Air Force 1st Lt. Cale Simmons will soon graduate from Oklahoma State University with a master’s degree in entrepreneurship as a student in the Spears School of Business. He will also add another item to his impressive resume: Olympic athlete.
Simmons is a participant in the World Class Athlete Program in the U.S. Air Force, a program that allows him to train every day for his sport. Once he graduates, Simmons plans to open his own business, but for now he is focused on the pole vault competition Aug. 13 in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I’m just looking to go represent my country and just do the best I can, and hopefully, jump some high bars,” Simmons said.
But Simmons isn’t the only U.S. athlete with connections to Spears School of Business. Jenny Simpson is the daughter of Bruce Barringer, head of the OSU School of Entrepreneurship, and she will compete in the women’s 1,500 meters in Brazil. Simpson won the 1,500 at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in July, and she will be representing the U.S. in the Olympics for a third consecutive time.
Simmons had first attempted to join the U.S. Olympic Track and Field team in 2012, and credited his experience there with helping him make the team in 2016.
“It was kind of a huge eye-opener for me to see what athletics is on this kind of scale,” Simmons said. “It was just super exciting; it was great to get to be apart of it.”
Simmons made the team this year at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, on July 4. He described the process of finding out if he made the team as a long process that didn’t give immediate results like a track race would.
“For pole vault, sometimes for you to go, others have to miss,” Simmons said. “I was first up in the order, and the bar was set at 18 feet, 6 inches, and I made it on my first attempt.”
As Simmons had to wait for the other competitors to make their jumps, he could not have known that the height he jumped on his first attempt was going to be good enough to get him into the Games.
“I was just trying to keep making bars and not get too stressed out or worried,” Simmons said. “I wasn’t like, ‘Made the bar, going to Rio!’ you know? I just kind of thought to myself, ‘Yes, I’m still in the game.’” When it was clear he was going to go to the Olympics, it took awhile for Simmons to realize what he had done.
“When everyone ended up missing their third attempts, there were three people still in, and so I was one of them,” Simmons said. “I was kind of like, ‘Oh shoot, what do I do with myself now? I haven’t thought this far ahead of this competition.’”
Simmons said he then began to feel multiple emotions at the same time. “My mind was racing,” he said. “I had a million questions and it was a lot to take in.”
According to the U.S. Olympic Team website, Simmons will be one of 555 athletes the U.S. will send to Rio. He will be competing against 31 other pole vault athletes. “I’m trying not to psych myself up for the competition,” Simmons said. “If you let your nerves get ahead of you, it’s just tough to compete.”
Simmons has been competing in pole vault for nine years. He said he was first attracted to the sport when he watched his older sister compete in high school.
“It was always one of those sports that looked interesting,” Simmons said. “It was kind of one of those rivalry things between siblings, and of course I wanted to beat her, so I had to try it.”
The fun, and potential danger, of the sport appealed to both Simmons and his twin brother, and all three Simmons siblings were recruited out of high school by the Air Force Academy to pole vault. “So there was all three of us pole vaulting in college at the same Division I school, which was pretty cool,” Simmons said.
Simmons trains anywhere from one to five or six hours per day, maintaining a regimen that helps him build muscle while staying as light as possible.
“It’s all about getting stronger but not gaining a ton of weight,” Simmons said. “For pole vaulting, your weight is a huge factor. We do a lot of strength training and plyometrics.”
But it’s not all fun and games – launching himself 18 feet into the air. Simmons decided to pursue other interests related to his future. He decided to look into pursuing his master’s degree.
“Since the Air Force was kind enough to grant me this position to train full time, it does allow you to have a lot of free time outside of training,” Simmons said. “You can’t train all day, it wouldn’t be any good for you. So I was allowed to study and to better myself mentally.”
He began looking for online options, and specifically searched for the top 20 online entrepreneurship programs. For Simmons, who was born in Oklahoma City in 1991 and whose mother graduated from Oklahoma State, the choice was easy.
“The reason why I applied for this program with OSU was because of its flexibility, with the option to train wherever and study wherever,” Simmons said. “No matter where I’m at, I don’t have to consistently be at home at my computer or in a classroom to continue with my education.”
Simmons received his undergraduate degree from the Air Force Academy in 2013, and expects to graduate this semester with his master’s in entrepreneurship, and he credits the Spears program with propelling him towards his future goals.
“I’ve learned a ton of invaluable skills this last year and a half,” Simmons said. “That would definitely assist me in being successful in whatever quest that may be.”
Not even the Zika virus seems to concern Simmons, at least not to the point of keeping him from his first Olympic games. “It is dangerous. But they’ve done a spectacular job in preparing us,” said Simmons.
For now, Simmons is simply focused on the Olympics, the experience and making the best jumps he can in the pole vault.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for me,” said Simmons. “I’m happy to represent Team USA, and I’m just so thankful and looking forward to going to Rio.”
Look for Cale Simmons in the opening ceremonies on Aug. 5, and to compete in the pole vault Aug. 13. Simpson will be running Aug. 12 in the 1,500 meter preliminaries.
To view a full schedule of Olympic events, visit www.nbcolympics.com/full-schedule.