Spikes07 Sep 2015

Sandi Cheeks


Sandi Morris Beijing

American pole vaulter Sandi Morris is, in her own words, “a busy bee”. So we were not disappointed when we caught up with the University of Arkansas graduate and wound up talking everything from snake bites to zombie nightmares. Here are six things you need to know about the 23-year-old rising star.

1. Girls on film

Sandi Morris has talent that extends well beyond the track. At her sophomore year at the University of North Carolina, she decided to transfer to the University of Arkansas, but had one problem: studying her number one choice film production was not an option. Having been keen on making YouTube videos during her time at North Carolina, Morris spontaneously decided to major in broadcasting instead. “I thought, I love video, let’s go for it,” she says.

During her time at Arkansas she regularly broadcast for the university TV station and enjoyed reporting pieces on her passion for animals, particularly snakes – more of which later.

“It is totally different when you are up there just telling a story on the news,” she says. “It was amazing how much better I got at it after one year of broadcasting.”

Morris, a 4.76m vaulter at her best, won’t rule out a future broadcasting career, but Ato Boldon and Michael Johnson can breathe easy.

“Growing up, I had dreams of presenting an animal TV show and becoming a female Steve Irwin,” she says. “That would be really cool.”

MORRIS REPORTS: A compilation that puts our broadcasting efforts to shame 😩

2. Animal crackers

Morris likes all animals, but prefers to keep exotic ones. Among the creatures to have formed part of her household menagerie are flying squirrels, lizards and chinchillas, and at the moment she calls five (!) snakes her own. Her passion for wildlife is something that began as a young child.

“When I was little I would go to the backyard and pick up spiders and things that many girls would be afraid of,” she says. “I thought it was cool. I was in fifth grade when I did some research and asked my mum for a ball python. I said it was harmless and it was the most common snake in the pet trade. She said ‘as long as you can look after it and it doesn’t smell or make a noise you can have it’.” 

Today, Morris keeps two ball pythons (including the one she first got in fifth grade), two red-tailed boas and a Brazilian rainbow boa. They may all be non-venomous constrictors, but her beloved ball python hasn’t always been the most obedient. 

“When I first got him I didn’t know how to feed him properly,” she explains. “I had already put the rat in the cage for the snake to feed on, but I put my hand in the cage to get to the water bowl. If a snake sees movement at feeding time it is like a shark smelling blood and it bit me on the hand. It left a circle of pricks and it has razor sharp teeth.”

Rivals take note: Morris is not easily intimidated, she’s survived a snake bite.

3. Video didn't kill the pole vault star 

When not looking after carnivorous reptiles, Morris also likes to explore her passion for music. A good ole’ Southern girl from South Carolina, she loves her acoustic and country music. She started out playing the violin, and later, in an effort to learn an instrument she could sing along to, took up guitar. She says she is “no brilliant guitar player” but we love the girl’s attitude. She has written some songs, and has even produced her own Garage Band music video.

“It was a fun project,” she says. “It was a cool way to express myself and a great creative outlet for me.”

Head this way to take a look.

Sandi Morris Beijing SPIKES

Morris finished tied fourth in Beijing with a 4.70m clearance, matching the performance of Olympic champ Jenn Suhr 

4. Zombie zealot

A huge fan of post-apocalyptic movies like I Am Legend, The Road and 28 Days Later – “I eat that stuff up” – it is no surprise Morris is a big fan of the zombie genre. Addicted to The Walking Dead series, she admits to one evening watching a few too many back-to-back episodes and later that night, guess what, dreaming about being attacked by zombies.

Luckily her athletic skill set came to the rescue. “In my dream, I escaped the herd of zombies by pole vaulting over them,” she recalls.

Morris has a clear idea about which pole vaulter would make the best zombie. “That would be my training partner [and 2008 Olympic finalist] April Steiner Bennett, who is a big goof ball like me and would make a really good zombie.”

5. Blogger extraordinaire

Morris set up her blog Anyone Can Dance On A Pole, But I Can Fly On Mine a few years ago, and its popularity has soared in line with her pole vault career. It is a reflection of her pole vaulting life, and also draws upon her experiences away from the track.

“I like to post about the mental side of pole vault and how to remain sane in the midst of insanity,” says the US Championships runner-up. “It is important to have a balanced life with sport, not put too much on your sport and remember you are human. It is important to be proud of yourself as an athlete but also for your accomplishments outside of being an athlete.”

Amen. And for us it means a ruddy good read.

6. Sandi Cheeks?

Her Twitter handle is SandiCheeks15, and SPIKES wants to know why.

“Well, there are two reasons,” Morris explains. “I’m a huge SpongeBob fan, and there is a character in the show I love called “Sandy” Cheeks. Then just as I was about to join Twitter in my freshman year, I rode home on my bike after one training session in my spandex when one of the lacrosse guys yelled out 'Hey, Sandi Cheeks' because my butt cheeks were hanging out.”

Note, Morris insists her butt cheeks were not actually hanging out. But you get the picture. And the answer.