It was a nagging feeling she could no longer ignore. As Makenna Barton headed into her senior year at Woodinville, the decision was clear. After three years on the gymnastics team, she was calling it quits.
For the girl everyone calls Mackie B, decisions like this come hard. When you’re young and fiercely loyal to those in your orbit, there’s that fear you’re letting everyone down.
But gymnastics comes with a price. The punishing toll on the body is something many people would find surprising.
“I had a leadership role on that team,” Barton said. “I wasn’t going to be the deciding factor whether we won State or not. I was a contributor but not the star of the show. I had an opportunity to be in that role my senior year, but I wanted to end my career with the [fond] memories I had of the sport, because I felt myself drifting away ... I didn’t want to shortchange myself or the team.”
As the Lady Falcons went on to win their fourth State title in a row, Barton was there in a managerial and supportive role. But simmering on the back burner of her brain was her true love – the pole vault.
She first tried it when she was a freshman. She got hooked on that adrenaline rush. Her Personal record was 10’6”. Right then she made a vow: Improve by a foot every year.
Her sophomore personal record was 11’3”. Her junior year PR was 12’6”.
Last Thursday afternoon, Woodinville hosted Issaquah in track and field. Surprisingly, it didn’t rain. Mackie B was out there, a senior now. A throng of spectators gathered around the pole vault pit to watch Barton and her teammates.
Her former coach Andrew Storey once said, “This sport is for extreme daredevils. We are the crazy people in track and field. The crazies are always the ones doing pole vault. You have to be psychologically messed up if you want to do this.”
For the record, Mackie B shows no signs of psychological disturbance. But as she sprinted down the runway, planted the pole and launched herself airborne, her biggest barrier remained mental and not physical.
“I have pretty high expectations for myself,” Barton said. “Coming into my senior year after spending so much time, money and effort to focus on pole fault, it subconsciously puts a lot of pressure on myself.
“I’ve been fighting the mental game a little bit,” she said. “It hit home that I was putting too much pressure on myself and more worried about letting people down. Look at all these people here who came to watch, I hate to let them down. That’s the biggest thing I need to overcome. That’s a personal thing and not something you can work on in practice.”
Barton is one of the best in Kingco. And her pole vault career will extend beyond high school. There are possibilities with the University of Washington, Cal-Poly and the University of San Diego. She has toured the campus and met with coaches from each of those schools.
But for now, the future can wait. Barton has two more months to go after her goal. To clear the bar at 13’6”. If she doesn’t make it, her bright future will still be there. But should she achieve it, she will have proven something to herself.
“I have become a more independent vaulter and have become more sure of myself,” she said. “I know I have all the tools and support from coaches, teammates and friends. I’m excited for when things do come together. To be able to peak at the end of the season. I’m looking forward to that.
“When I can put all the pieces together I have no doubt I will be excited.”