it be as a walk on or on scholarship, research the colleges that best suit you! Research the best colleges to help you succeed. Research not only for track but also for academics
  • Don’t sell yourself short. Make sure your academics is in order as well as your track stats. That way you don’t have any reason why you can’t attend the schools you want.

College Athletes

  • Start learning about your sport and your event. Learn as much as you possibly can!

Rookies

  • Make sure you have a great support group.
  • Get into a place of being uncomfortable.
  • Go for it! Don’t sell yourself short. If there is a coach, a group, or a place if there a way that you can get there, go! Get to the best place you can possibly be to help you succeed in this sport. Don’t waste any time!
  • Start reflecting and try to figure out who you are as an athlete. What are the things you do well? what helps your training progress? Strengths? Weaknesses?
  • Study your event and the sport.

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Workout tips

Fitness is a lifestyle, not a hobby. It is a way of living, you have to change how you live. You have to change the food that you eat, the way that you workout, the way that you do activity or physical fitness, etc. It is not a task, it is a way of living. You should learn to like these things and enjoy doing them. If you can turn your eating habits and your physical fitness into a lifestyle then you will be on a better path to success. It’s not something you do a few months out of the year so you can look good for the summer, changing your lifestyle is what will get you results!

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Follow Tori’s Journey on Facebook, Twitter and  Instagram! Also check out her Personal website and Apparel website!

Thank you for Reading and Please check out our next Feature Friday Next Friday with

Jarvis Harris!!! 

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Thanks for reading!!  Please feel free to like, comment, and share! 

Want me to discuss a topic?? Let me know by commenting below!

 

 

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