Allison Stokke's Pole Vaulting Career Thwarted by this One Photo
Allison Stokke, a 17-year-old from southern California, had a promising future in pole vaulting. That is, until a blog posted a controversial photo of her at a competition in New York that changed everything. This is her story, and what she’s been up to lately.
Meet Allison Stokke
While growing up in southern California, Allison Stokke was surrounded by a supportive, athletic family. She initially tried to follow in the footsteps of her older brother, an acclaimed national youth gymnast. However, after years of practicing gymnastics, Allison ultimately took interest in another sport in which she found great success.
A Promising Future
Stokke developed a passion for pole vaulting and worked hard to become great at it. She eventually became one of the most promising young pole vaulters in the country as a high school student. But an unfortunate event was about to obstruct her path to greatness.
In 2004, Stokke began attending Newport Harbor High School, and promptly the national pole vaulting record for high school freshmen at more than 12 feet and seven inches.
The following year, Stokke set a new record with 13 feet and 5.75 inches. It should come as no surprise then that she managed to bag the gold medal at the California State Championship.
Stokke was clearly a star on the rise in the track and field scene, and she was keen on further developing her skills. One day at practice, she tried using a larger pole than normal, but as a result, she miscalculated how high she would need to leap over the bar as she launched forward. Disaster followed.
A Broken Ankle
This seemingly small miscalculation resulted in a broken ankle after Stokke landed on a concrete launch box and cost her her opportunity for back-to-back state championships. She underwent immediate surgery and was unable to compete for six months in order to fully recover from the accident. Little did she know, she was about to become an internet sensation.
Stronger Than Ever
Because Stokke had spent much of her life intensely training as an athlete, she overcame her injury and returned stronger than ever. In her senior year of high school, she once again became the California State Champion.
Stokke’s string of California State Championships earned her a scholarship to UC Berkeley. However, a single photo was about to change the course of her life.
A Competition in New York
Stokke flew to New York for a pole vaulting competition when she was 17. A California-based track and field website took some photos of the event, some of which featured Stokke warming up. One of these images caught the interest of the public and turned the young athlete into an internet sensation.
The Photo That Went Viral
The photo that went viral (above) shows a teenaged Stokke holding the pole while fixing her hair, presumably waiting for the competition to commence. It’s interesting to think about how this image could stir up such commotion and garner such unwanted attention when it looks just like any of her other competition photos on the internet. But this particular photo’s virality was apparently caused by one blog.
An Uncomfortable Feeling
The problems came about when said blog, called With Leather, posted the photo of Stokke, along with a questionable headline commenting inappropriately on her physical appearance. Sports fans everywhere were left feeling uncomfortable.
The owner of the blog, Matt Ufford, defended himself saying that he wrote the inappropriate caption two months after the photo was taken, meaning that Stokke had since turned 18 years old at the time that the blog entry was posted.
The Image Goes Global
The photo was widely shared on social media, and major publications all over the world, from the LA Times to The Sydney Herald, soon picked up the story. It became a discussion of how Matt Ufford’s blog post spoke inappropriately about underaged Stokke. Following the events, the owner of the photo decided to take legal action against Ufford and his blog.
The Damage is Done
In an effort to defend Stokke from the less wholesome parts of the internet, the original photographer attempted to sue Ufford. However, because the photo had already been published in a whole host of blogs and websites, it was far too late for the photographer to retract it. All of the attention was beginning to negatively affect the young athlete.
Stokke was caught off-guard by the sudden wave of unwanted attention that the blog post and subsequent media coverage brought to her. She began receiving interview requests and photoshoot invitations, but never before had she sought fame beyond her athletic recognition, and quickly became overwhelmed.
With Allison drowning under the pressure, her parents – Allan and Cindy Stokke – stepped in to help. They sought out the services of a media consultant to help them through the ordeal.
As part of the PR movie, Stokke made a YouTube video talking about pole vaulting and her passion for the sport in an effort to redirect the attention away from her looks and back to her athleticism.
The Video Backfires
The video didn’t have the effects that she hoped it would. In fact, the comments section remained inappropriate and photographers continued to show up to cover her events. Online forums and pages were created solely in admiration for her looks.
At Wit's End
Stokke and her parents openly talked about the repulsive posts they found online and expressed their feelings of frustration on the matter, however it seemed that no matter what they said, the controversy only continued to simmer.
"It just all feels really demeaning
In an interview with the Washington Post Stokke said, “Even if none of it is illegal, it just all feels really demeaning. I worked so hard for pole vaulting and all this other stuff, and it’s almost like that doesn’t matter. Nobody sees that.”
An Impressive Student-Athelete
As she entered college at UC Berkeley, Stokke showed the world that she was far more than just a pretty face. As a student-athlete she broke multiple records during her freshman year, and in her second year, she was named one of the top pole vaulting athletes in the Pac-12 Conference.
The End of an Era
Stokke competed for a spot on the 2012 US Olympic team in London, but unfortunately did not qualify. Despite her status as an All-American during her final year in university, her pole vaulting career came to an end. But the story doesn’t end there, as Stokke went on to make a name for herself in a different industry.
A New Career Path
Stokke eventually decided to embrace the fame she had received from her beauty and began modeling for huge sports brands including Nike, Uniqlo, and Athleta. She also signed a deal with GoPro for a YouTube vlog series showcasing her sport.
A Budding New Romance
Stokke began dating Rickie Fowler, a professional golfer who had a similar background of being an acclaimed athlete at a young age. Rickie became the number one amateur golfer in the world, and went pro at the age of 21. The two southern Californians immediately hit it off and soon became a serious couple.
Like Peas in a Pod
Like Stokkes, Rickie Fowler grew up in the sports spotlight and had high school success. Born and raised in Murrieta, California,, Fowler was a self-taught golfer. While attending Murrieta Valley High School, Fowler won the SW League Final and led his team to the state final in 2007.
After high school, Folwer attended Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. He had a massively successful college career, culminating in 2008 when he won the Ben Hogan Award, which is given to the best collegiate player in the country.
While still an amateur, Fowler showed just how much professional potential he had. He competed in the 2008 U.S. Open, and was in a tie for 7th place after the first round, and was one of three amateurs to make the cut that year along with Derek Fathauer and Michael Thompson. He ended the tournament tied for a respectable 60th.
Rookie of the Year
Fowler quickly became a star on the PGA Tour once he turned pro. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2010, and by 2011 was ranked 32nd in the world. In 2012, Fowler won the Wells Fargo Championship for his first PGA Tour victory. He defeated Rory McIlroy and D. A. Points in a sudden death playoff to win the event.
Despite his on-course success, Fowler has met his fair-share of internet criticism for his persona and amount of sponsorship deals compared to his lack of major tournament victories. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Rickie and Allison got together, considering they could bond over being judged in that way.
A Match Made in Heaven
A year later the two announced their engagement, and they promptly became known to every sporting publication as a match made in heaven.
In October 2019, the couple got married around close friends and family in a beautiful ceremony, followed by their honeymoon.
The couple tied the knot in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, which prompted many predictions on where they would have their honeymoon. The mystery deepened as many theories emerged amongst the couple’s fans…
A report claimed that Puma, a brand that sponsors Ricky, sent their company’s private jet for him and Stokke to fly out to Cape Town, South Africa. The couple has been tight-lipped about the truth however.
Happily Ever After
Currently, Stokke is enjoying her flourishing career as a fitness model and influencer, who inspires millions of people worldwide. Although she has not posted much about the sport she was once passionate about, she now uses this bigger platform to share her thoughts and ideas. And of course, she relishes the time she gets to spend with her husband, Ricky.
Not Just a Pretty Face
As is often the case for many female athletes, Allison Stokke spent far too long being portrayed as a physical commodity rather than being praised for her athletic abilities and impressive 4.0 college GPA. It’s nice to see that she’s doing well today and has since received the recognition she deserves!