It might seem odd to Green residents to have one of their former high school stars competing at the Summer Olympics in Brazil wearing the red and white of Canada instead of representing Team USA, but Kelsie Ahbe doesn’t find it unusual.
It might seem odd to Green residents to have one of their former high school stars competing at the Summer Olympics in Brazil wearing the red and white of Canada instead of representing Team USA, but Kelsie Ahbe doesn’t find it unusual at all.
Ahbe, one of the links in a growing line of champion Green High School pole vaulters, will compete for Canada at the Rio Olympics because her father, Brad, was born in Toronto and she has dual citizenship. Her career has wound from Green to the University of Indiana and now, north of the border.
“Because my dad was born and raised in Toronto and a lot of my family on that side is still living in Toronto and I’m a dual citizen, I had the option to represent Canada,” Ahbe said. “Anyone who reaches this level, it’s about pursuing excellence and pushing yourself to extreme limits. I knew I could do that regardless of which country I represented because for me, it’s about the individual pursuit of excellence.”
Having had positive experience with the Athletics Canada Federation, Ahbe was happy to have a chance to qualify for the Games. She placed third at the national team trials and had to wait for an email from the federation letting her know whether it would send two or three competitors to Rio in her event.
The email came in at 2:30 a.m. while she was staying at a hotel in Edmonton, Alberta, giving Ahbe and her coach, Tim Mack, the chance to join the Canadian team for the trip to Brazil.
The journey will reach its final stages at the Olympics, but it began two years ago when the two-time OHSAA state champion completed her eligibility at Indiana. She had also earned her master’s degree in public health administration and had to make a tough choice about her future.
“I was at that point everyone gets to where I either could start my career or I can see with two years to the next Olympics if I have more in the tank,” Ahbe said. “I decided to give it a shot and dedicate myself fully to my athletic career.”
Her career has taken her away from Green, but she remains tied to her former coaches in the community. Former head track coaches Dan Gourley and Maedene Pfouts touch base from time to time and as a four-sport athlete at Green, Ahbe also hears from other coaches she played under during her four years at GHS.
“I know that my Green community continues to support me and even though I’ve moved on to my coach I have now, my former coaches have become a support system for me,” Ahbe said. “When I started pole vaulting at Green, I couldn’t have imagined being where I am now.”
Her Northeast Ohio connection extends to longtime University of Akron head coach Dennis Mitchell, who recruited her out of high school. Another former Green state champion pole vaulter, Carrie Perkins (Kayes), preceded Ahbe at Green and went on to compete for Mitchell at UA.
Mitchell attended the Canadian trials to support UA standout Shawn Barber, who also qualified in the pole vault for the men’s team. Ahbe also competed in an indoor pole vaulting event at Akron’s Stile Athletics Fieldhouse last year, with some of her old high school coaches in attendance.
Her next chance to take flight will come in Rio, where she and thousands of other athletes from around the world will face both the best competition in the world and the myriad health and safety concerns surrounding the Games. The Zika virus, crime and water quality issues have led some top athletes, including three of the world’s top four golfers, to withdraw from the Olympics.
Ahbe is aware of those concerns, but insists that she has faith in her national federation to take all of the necessary precautions.
“It’s nice because with the Athletics Canada Federation, they take care of all of that noise and they’re the ones making sure we’re safe not only with the Zika health concerns, but as far as crime,” Ahbe said. “They try to do their best to make sure we can just go and compete and do their best to keep us safe.”
While she’s confident of her own safety, Ahbe is concerned about her parents and three siblings, all of whom will be in Rio to see her compete.
“I am a little bit anxious and I was thinking that I don’t want to put anyone else’s safety at risk, but my parents have assured me that they have it all worked out,” Ahbe said.
Asked what she’s looking forward to most of all that she will experience in Rio, Ahbe quickly turns to what happens on the track and not any of the ceremonies, pomp and circumstance or other noise around the Olympics.
“What’s most exciting to me is being able to compete against the best in the world in one competition. Everything else will be fun, but at the end of the day it’s another meet and another competition,” she said.
The one question she’s not prepared to answer, at least not yet, is what’s next after the Olympics. On one hand, she could continue competing, traveling around the world to take part in various meets in Europe and elsewhere. On the other hand, she has her master’s degree to put to use and a career for which she trained, studied and prepared, to launch.
Both are promising options, but for now, Ahbe isn’t ready to choose between the two paths.
“That is the question of the hour,” she said with a laugh. “I’m just trying to enjoy the experience for the next month and after that, everything will work out like it should. If I’m healthy and jumping good, it would be really hard to walk away.”
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB