As a sophomore at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South Forsyth’s Riley Jones said there was going to be nothing to get in the way of her being the pole vaulting state champion her junior year.
“I was like, ‘You know what?’” Jones said. “‘Next year, I'm gonna win state. I'm gonna win the state championship. I'm gonna do it. I don't care what anyone says. I'm gonna do it.’”
Though there were plenty of peaks and valleys along the way, Jones accomplished the goal she set before herself and won the pole vaulting state championship, with a height of 12 feet.
“Just to be able to do it was insane, honestly,” Jones said. “I just felt like I really closed off my season. During COVID, I wanted it so bad, so it was nice to meet my goal of 12 feet like I wanted.”
Growing up, Jones spent most of her time in the gym competing in gymnastics, but at 13 years old, she decided to switch over to track and field after her brother encouraged her to try it.
In just her freshman year, after qualifying for the state tournament in pole vault, Jones realized that she might be better than she thought. Once her sophomore season ended abruptly, she got into weight lifting for the first time in her life to reach her new goal, once again following the advice from her brothers.
Jones went through the regular season on her way to becoming the top pole vaulter in the county, but two weeks before the county meet, Jones was diagnosed with tonsillitis that sidelined her for three weeks.
“I couldn’t train or really do anything because I was so sick,” Jones said. “Coming back to the track, I looked like a koala clinging to bamboo.”
After winning the region tune-up, region championship and sectionals, Jones had finally made it to the state tournament.
“There's a picture of me on Instagram where I’m literally almost crying through the first three pictures,” Jones said. “Like really crying and I haven’t even gotten to the hard stuff yet.”
Jones was competing with one other girl when they got to her personal record of 12 feet. Jones got hers on the first try after watching her competition miss, moving her into first place. Neither girl completed the next jump of 12 feet 6 inches, crowning Jones the champion.
“My dad said if I won state, he would take me out to a steak dinner,” Jones said. “And for anyone who knows me, the key to my heart is through the stomach. I had my entire family and two of my best friends who helped me in the gym and on the track all season.”
Colleges had been reaching out before, but after officially becoming a state champion, Jones’ recruiting process intensified, with calls coming at all times of the day, according to Jones.
“I want to go to a really big school,” Jones said. “Track isn't something that’s gonna bring me a lot of money like the NFL. I want to be a psychologist, so the school has to have a good program for that.”
Though Jones has talked to what she estimated around 30 colleges now, she is still uncertain of where she would like to continue her track and field career collegiately.
As far as her senior season at South Forsyth goes, Jones still has quite a few feats she would still like to accomplish. Though she did not place, Jones also made the Class 7A state finals in long jump, an event she had not trained for until two weeks before sectionals. Jones also runs hurdles and said she wants to make state in all three events next season.
The Georgia state record for girls pole vaulting is 13 feet, 10.25 inches. Jones said 13 feet 10.5 inches does not sound exciting enough, so she wants to clear 14 feet by the time state happens next year.
But most importantly, she wants her South Forsyth War Eagles to capture a region championship.
“South has to win the region championship this year,” Jones said. "I'm looking forward to competing with all my friends again, and I really hope South girls and boys can come out and win a region or county title.”