PROVO — On May 7, 1983, a BYU high jumper named Dave Stapleton cleared 7-foot-5½ inches on his first attempt at the height in the final regular-season meet of his senior year to set a school record that is still standing.
On May 10, 2019 — almost exactly 36 years later to the day — a BYU high jumper named Andrea Stapleton-Johnson cleared 6-foot-2¼ inches on her first attempt at the height in the final regular-season meet of her senior year to set the women’s school record.
Stapleton-Johnson, as you might have guessed, is the daughter of Dave Stapleton. Think about it: A father and daughter hold school records in the same event at the same school at the same time, set 36 years apart.
What are the odds of that happening? To begin with, the daughter has to have the desire to pursue the high jump, then she has to inherit her father’s jumping DNA, then her father’s record has to endure for nearly four decades, then she has to scale a height that has been achieved by only one woman in the entire history of the school — and in this case she had to break a record that had stood for 25 years.
Yet BYU has actually had two parent-child school records. Erica Birk-Jarvis set school records this season in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and 5,000-meter run — 28 years after her mother Nicole set a record in the flat 3,000-meter race. That record still stands, with one big caveat: The flat 3,000-meter race was replaced by the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 2001 as a standard women’s event in college track, so that record will never be broken. Otherwise, Erica might well have been chasing her mother’s record this season. Nicole’s time is 9:09:07 for the 3,000. Erica’s time is 9:42.54 over the same distance, except with 28 barriers and seven water jumps to negotiate.
For his part, if you ask Stapleton if he is surprised that his high jump record still stands, he says, “Oh my goodness. I never would have dreamed it would last this long. It is so overdue.”
After years of trying, Andrea finally broke the record in the appropriately named Last Chance Invitational, a meet designed to give athletes one last chance to meet NCAA qualifying standards. The record, which was set in 1994 by Melinda Boice-Hale, proved to be stubborn. When Andrea finally cleared the height, she first screamed and then collapsed to the mat and cried. When Andrea’s sister and teammate, Allison, saw Andrea clear the bar, she texted her dad, who was at home in Washington: “You need to call Andrea.” Her father asked why. “She just broke the record!”
“I wept like a baby,” says Dave.
After setting the record, Andrea had her photograph taken standing under the bar, which was 1¼ inches above her head.
“It was emotional,” says Dave. “It’s fair to say she’s been chasing that record all four years (at BYU).”
“Looking back on it now,” says Andrea, “I wouldn’t have cared that much, but my dad had the record and I wanted my name up there with his.”
For many years, Andrea and her five siblings knew little of their father’s exploits, which included the school record, a conference championship and All-America honors. “My dad never really talked about it,” says Andrea. “All we knew was that he was on the track team. Eventually, we got it out of my mom that he had the school record. We thought that was pretty cool.”
Four of the Stapleton children took up the high jump in middle school, with their dad as coach. Her brothers would go on to clear 6-foot-7 and 6-4 in high school. Andrea topped out at 5-8 and Allison 5-6. Allison played volleyball at BYU, but elected to return to track and the high jump (she’s also a triple jumper and long jumper).
After signing with BYU as a high school junior, Andrea began to target the women’s record at her future school. “Wouldn’t it be great if we both had the records,” she told her father one day. As Dave puts it, “We’ve been collectively hoping for that.”
And then her freshman season passed, and there was no record. Then her sophomore and junior seasons passed, and still no record. Then she competed in one meet after another during her senior year and the record still eluded her. During the recent indoor season, she cleared 6-1½, just a tantalizing half-inch under the record.
She became focused on the record, “probably even more than I thought she was,” says high jump coach Mark Robison. “It almost became an obstacle.” She entered the NCAA indoor championships with the No. 1 mark in the country and finished eighth, equalling her finish in last spring’s NCAA outdoor championships.
“She was lamenting her performance with me indoors,” says Dave. “She was asking me, ‘Why can’t I do better?’ I said, 'If it’s any consolation, the best I ever did (at nationals) was eighth place.'”
As the outdoor season wound down, Andrea was pressing and stressing for the record. At the next-to-last regular-season meet of the year — the Robison Invitational — she won the competition, but cleared only 5-10½. She wasn’t even close to the record.
“She was running out of chances,” says Dave. “The pressure was on. We talked about it throughout the outdoor season and how to manage the pressure. I was telling her, just enjoy it; you’ve accomplished so much. If it comes, great; if not, that’s fine, too.”
“I thought about the record the whole week before the Robison Invitational,” says Andrea. “It messed me up. I focused too much on it. My husband Brett reminded me that there are other things I love too and to put it in perspective. I decided that whatever happens, I’ll accept it.”
She worked with BYU’s mental strength coach, Craig Manning. As Robison explains it, “He wanted her to focus on the task — the skills — not outcomes.
“If you focus on outcomes,” Robison said, “it gets in your way; you get in the future where fear and doubt are. Craig had her choose mental and physical cues and she would focus on two or three of them based on what she was feeling that day. It might be just to have fun, or to be aggressive, or something to do with her approach or setting up the takeoff.”
Andrea finally put it all together at the Last Chance meet, clearing 6-2¼ — or 1.89 metric, which converts to 6 feet, 2.00787 inches — on her first attempt at that height, barely brushing the bar with the back of her leg, but not enough to displace it. That mark also gives her the No. 1 collegiate jump in the nation this season, making her one of the favorites at this week’s NCAA championships in Austin, Texas.
“I think getting the record will help her jumping,” says coach Ed Eyestone. “She was feeling more pressure about the school record and joining her father on the record board than competing at nationals.”
“It’s all off my shoulders now,” Andrea says. “All those years thinking about it.”
If you ask her event coach, Robison, about Andrea, he notes the power she generates off the ground and a physique that seems custom-made for the high jump. “It’s not like she’s maxed out,” says Robison. “She can go higher. After the record jump, she had a very close miss at 1.92 meters, which is about 6-3¾.”6 comments on this story
Looking back, Dave marvels at the similarities of his and his daughter’s careers. Both placed eighth in nationals. Both set school records. Both broke the records in the last meet of the regular season of their senior seasons. Dave was coached by Clarence Robison, Andrea by Mark Robison, Clarence’s son and her father’s former teammate. Eyestone is also Dave’s former teammate, now Andrea’s head coach.
“The parallels are amazing,” he says.
Both of their names will now appear on the BYU record board — which resides in the Smith Fieldhouse — and in BYU’s Legacy Hall, where the record heights for the men and women have been drawn on a wall next to the names of the record holders.
“So many emotions,” says Andrea. “I remember (as a girl) thinking it was so cool that my dad was good at the high jump. I wanted my name up there, too.”