Sunday February 18, 2018

april-1

April Steiner Bennett

by Adele Correale San Miguel

Published in Vaulter Magazine, April 1, 2016

“Hold fast to dreams
for if dreams die,
life is a broken-winged bird
that cannot fly.”
Langston Hughes

In the summer of 1992, April Steiner Bennett was a pony-tailed 12 year-old, sitting on a couch in her family’s middle class home in Mesa, AZ, when the Olympic spark kindled the flame that became her life’s work.

Carl Lewis, then 31, was leaping into gold medal position with an 8.68 meter long jump at the Barcelona Games. Ignited by Lewis’ athleticism and accomplishment, young April persuaded her father to purchase a membership to USATF. That $12 investment became the ticket to her mythic journey as an Olympian, professional vaulter, and dream chaser.

Twenty-four years later, April’s torch is still lit. Her laser sharp focus is aimed at representing Team USA in Rio. Coached by 2000 Olympian Stacy Dragila, April embodies a high ideal in athletics, acknowledging those who have made her odyssey possible. It’s not her, it’s them.

 

April and husband Cameron

April and husband Cameron

April coined the term Olympianites to define those who guard dreams. In November 2015, she took the stage at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, to deliver a TEDx Talk on The Beautiful Life of Hidden Olympians. It focused on the parents, coaches, and mentors who encourage others to develop their passions. The Olympian is the dream chaser; the Olympianite, the dream maker. Olympianites give ambition its very best chance.

April’s Olympianites include her husband Cameron, who was willing to move to Idaho for her coaching; her parents, Michael and Cara, who feed her a constant stream of enthusiasm and support; and her sponsors ASICS America and UCS Spirit, who supply the essentials so she can focus on the training.

But April’s Olympianites are not limited to a few.  A village surrounds her that is made up of families and clubs across the country, as well as a tribe of ‘little sisters’ who are lifted by her encouragement and who inspire her in return. The light in April’s eye, and the integrity of who she is, has attracted a crowd of Olympianites who want for April what she wants for herself.

The theme of these TEDx Talks was Thou Mayest, a philosophy born of John Steinbeck that suggests we each have the choice to improve our own condition, and in doing so, better the collective human experience.

Wearing a white blouse embroidered with the Olympic rings, and an espresso-colored skirt, April commanded attention from the outset by sharing a video clip of her Fear Factor experience. One of her challenges on the reality show in 2004, was to eat a Thanksgiving meal that included maggoty mashed potatoes and cockroach and stinkbug stuffing. Not exactly Olympic Training Center fare.

But April had served as an alternate for the Games that year, and she wanted more. She fought relentlessly in Fear Factor and used the $50,000 win to pay for coaching. The effort paid off. She represented Team USA in Beijing in 2008, finishing 8th in the world.

Eight years have passed and April reframes the meaning of success. It is not what happens when the bar remains in place. Success occurs when curiosities and passions are tenaciously cultivated, regardless of outcome. A long career requests that her Olympianites believe with her same conviction. For April, naysayers are dream slayers and while thou may pay them heed, this is a choice that does not serve anyone’s highest good.

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April and Stacy empower youth through Vault Safe

April does not ask life to serve her with medals. Instead, she asks how her unique talents can steward others. Her own pole vault adventure has evolved into a crusade to galvanize dream pursuit.

While in vigorous training for the Olympic trials, she and Stacy serve as ambassadors for Vault Safe, a physical education program designed to bring bamboo stick jumping to elementary school children.  April takes the physical skills with which she competes at the zenith of her sport, and makes them relatable to a 3rd grader with little prospect of an epic life. She shows youth that trying something new, like jumping over things with a stick, creates an opening for confidence to root and possibility to breathe. Nearly 5,000 children have been emboldened by their efforts.

Limits do not exist for this vault chick. Both Olympian and Olympianite, April boldly crystallizes her own vision while paying forward what has been granted her: generosity of spirit and a safe place for hope to manifest.

Her legacy will have the watermark of the Olympic rings and the enduring glow of a life intentionally lived.

 

 

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