Updated: Oct 15, 2022
With a concentrated glare of grit and determination, she laser-focuses at the runway ahead of her.
Her task: to catapult over the horizontal bar looming roughly 13 feet above the ground.
Her tool: a 17-foot-long pole.
The well-trained 5’ 8’’ athlete zooms down the runway on strong legs. Planting her pole in the box, she swings herself over the elevated bar before free-falling onto a cushioned pad below.
She’s cleared it.
This is what senior pole vaulter Tyra Finkeldey works for on a daily basis.
In January 2020 at Marshall University’s indoor Thundering Herd Invitational, the then-sophomore cleared the bar at 3.82 meters, placing first in the contest and raising the university record with her 12’ 6.25’’ vault.
Finkeldey is no stranger to success, consistently accumulating top-three Ohio Valley Conference rankings both indoor and outdoor, along with the outdoor school record from this past spring.
Her indoor record only stood for two years before Finkeldey shattered it again on Jan. 15 at Vanderbilt University’s Commodore Challenge, clearing 13’1.5’’ — the dream 4.00-meter bar.
The Connecticut native sees her record-breaking accomplishments as evidence of personal athletic development over the course of her collegiate career.
“I enjoy having the ability to break my own records because it reminds me of my growth as an athlete,” she said. “It just shows how I can trust the process and to be able to improve this or that and overall, having that accomplishment is really cool.”
Finkeldey flying high at the 2021 OVC Outdoor Championship. Joe Frye / Belmont Athletics
The art of pole vaulting was not always Finkelday’s passion, however.
During her middle school years, track and field wasn’t even on her radar; she saw herself solely as a gymnast.
But her view changed as her athletic roles began shifting to new horizons at Old Saybrook High School.
During her freshman year there, she decided to experiment with a new sport by joining the Rams’ track and field team, where she quickly made a name for herself.
Channeling her strength and body awareness attained through gymnastics, Finkeldey cleared an impressive 10’3” as a newcomer to the Old Saybrook ladies’ pole vaulting squad.
Along with this new and thrilling event, Finkeldey served as a major contributor for her high school relay teams, helping the Rams finish first in both the 4×200 meter and 4×400 meter to eventually clinch the Shoreline Conference championship her junior year.
This was only a warm-up for Finkeldey. She later competed and placed first in the Connecticut Class S State Championship with a 10’6’’ clearing.
The competitive nature runs in the Finkeldey family.
Her father, John Finkeldey, was a professional 500MX motocross racer in the early ’80s, competing in dozens of races and accumulating several top-10 finishes in the American Motorcyclist Association.
And while Tyra’s France-hailing mother never really competed in sports, Finkeldey believes both her parents play a tremendous role in her athletic success.
“Even though they didn’t have a background in track themselves, they were very supportive of my goals and what I wanted to do and what I was doing athletically growing up,” she said.
Now a senior at Belmont and triumphant in her collegiate career, Finkeldey has her eyes set on the near future.
She believes her team has a good chance to win the OVC championship with its talented roster this season.
She is quick to commend teammates like Emory Moore, Jessica Mattsson, Jeanette Morley and Michella Diebenow, who each show great power in both indoor and outdoor seasons.
Her teammates mean the world to her, she said.
“Even if you don’t show the most promise like some of our newcomer athletes or the people that just really haven’t gotten the opportunity to show their true capabilities, people at Belmont don’t forget about you, and they definitely work toward your development as a student-athlete,” she said. “And that’s one of my favorite things about Belmont.”
Aside from constantly searching for ways to improve her mark, Finkeldey also makes time to practice her photography skills at Belmont basketball games and other athletic events.
Free time does not come frequently, though, as she keeps herself busy with practice and classwork.
Though this is her final year at Belmont, Finkeldey is still eligible to compete in two additional indoor seasons and an outdoor season due to COVID-19 and an unexpected surgery her freshman year.
The exercise science major is currently looking at several universities closer to home including Towson University, Penn State University, the University of Connecticut or Belmont itself to continue her impressive pole vaulting talent post-graduation.
But for her last season as a Bruin, Finkeldey continues to serve as a leading force of nature for the track and field team, working to improve herself each and every day to keep raising the bar for the program.
PHOTO: Tyra Finkeldey in the zone at the 2021 OVC Outdoor Championship’s pole vault competition. Joe Frye / Belmont Athletics
This article was written by A.J. Wuest.