Friday, July 22, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Lexi Weeks emotional over Cabot outpouring

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – Just when her tears of joy upon vaulting to the U.S. Women’s Olympic track and field team finally dried, Lexi Weeks’ hometown opened her tear ducts again.

Cabot is the hometown of the University of Arkansas freshman pole vaulting Weeks twin sisters: Tori, amazing in her own right as a NCAA Indoor All-American and SEC Indoor third-placer and SEC Outdoor runner-up. And Lexi, unbelievable as the rookie NCAA and SEC Indoor and Outdoor champion, helping coach Lance Harter’s Razorbacks win the NCAA Women’s Outdoor championship, become a U.S. Olympian by qualifying for the third and final team vaulting spot at the U.S. Trials in Eugene, Ore.

Cabot wants the Weeks family watching Lexi at the Olympic Games Aug. 16 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Lexi’s parents, Brent and Amy Weeks, Tori, and the twins’ brothers, Brent, Matthew and Connor, couldn’t make it to Eugene when Lexi’s personal record 15-5 nabbed the thirdspot behind 2012 U.S. Olympic champion Jenn Suhr and Sandi Morris, the UA grad and 2015 NCAA Indoor champion off Arkansas’ 2015 NCAA Indoor championship team.

Weeks fought tears when it turned out her 15-3 vault in Eugene might make the U.S. team, which it ultimately did. Tears so overcame her that she never attempted another height after vaulting 15-5 still with a chance to compete for a top two spot with Suhr, 15-9, and Morris, 15-7.

“She was just crying and doing all that, so we said, ‘Just shut it down. You made the team,’” Arkansas women’s vault coach Bryan Compton said following Lexi’s 15-5 vault. “An hour later we are still crying.”

Meeting Arkansas media Tuesday, Weeks fought tears again discussing Cabot’s love for her and her family and the Razorbacks.

She was a qualifying long shot behind Suhr, Morris and Stephen F. Austin collegiate record holder Demi Payne, but Payne didn’t recover to jump well off her more recently broken wrist than Morris suffered, but was able to overcome.

Weeks bettered the next tier trying to fill Payne’s void. She was still emotional when queried by U.S. track officials.

“The day I qualified for the team they asked me, ‘Who of your family is going to be going?’” Lexi recalled. “And it was, ‘I have no idea.’ No one planned this is going to happen and Rio is expensive. So I don’t know if anyone is going to make it at this point.”

Citizens of Cabot plan to decide for her. They want the Weeks family in Rio some time at or between Lexi flying to Rio Aug. 3, and participating with the entire U.S. team in opening ceremonies then vaulting in the Aug. 16 prelims and, Lexi hopes, the Aug. 19 finals.

“My community has really come behind me,” Lexi said before her July 19 practice in Fayetteville. “My high school teacher set up this online fund-raiser for my parents and my sister to raise money to go, and so far our community has raised almost $12,000.”
Another tears vs. Lexi battle ensued.

“It is so overwhelming for me and my family,” Lexi said. “I am going to cry thinking about it because I am just so thankful that my community has come behind me and supported me and my family. It’s just incredible and overwhelming that they have been so supportive and encouraging. It’s so crazy to have that support from them.”

Frankly it’s still crazy to Lexi that she is a U.S. Olympian.

“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet,” Lexi said. “But I am an Olympian and it sounds weird to say that. So it’s all crazy to me. The first time I go to the Olympics will be the first time I am out of the country. It’s surreal to me, this whole thing. I am thankful.”

And thankful that while the Trials marked the first time she didn’t vault with twin sister Tori, she had in Eugene and will have in Rio an Arkansas big sister with Morris among the favorites to medal.

Though with Nike since graduating the UA as the 2015 NCAA Indoor champion and NCAA Outdoor runner-up to Payne, Morris, the USA 2016 Indoor champion and World Indoor runner-up, still is coached by Compton, still trains with the UA women vaulters and mentors the UA’s youngest Olympian.

“I told her I would be a lost puppy without her because I am so new to it all, especially something like the Olympics,” Lexi said. “I am so thankful I will have her there with me to help me go through it all.”

Morris marvels that while others tensed competing for that third spot with Payne out that Lexi the rookie relaxed yet seized the moment.

“There were a lot of other girls who were under a lot of pressure to make team, and she was just out there smiling and having a good time,” Morris said. “She was able to go out there and get it done and jump high. She didn’t just end up on the team. She jumped her way onto that team.”