Molly Haywood develops pole vault passion from American Ninja Warrior

Baylor track and field freshman pole vaulter Molly Haywood cleared a mark of 14-7 1/2, a new personal best, during the first day of the Michael Johnson Invitational on Friday. Michael Haag | Sports Editor

By Cal Logan | Reporter

Baylor track and field freshman pole vaulter Molly Haywood may be hitting new heights in her event, but her love for the sport spurred from her competitions in American Ninja Warrior Junior as a 10-year-old.

“I did that for years and years, and I learned that a lot of the good ninjas were pole vaulters,” Haywood said. “I was super competitive in Ninja at the time, so I tried pole vaulting, and I absolutely fell in love with the sport.”

The American Ninja Warrior Junior-turned-pole vaulter hit a new personal best on Friday after clearing 14-7 1/2 to win the pole vault event in the Michael Johnson Invitational. Haywood had hit the 14-6 mark several times, dating back to her high school days, but she finally cleared 14-7 — something she’s been striving for.

“It’s been over a year since I’ve PRed, and I’ve been working super hard all indoor season training up for this, just trying to work on technique and adjusting to a new school, new coaches, all that kind of thing,” Haywood said. “So I think it’s super exciting to see it all kind of start to come together. I love outdoor season, so to be able to do it outdoors and at home is even better.”

The sport of pole vault is both a very technical and intimidating sport, but Haywood said she’s “always liked the crazy sports” and she’s “super fearless.”

Head coach Michael Ford said he noticed that gutsy attitude when he recruited Haywood.

“She’s just a grinder,” Ford said. “I mean, when you do Ninja Warrior stuff in your past history, … you just have that mentality.

“And I always say people that can get on a pole, get up high, go 14 feet [or] 15 feet in the air upside down, you have to have some kind of mental — I would never do it.”

Haywood isn’t the only freshman pole vaulter from the Houston area competing at a high level at Baylor. She’s joined by fellow first-year vaulter Alencia Lentz, who she tied with for second in the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays a month ago.

“We’ve been to a couple of meets together in high school,” Haywood said. “But we never really talked about much other than in between jumps, but we didn’t really know each other. Then we got to Baylor and started training together, and it’s been super fun.”

Haywood said she loves the camaraderie that comes from training with Lentz.

“I always trained with mostly a bunch of guys in high school, so it’s fun to be able to train with someone I’m actually competing with,” Haywood said. “We both get a little competitive with it. Obviously, I want to beat her and she wants to beat me, but we’re able to use that to help the both of us jump better.”

Out of all the universities in Texas, Haywood came to Baylor because of the coaches, high athletic standard and faith.

“I absolutely love [pole vault] coach [Brandon] Richards and [pole vault assistant] Chase [Hood],” Haywood said. “They’re absolutely amazing, and I liked the way they’re big on communication. Then also the Christian faith at Baylor I absolutely love. So being able to combine the amazing coaches and combining that with the Christian faith is something really special.”

Haywood may have started her athletic journey at American Ninja Warrior Junior, but she has fallen in love with the sport of pole vault and has just begun her Bears career.

“I’m super competitive, but I absolutely love what I’m doing,” Haywood said. “Pole vault is so much fun, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I’m really happy here, and I can’t wait for the rest of the season.”