Some people possess a natural athletic talent, but display a subpar work ethic. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the athletes who might not be as gifted with natural talent, but have a work ethic that few can match. The K-State track and field coaches may have stumbled onto a rare combination of both.
Kyle Wait, senior in wildlife and outdoor enterprise management, gave high jumping a shot in seventh grade. His father Darrell Wait, who high jumped at K-State in the ’80s, was the high jump coach at the time. One day at practice, when Wait began to get frustrated, one of his other coaches reached out and recommended that he give pole vaulting a shot. He took their advice and discovered he was pretty good at it. The rest, as they say, is history.
As a Gardner-Edgerton High School freshman, Wait jumped 12-6.00. For a majority of Kansas high schools, that would have put the freshman at varsity track meets. At Gardner-Edgerton, that landed Wait all alone on junior varsity.
“Vaulting at Gardner is a big deal,” Wait said. “We’ve had a lot of good vaulters.”
It did not take long for Wait to emerge as one of the top vaulters in the state. As a junior, Wait’s jump of 15-00.00 was good enough for a third place finish at the state championship meet. As a senior, Wait claimed the top spot, jumping 15-06.00 and winning the Kansas 5A state championship title.
After high school, K-State is where Wait said he wanted to be, deciding to walk-on to the K-State track and field team.
“During the recruiting process, he had reached out to us just as much as we reached out to him,” assistant track and field coach Kyle Hierholzer said. “He wanted to come to K-State. Once we got to know him, we were more than happy to have him on the team.”
Wait said he enjoyed being a Wildcat. While other’s talked about little things like gear, the new addition to the K-State track and field squad said he was just happy to be a part of the team.
“When I first got here, I was just ecstatic to be on the team,” Wait said. “I was just some little freshman walking on, and yet I was treated like as part of the team instantly. I was going to big meets and performing big time and I just couldn’t believe it.”
During his freshman season, Wait competed in 14 total meetings between indoor and outdoor season. At the Kansas Relays, Wait jumped 16-06.75, which was his best jump in his first season as a Wildcat. Despite having a pretty good freshman year, Wait was ready for more.
Going into his sophomore year, Wait’s hard worked was rewarded with a scholarship, but his didn’t slow down there. There was no “sophomore slump” in store for the Gardner, Kan. native; quite the opposite, in fact.
During his second meet of the outdoor season, Wait cleared 17-01.00. This was his first time clearing the 17-foot marker in collegiate competition. It was not long after that when Wait would do something during practice that to this day still sticks in the mind of Hierholzer.
“He made 16 feet by like two feet, and I think his PR at the time was 17,” Hierholzer said. “That was from a short run on a small pole.”
Not long after that, Wait did something that would permanently etch his name into K-State track and field history. In front of a home crowd at R.V. Christian Track Complex in Manhattan, Wait cleared 17-05.00 to win the Big 12 outdoor championship in what was considered an upset. The sophomore became the first K-State male to win a Big 12 championship in the pole vault.
The following season, Wait continued to make waves in the program. The junior set the school’s indoor record of 17-10.50 before defending his crown by winning the 2013 Big 12 outdoor title. But he wasn’t done yet.
Wait traveled to Eugene, Ore. to the outdoor track and field national championships, finishing in a tie for seventh place. The former walk-on became the first K-State vaulter since 1982 to score at nationals. Wait’s coaches said this came as no surprise.
“I’ve been here for 26 years and I think that you could make a strong argument that Kyle is perhaps the most gifted physical specimen that we’ve had here that was a full time track guy,” head coach Cliff Rovelto said.
It is clear that the star pole vaulter has the natural abilities, but Wait said he has never allowed himself to fall back on his natural talent.
“As gifted as he is athletically, he works like someone who’s not gifted,” Hierholzer said.
Wait continues to show improvement during his senior season in his Wildcat uniform. Not only in his own performance, but for his teammates as well.
“His work ethic is just extremely encouraging and challenging,” longtime teammate Tommy Brady said. “I’ve been training with Kyle since seventh grade and I couldn’t be more thankful for a guy like that who pushes me as an athlete and also challenges me in my character as well. Our friendship has been a huge blessing and i’m thankful for the model that he’s been for me.”
Wait will compete this weekend at the Bill Bergan Invitational in Ames, Iowa.