When Carlie Queen was four years old, her parents signed her up for ballet lessons. It was there that they first noticed she had a little more spring in her step than most other girls.
“Everyone else standing at the bar was doing their pliés very slowly, and she was just bouncing like a kangaroo,” said her mother, Christie Queen. “As a child when I’d hold her, her legs would always be jumping, always be moving. So I think she was supposed to be high jumper.”
It certainly seems that way now, as Queen has evolved from a little ballerina to a big name in track and field. Although only a freshman at Summit Christian Academy, Queen is tied for the best high jump mark in Missouri this season and has the seventh-best pole vault recorded in the state this year.
Queen has cleared 5 feet, 7 inches in the high jump, a height matched this season only by NeKiesha Bailey of North Kansas City. Queen won the MU Relays high jump and placed third in the event at the Kansas Relays. In practice, she’s gone over 5-8.
And in the pole vault, Queen’s season-best of 10-9 has been exceeded by only one other girl in Class 2 this season.
“She is such a hard worker. She’s got an excellent work ethic, that helps her immensely,” said Christie Queen, who is an assistant track coach at SCA. “Sometimes, she’s just too hard on herself, and I have to remind her to love herself and give her the chance to have a few mistakes while she’s learning.”
That learning process started in the third grade when Queen joined one of her friends on a local track team. Her father, John, a high jumper and pole vaulter who competed for Kansas State, wanted his daughter to give high jump a try.
“In the beginning, I liked the distance running actually, but the high jump pits were outside and my dad said, ‘Would you like to try this?’ Queen said. “And I actually said no.
“But a few weeks later my dad was like, ‘Oh come on, I think you can do this.’ I was like, OK, and I actually enjoyed it and kept coming back.”
By third grade Queen already had her first national high jump championship. She won another one in the fourth grade, and has won one every year ever since. Between AAU Junior Olympics and USA Track and Field national meets, Queen has already become an 18-time national champion.
After all that national competition, high school would seem a piece of cake. But Queen isn’t just going up against girls her own age anymore. Now she has to jump against everyone from sophomores to seniors, which can be a bit intimidating when you’re still only 14.
“I think she’s gotten used to being on a big platform, but it’s been with her own age group,” Christie Queen said. “So this is a new world for us, to have her competing on a regular basis against high schoolers. In junior high we were able to put her in a couple of high school indoor meets and she did pretty well there, too. So now she gets a chance to push herself against upper classmen and that’s been a really good experience for her.”
That experience showed at the MU Relays in early April, where she out-dueled two-time Class 3 champion Sara Rhine of Eldon for the high jump title. Queen won the meet with a 5-6 leap and barely missed making a meet-record 5-8 ½. She also cleared 10-0 in the pole vault and placed second.
A couple of weeks later at the KU Relays, Queen battled a gusty wind and an elite field from high schools across the Midwest. Her 5-6 jump matched the top two finishers, but she wound up third because she had more misses than the other two. In the pole vault she placed 10th with a 10-4 mark.
“Those were really awesome,” Queen said of the two relays. “The girl that I beat at MU, she was like 6-2 tall and never lost before. I was not expecting to beat her, but I just went out there and did my best.
“At KU, I had kind of a rough day because there was a really big tailwind and I was kind of running into the bar too quick. I had several misses at the lower heights that I don’t usually have. That kind of freaked me out. I was glad to be able to come back and get 5-6 still.”
Since Summit Christian doesn’t have its own track, the team works out at nearby Pleasant Lea Middle School. Pleasant Lea, though, doesn’t have a pole vault run or a high jump area.
That means Queen has to find someplace else to hone her skills. Her dad has provided that place, converting a building on land the family owns outside of Harrisonville into an indoor jumping and vaulting center where he works with her and other aspiring jumpers. After working out with her Eagle teammates, she faces another practice there with her father.
For now, the high jump is her favorite event because she has had more success at it. She didn’t start pole vaulting until the sixth grade and never competed in it until junior high.
“The high jump and pole vault are such technical sports that you have to work long and hard on it,” Queen said. “And there’s going to be a lot of times that you are working on such little fine details and you don’t get it for a long time. You have to be patient and keep coming back and trying. And that’s probably the hardest part about it.”
Queen hopes her hard work will some day land her in the Olympics. For now, she’s aiming at breaking the Class 2 high jump mark and eventually qualifying for USA Track’s Junior National Program.
Christie Queen has little doubt that her one-time little ballerina will one day soar to those goals.
“She just strives for the best in herself,” she said. “And when you look at elite athletes, that’s a trait that you commonly see.”