Carlie Queen simply wanted to race. When she joined a youth track program in the third grade, the ambitions didn’t stretch much farther than that. She envisioned gliding along the synthetic surface, perhaps outpacing a few of her friends.
Her coaches saw an opportunity for more. Her father did, too. He urged her to try a couple of the field events, specifically the high jump. “It’s just like jumping onto the bed,” he said, his best method of persuasion.
“I really didn’t want to do it,” Queen said. “It just didn’t look like fun to me. But they had the mats there at practice, so I said I would give it a try.”
In her first jump — with her dad selecting a height of about 3 feet — Queen cleared the bar. With ease. It was a better mark than anyone had reached at the previous meet.
“I kinda stood there and said, ‘Yeah, we might be on to something here,’” her dad, John, said.
Queen didn’t lose once in her first year competing in the high jump. The season concluded with a gold medal at a national event.
Nearly 10 years later, she is a multi-time high school state champion, a national champion and the owner of so many meet records that she’s literally lost count. In a week, Queen, a Summit Christian Academy senior, will attempt to break a Missouri all-class state record in the high jump.
Those who know her best say the accolades are a microcosm of the Carlie Queen story. She demands perfection on the track, just as she does in everyday life. She often comes close, too.
Queen graduated from Summit Christian Academy last week with straight As. Not just in her final semester. In her entire life.
A college track scholarship at Arkansas awaits. She plans to pursue a degree in exercise science, a precursor to a career in physical therapy.
But first: Queen is The Star’s Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Queen was initially a ballet dancer, albeit briefly.
As a 4-year-old, she attended group lessons. Even those observing the sessions could tell it might not be in her future for long. Maybe she was best suited for a more energetic activity.
“Some of the moms, as we sat to the side, would comment that she was too bouncy,” said Christie Queen, Carlie’s mother. “As most of the kids were stretching on the bar, she was jumping off the ground.”
Christie recalls her daughter bouncing off her knee as a baby. A jumper from birth, she says now.
Queen was a natural with the high jump — and she’s quite good in the pole vault, too — but to be this good, this dominant has required a rigorous training schedule. She works out or practices the high jump six days every week. Her father has long served as her coach. The off-days include the golf course, where she is a two-time state qualifier.
The family had a pit in the driveway when Queen was in elementary school. Amazed, neighbors would stop to watch her gather a running start, flail her body over the bar and land on the mat.
“It’s kind of funny to think back on it now. It probably wasn’t the most normal thing,” Queen said. “But when I get into something, I really want to do everything I can to be at my best.”
Those driveway practices sprouted a remarkable high school career. As a freshman, Queen broke the Missouri Class 2 high jump state-meet record when she cleared 5 feet, 7 3/4 inches. She won the event again as a sophomore, despite battling a leg injury that required several months of physical therapy afterwards. She repeated once more as a junior.
On May 27, as she attempts a four-peat in Jefferson City, she has her sights set on breaking an all-class record of 5 feet, 9 inches. The mark has stood for 17 years.
Queen has already surpassed it several times this season. In March, she was crowned a national champion at the prestigious New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York with a leap of 5 feet, 10 3/4 inches. That’s two inches taller than her own height.
“She’s never really had or needed anyone pushing her. She’s a self-starter,” John Queen said, adding during a phone conversation that took place at 8 a.m. this week, “She’s actually up at the gym right right now, practicing by herself.”
A competitive track schedule, not unlike other sports, can feel like a grind. Travel. Days away from home.
It’s the worst requirement in the sport if you ask Queen, who is frustrated at the thought of missing even one class.
“When she knows she’s going to be gone, she will actually volunteer to take a test early, just so she doesn’t fall behind,” said Ruth Terry, who has taught Queen for three years at Summit Christian Academy. “Now how many students do you know who want to take a test early?”
Terry especially notes the way Queen absorbs class lectures and the way she completes projects. “She thoroughly enjoys the learning aspect, whether it’s material that she knows she will be tested on or not,” Terry said.
Queen often finds herself reading ahead in the textbooks, even after her teachers have ensured her the chapters will be skipped in the curriculum. The homework accompanies her on road trips so she can complete it in the car.
In other words, the grades shouldn’t really come as a surprise. She has never received a B grade in a class. Forget that. She has never even had an A-minus.
She has already earned college credit in history, math and English courses and has served as an elementary school tutor in those subjects.
“I have grandchildren, and I’ve always said that if they could hang around anyone for a day, I would want it to be Carlie Queen,” Terry said. “Hands down.”
The college coaches started calling early. That tends to happen when you break state records as a freshman.
Queen visited a handful of Division I campuses. A variety of factors led to her to opt for Fayetteville, Ark., but there was one in particular that stood out.
Arkansas felt like the most challenging. The most difficult. The most work.
“The training there is really intense,” Queen said. “That’s exactly what I was looking for.”
Queen has Olympic aspirations. The projections make it a real possibility.
For now, she’s just as keen on the other part of her future — physical therapy.
“I had a pretty major (quadriceps) injury, so I had to go to physical therapy for several months. Throughout that process, I felt like that’s where I could see myself,” Queen said. “I want to be that support for someone else going through the same thing.
“The (jumping) is exciting, and I really enjoy it, but I think I would really enjoy helping someone through that experience.”