Atascadero High School graduate Chelsea Hardee (formerly Chelsea Johnson) is being inducted into the National Pole Vault Hall of Fame on Thursday evening at the National Pole vault Summit in Reno, Nev.
Hardee, daughter of Jan Johnson, who won a bronze medal at the 1972 Olympic Games in the pole vault, always had pole vaulting coursing through her veins but denied the family business until her senior year of high school in 2002.
“I actually didn’t give the pole vault a shot until my senior year,” Hardee said. “It was obviously something my dad did and something that he was really successful at but I took to it pretty quickly once I started and by April of my senior year I had signed a scholarship with UCLA and began there the next year.”
In high school, Hardee was a three-sport star in volleyball, soccer and track and field. Although, “star” hardly seems like the right word due to the fact that it is thrown around so casually. In her four years, Hardee was a two-time Los Padres League first-team selection in volleyball, two-time California Olympic Development Soccer pool selection, Atascadero’s all-time leading scorer in soccer (90 goals), two-time California State High School Meet finalist in the 300-meter hurdles, three-time Southern Section D3 100-meter hurdles champion as well as a one-time California State Champion in the pole vault.
While Hardee will go down in history as one of the best Pole Vaulters of all-time, originally she strived to make her name on the pitch but a lack of interest from big schools pushed her to pick up the family business.
“Once I was in high school I decided to do only high school soccer and not club and part of that played a pretty big role in that I wasn’t really being recruited by a lot of the bigger PAC-12 schools that I had wanted to go to like Cal and UCLA to play soccer,” Hardee explained. “So that realization led me to the decision to try out pole vaulting in order to get me into some of those bigger schools at a higher level.”
Once she switched, the rest is, as they say, history. In only her first season as a pole vaulter, the former Greyhound went from a novice to the State of California Champion jumping 13-feet, 6-inches and leading Atascadero back to CIF where they finished second.
“When you start something, especially pole vault, you are focused on small increments, at least for me,” Hardee explained. “I was not thinking super big picture, I would just want to jump a couple of inches higher this meet and then it eventually became, ‘I want to win the California State Meet.’”
After just a few months with a pole in her hand, Hardee earned the coveted PAC-12 scholarship she so desired and headed to UCLA where she continued to improve and show that not only was she the best in California, but one of the best in the entire world.
“I won the high school State meet and then at UCLA I set the collegiate record two times and was an NCAA D1 Champion twice,” Hardee said.
As a Bruin, Hardee soared to heights previously thought unachievable. In her freshman year, she cleared 14 feet and became an NCAA All American in indoor track and field while also getting the opportunity to represent her country as an alternate at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
In her sophomore season, she cleared 15 feet and became an NCAA Champion for outdoor track and field and finished second while indoor.
In 2005, Hardee experienced her first setback with a knee surgery but bounced back for a huge senior year where she set the collegiate record at 15-feet, 1.25 inches and once again was crowned NCAA Champion, this time for indoor, and took home second place outdoors.
After graduating from UCLA, it was on to becoming a professional athlete and competing on the world stage. In 2007, the Atascadero alum was bothered by an achilles tendon injury most of the year and still managed to finish fourth at the USA Track and Field outdoors but, just as she did in college, she came back from her injury better than ever and posted the third-highest mark in the history of U.S. women at 15-feet, 6.25 inches before she suffered a broken wrist when her pole broke.
After a few months of rest and rehab, Hardee was back on the runway and put together her best year as a professional where she finished with the silver medal in the 2009 World Championships.
The former Greyhound hung up her spikes in 2011 and on Thursday her name will officially be etched into the annals of history as one of the best ever.
With the ceremony a little less than a week away, Hardee has begun reminiscing over her time as an athlete.
“Now that I have been removed from the sport for a while I am kind of re-reading the chapter of pole vaulting in my life,” Hardee explained. “And I am reading it a little differently and am able to see that I did accomplish some pretty cool things. I think a lot of times as an athlete you are also a bit of a perfectionist and being so you can kind of reflect back on your career and the things you didn’t do and didn’t accomplish but with this award, it allows me to kind of think about the things that I did do and I had a pretty great career.”
Hardee was also inducted into the Atascadero Sports Hall of Fame last year.
However, even with this award, the Atascadero superstar still cannot call herself the best athlete in the family as her husband Trey was also an Olympian but in the decathlon and took home the silver medal in London.
Trey, Chelsea and their two young daughters Frankie and Penelope now call Austin, Tex. home but still frequently visit the Central Coast.