Being a top athlete from a small school in the 1A ranks, the pathways to college can be tricky.
Even with those odds stacked against her, Sherman High School graduate Desiree Winslow is ready to break the mold, while joining the track and field team as a pole vaulter at Willamette University in Salem.
“I could not even imagine myself going anywhere for college,” Winslow said. “Growing up, I was not as athletically-inclined doing track. I wasn’t good, but then as I got older, going into high school, I actually fell in love with the sport and developed a passion for it.”
As far as Winslow’s high school pedigree, Winslow is ranked top-10 in six individual events and one relay, and she is ranked fourth in the pole vault with her height of 8-feet-6-inches, set earlier this year on April 6 at the AMJ Invite.
She joins a Bearcat program that has claimed 13 Northwest Conference Championships, 36 All-Americans, and, as recently as last year, qualified for All-Academic Team honors as awarded by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
As soon as Winslow met with Willamette coach Matt McGuirk on one of her many college visits, she knew there was an immediate fit.
“The thing that most stood out to me is the coach personalizes his plans to the student-athlete,” Winslow said. “You meet with him every week and he will help you with your studies and he offers these techniques that will help you. He makes sure no matter what happens, his focus is to help you be successful, as a student and as an athlete. That’s the first priority. So, that’s what stood out to me. Coach is very involved and invested in the athletes on this team.”
Winslow’s career goal is to become an event planner, but since Willamette doesn’t offer a major in hospitality management, she will focus on general education and her pre-requisites before continuing in that field.
There’s something about organizing events that inspires Winslow, as she and a group of friends planned Sherman High School’s prom last year.
“I just love the responsibility of planning and organizing,” Winslow said. “It is fun to talk with people about ideas and putting those plans into action. You learn to deal with deadlines and stress and working with others to make a positive impression.”
This past spring, Winslow dealt with groin and hamstring injuries, which kept her from participating in events other than pole vault.
On May 11 at the Special District 3 Championships in Moro, Winslow hit a height of 7-6 for second place and a state berth.
At state on May 18, Winslow hit podium in her final meet with a height of 8-0 for eighth place.
The way her daughter handled adversity gives Desiree’s mother, Alyssa, confidence that she’ll be able to face all of her challenges head on.
“I am very proud of her and I am just glad she made it to state. It was a trying year for her with her injury, so to see her get past that is exciting for me as a parent,” Alyssa said. “She is used to handling a lot of responsibilities, so I know she is better prepared to handle whatever she has to deal with in college.”
Sherman head track and field coach Carrie Somnis is excited about what lies ahead for Winslow.
She is a rally point for young girls who aspire to play collegiate sports.
“Desiree brings so many qualities to a program,” Somnis said. “She brings leadership, a positive attitude and she is going to work hard for her goals. There is nothing going to stop that girl from realizing her dreams. Now she’s moving on as a positive example and role model and you couldn’t ask for a better person to carry on the school’s legacy. I know she will represent the community well.”
As her time to move inches closer and closer, that fateful moment of driving off to start a new chapter, fills Winslow with several emotions.
She is leaving her best friend, her mother, along with a supportive and caring family that has been cheering her on through volleyball, basketball and track.
But, she is ready for it.
“It is going to be really sad leaving my mom, but it is only three hours out, so she will still be close enough to come visit or watch me compete,” Desiree said. “It will be very different being away from home and all my family. I will have to create a new support system at my college. I already have a circle of friends who are on the track team, so having that established early on will go a long way towards acclimating myself to new surroundings.”