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Former Kingsburg pole vaulter inducted into Hall of Fame

Melissa Price Lewis is shown wearing her medal that she received Thursday, Nov. 1, at the 54th Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame in Fresno. Lewis was a pioneer in girls pole vaulting.

Chris Aguirre/The Recorder

Former Kingsburg High pole vaulter Melissa Price Lewis became the seventh Kingsburg native to join the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame along with Rafer Johnson, Johnny Baker, Monte Clark, Myron Anderson, Jim Johnson and Stan Anderson.

Lewis was inducted into the Hall of Fame at a ceremony on Nov. 1 in which she was presented with a medal by Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame Board Member Pete Esraelian of Selma.

“It’s really amazing,” Lewis said. “It was kind of unexpected. It feels like it has been such a long time since I was an athlete. I’s nice to be honored like this.”

Lewis, a professor at the University of Utah, began to pole vault at Kingsburg High School her sophomore year. In her freshman year she competed in hurdles.

“She wanted to compete in pole vaulting her freshman year, but she couldn’t score any points for the team, so I urged her not to do it,” former Kingsburg High coach Dave Crass said. “During Melissa’s sophomore year we heard about a ruling that allowed girls pole vaulting in a non-scoring basis. I decided to allow her try it and she exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

In the 1993 Fresno relays, Lewis vaulted 9-feet-9 to establish the best mark in California. She would later clear 10-feet-6 later that year. The following year in 1994, Lewis soared to 11-feet-1 at the Fresno Relays, a national record. At the California State championships the same year she set a new national record of 11-feet-2.

After winning the first ever national pole vaulting competition for women at the USA Mobil Outdoor National Championships in 1994 in Knoxville, Tenn., Lewis qualified for the Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, Russia. She would finish seventh at the goodwill games at the age of 16.

In January 1995, Lewis set two national records in one night in Reno, Nev. After clearing a height of 11-feet-7 to break her own record, she then cleared 12-feet-1 to break it again.

Lewis broke the national record 12 times in high school in pole vaulting and was the first American woman to ever clear 12 feet and then 13-feet-4.

She received a scholarship to Fresno State in track and field.

“She was a pioneer in girls pole vaulting,” former Fresno State track and field coach Bob Fraley, who coached Melissa, said. “She was a good athlete who a lot of people noticed.”

Lewis went on to become Fresno State’s first individual female national champion by winning the NCAA Indoor pole vaulting title in 1998. She also won the National Championship in 1999. She went on to finish her Fresno State career becoming a four-time Western Athletic Conference champion and a three time All-American.

“When I started, nobody did it, so it was kind of like a new frontier,” Lewis said.

After college, Lewis competed for one more year.

She has advice to athletes and others.

“Don’t let other people set limits on you,” she said. “Keep working hard and if you are passionate about it just keep going. In all things you can’t let other people’s limits define your own. You have to figure out what your dreams are and how to make those things happen.”

Lewis attempted to qualify for the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and again for Sydney in 2000 but failed to do so in both attempts.

“I went to the Olympic trials in 1996, but they didn’t have Olympic pole vault back then and for Australia, I was really close,” she said. “It was very disappointing it didn’t work out. But that was one of the things I had to say I did my best, but it didn’t work out. Does that mean I was a total failure. No I had to have dust myself off and figure out what I was going to do with my life.”

She received her Ph.D. in accounting from Indiana University.

At the Hall of Fame ceremony, Lewis brought her two children, 3-year-old Katherine and 7-year-old Elijah. She wants her children to know of her athletic accomplishments.

Lewis said: “They don’t know what I was. This is why they are here, I want them to see that I had another life before I was their mom and mom really did some cool stuff. It took a lot of persistence and it was hard. I want to teach my kids about life. I hope they see I too had to struggle, and I had to really want it and work hard.”

Lewis likes visiting the Valley and her brother, who still lives in Kingsburg.

“Kingsburg is still home and I miss it. I appreciate all the support I got in Kingsburg.”

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