Liz Lydon: On the Grind


James Simpson, Contributing Writer

Grinder noun – Someone who is always on “the grind”

Elizabeth, Liz,  Lydon is a grinder, plain and simple. 

There are not many high schoolers that wake up Sunday morning with the intention of driving a four-hour round trip to Orlando and training for three hours. Lydon does, and that’s just the first of three trips to Orlando that she makes in a week, but the days when she isn’t driving the I-4 corridor, she isn’t just sitting on the couch. 

On Mondays and Tuesdays, Lydon has weight lifting sessions that can only be described as excruciating. 

“Sometimes I can’t get home without having to pull over and throw up,” said Lydon. 

While most would stop their day there, Lydon has only just begun. After she returns back to Gaither for sprint practices that can last anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours. 

Working out hard and often is nothing new for Lydon, you could even say it’s in her blood. Her mom was a collegiate gymnast and coach and Lydon has been following in her footsteps since she could crawl. When she was in just the second grade, she was bumped up to the competition squad. It wasn’t uncommon for her to practice three hours a day every week. 

“I was decent at it, I did it to level 8 out of 10. But when you’re tall and lanky, the skills you do in gymnastics just aren’t good. I would hit my feet on the bars. My old club coach used to practice at my gymnastics gym and he came up to me and said ‘What are you doing, you need to be a pole vaulter.’”

And around freshman year pole vaulting made its way into Lydon’s life. 

After a relatively run-of-the-mill freshman year, Lydon had a breakout sophomore year which led her to retire from both gymnastics and distance running. 

“It was the regional meet and I had just qualified for the state meet in pole vault. I went to run my 800 and with 100 meters left I just hit quicksand. I went from 3rd to last and decided to focus on vaulting.”

No matter the sport, a state meet has a special feeling to it. There’s a certain amount of excitement and hype knowing that the best athletes in the state are all gathered in the same place at the same time. The state meet Lydon’s sophomore year seemed to be just like any other, but it would prove to have differences that would influence Lydon’s entire outlook. 

Inclement weather postponed her event to 6:00 a.m. the day after she was intended to vault, and with no hotel rooms within a 2-hour radius, she was forced to wake up even earlier for a long drive, to get after it. 

Get after it is exactly what she did- and while she may have not had the best performance, she still won a bronze medal while being the youngest athlete on the podium. 

Any athlete will tell you that it’s all about experience and Lydon is no different.

“Getting that experience sophomore year was good because now I’m prepared senior year for it not to be perfect. I was still upset though because I knew I personally could have done better.”

Following up her impressive Sophomore year would be tough, but Lydon was seeded in the top three once again going into spring break of 2020. Then, the pandemic hit, and like every spring athlete, she lost her season. 

“My PR was not an accurate representation, and I was trying to start to reach out to coaches and I wasn’t getting the attention I wanted. It was sad you know, it caused me a lot of anxiety. But at the same time, it made me push a little harder. I started weight lifting. I knew I needed to get faster and stronger.”

Thankfully the lost season hasn’t had too much of an impact on Lydon’s college prospects. She’s committed to Colorado State where she will be vaulting at a D1 University.Something she thanks her decision to switch club programs to the one in Orlando for. 

“I moved to Orlando because I needed to train. I’m being pushed a lot harder now.” 

She’s now training with the coach that coached Carter Palasti, Gaither’s last state champion in the pole vault. 

 “He has probably 12 state championships, has put a bunch of kids in college for it. He has a lot of connections.”

This new coach changed Lydon’s vault entirely, and within days she vaulted 12 feet, setting a new Gaither High School girls record. Three days later, she broke her own record and pulled into the number one seeded spot in the Florida State 3A rankings with a vault of 12’ 3.

Something that motivates Lydon now that she’s officially the best girl in 3A, is her realization of just how small of a world high school pole vault is. 

“There’s a girl from Jacksonville that’s close who I’ve been using as motivation and there are always girls that can peak and catch up, or at least pressure me.” 

But in the end, to Lydon, it doesn’t really matter what her opponents are doing.