Family Flyers

Anjali Mead Takes Rissel-Mead Name To Greater Heights

Anjali Mead, above, has taken the Rissel-Mead family pole vaulting tradition to new heights at SPIRE Institute. Mead is committed to Pole Vault for Division I High Point University. Submitted photo

Current SPIRE Institute and future High Point University pole vaulter Anjali Mead is one of the top athletes in the sport and has a bright future ahead of her.

It’s a family tradition.

You can look it up.

Anjali’s great uncle, Bob Rissel, began the family tradition when he started pole vaulting at Falconer Central School in the early 1960s.

“They grew up way out in the country,” Tom Mead, Anjali’s dad, said about her great uncles. “Bob began pole vaulting for Falconer and it got his younger brother, Dana, involved. They were vaulting in the yard and over streams.”

Tom Mead, Anjali’s father, is pictured pole vaulting at SUNY Albany in 1995. Mead set the Falconer Central School pole vaulting record of 14-03.25 in 1988 and went on to jump 15-05.5 at SUNY Albany. Submitted photo

Bob’s highest jump in high school was 10 feet, 6 inches, but Dana surpassed that with a vault of 12-6 when he was in high school in 1973.

That record would stand until Anjali’s father’s senior year of high school.

“I told him one day I would break that record and he told me, ‘Yeah, right,'” Tom said about Dana’s record. “Nobody really came close to it until 1988 when I broke the record. I jumped 14-3.25 and that still stands today. I went my whole senior year and got third at states.”

Tom continued to make pole vaulting a part of his life as went on to compete at SUNY Albany and eventually jumped a height of 15-5.5.

“It’s a sport you really have to hyperfocus on it,” Tom said. “You can’t just grab a pole and go 12 feet. I was usually the first person at the track and the last one to leave.”

Anjali Mead, above, has taken the Rissel-Mead family pole vaulting tradition to new heights at SPIRE Institute. Mead is committed to Pole Vault for Division I High Point University. Submitted photo

Tom’s hard work paid off in his vaulting career as he saw significant improvement from his junior year of high school until he graduated college.

“My junior year I only did 11-06,” Tom added. “I didn’t jump really high until my senior year. I took the Falconer school pit home and people could see me using it in the yard.”

Once Tom’s collegiate career was over, he poured all of that energy and passion for pole vaulting into his academic career. Tom attended medical school and is now an obstetrician.

While Tom’s best days vaulting are behind him, the best of Anjali is on the way.

Tom came closest to winning a state title in his senior year with a third-place finish, before Anjali reached high school where she was a state champion.

Arun Mead is taking up the family tradition of pole vaulting with his older sister and father. Arun is pictured after winning his division with a jump of 7-00 at the National Pole Vault Summit in Reno, Nevada. Submitted photo

Before she moved away from her Virginia home, Anjali competed at St. Catherines, a private school in Richmond. In eighth and ninth grades, she won the state meet, while setting the school record. Only with three years of experience pole vaulting, Anjali was a two-time state champion.

“I was a gymnast for about eight years,” Anjali said. “My dad had done pole vaulting and kind of pushed me towards it. I started doing it in seventh grade, but I had already been competing in track since fifth grade.”

From early on, Anjali had a bright future in the sport and she set lofty goals for herself.

“It’s always been my goal to pursue something for the Olympics,” Anjali stated. “Once I did pole vaulting, I knew that could be the ultimate goal.”

In order to achieve that goal, Anjali and her family made the decision to leave her school in Virginia so she could receive better training and direction. The first school she left home for was IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida — one of the top boarding schools in the country with an elite sports training program for its students.

Unfortunately, Anjali did not find the success she had hoped for while at IMG and she struggled her first time away from home.

“I went to IMG my sophomore year,” Anjali said. “I didn’t excel how I wanted there and it was the COVID breakout year so we were sent home early.”

That would eventually result in her move to SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio where she currently attends and shines in pole vault.

“We did the IMG thing, which was a risk,” Tom stated. “COVID was really rough for her, she was depressed and we brought her home to get her mind off of things. We told her life is about the good times and the bad times.”

The move to SPIRE was helpful in two ways. One, Anjali would be closer to both her mother’s family in the Buffalo area and father’s family in the Jamestown area, and 2004 Olympic gold medalist Tim Mack would be coaching at SPIRE.

“The current gold medalist, Katie Nageotte, is from Cleveland,” added Tom. “Part of it is explaining to Anjali that everyone goes through struggles and seeing these professionals and seeing their ups and downs.”

Anjali not only can learn from these athletes’ experiences, both on and off the track. Many might be intimidated by learning from a world-class talent like Mack. But Mack is not Anjali’s first coach with national team experience, as she honed in some of her skills from a former member of the Russian national team.

“Anjali was being coached by a guy on the Russian national team,” stated Tom. “All of her fundamentals really come from there. The takeoff is crucial. The Russian style of pole vaulting is very disciplined. Her fundamentals have always been very sound.”

All of Anjali’s training has her heading in the right direction in pursuit of her goals, but before she can chase her final goal, she has to focus on finishing strong at SPIRE and then the next step — her collegiate career.

At her most recent indoor meet with SPIRE, Anjali jumped a height of 12-10, which cleared this year’s New York State Public High School Athletic Association and New York State Federation championship vault by four inches.

“My personal best right now is 13 feet,” Anjali said about her indoor record before the season. “I have jumped 12 feet at all of my meets. For this indoor season, I want to get back up to 13 and for outdoor I want to try and get 14 feet.”

Looking past SPIRE, Anjali had narrowed down her decision to a few colleges and ultimately decided to commit to High Point University.

“It’s part of the Big South. It’s kind of an up and coming school,” Tom said about High Point. “They had a vaulter who was an All-American. … We’re hoping for a similar progression for Anjali.”

Anjali has her sights set hard on her goals and one of them is to become an All-American while at High Point. A factor in her decision was her major, which is veterinary science, and that High Point is a smaller school.

“I had been talking to Virginia Tech and Cornell, but my dad had done some research on High Point,” Anjali said. “So I took visits to Virginia Tech and High Point. After my official visit at High Point, I met the team members and I liked the atmosphere. It’s a very close group. I liked that it was a small school.”

Anjali’s goal is to go as far as she possibly can in the sport, and that includes going pro after college.

“I want to go pro after college,” stated Anjali. “You have to be one of the top vaulters in the country.”

According to Tom, the hope is that Anjali will be jumping 14 feet not long after being at High Point. Current All-American, and future teammate, Sydney Horn jumped 14-6.75 to place fifth in the country.

“You have to place top 8 to be an All-American,” added Tom. “At this point, our goal is for her to qualify for Division I nationals. Making it to that you’re a world class athlete. That’s what she is shooting for right now. Eventually she will have to get to 15 feet to be elite after college.”

While Anjali chases her lofty goals, one thing is for certain — she will have her family supporting her all the way.

“It gives us something to bond over,” Tom said about the sport. “It gives us something in common. Her uncle, who still lives in Kennedy, likes to be informed it’s a family tradition.”

That Rissel-Mead family pole vaulting tradition continues, with Tom and Anjali even competing with each other at events. Anjali’s younger brother, Arun, has even picked up a pole and started vaulting with the family, making sure that the Mead pit is being put to use while Anjali is away chasing her dreams.


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