May 9, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Former South Carolina pole vaulter Chris Steddum (2000-2004) earned plenty of accolades and had the opportunity to compete professionally before retiring and becoming a successful investment banker. He overcame some bad luck with injuries and accidents toward the end of his career as an athlete, but he has no regrets.
“I had been able to check the box on everything that I had wanted to do with pole vaulting,” Steddum said. “I had a phenomenal collegiate career, and that ended on a high note. At the NCAA Championships, I set a p.r. (personal record) at my last collegiate meet. So with that and to go out with my last real competition at the Olympic Trials, I don’t think it gets much better than that.”
Now 36 and living in his native Houston, Tex., the former three-time All-American and 2001 SEC Pole Vault Champion was well-prepared for life after sports after earning his degree in finance and risk management in 2004.
“I had some great professors in finance, so that really set me up well for being a professional in finance,” Steddum said. “There are a lot of similarities, and the discipline I learned in track really helped. You put in all those hours. Investment banking is a very hour-intensive job, too. Going to class, training and going on the road on weekends with track, your days were pretty full from first thing in the morning until late at night. Learning how to balance all of that has really helped me in my career with a job that is very challenging and where you have to be efficient with your time.”
Steddum began his athletics career in another sport, gymnastics, but when he actually outgrew the sport, he was looking for something else.
“I eventually got too tall for gymnastics,” Steddum said. “One of my coaches in junior high school told me that after doing gymnastics, pole vaulting was something I might be pretty good at because of all the upper body strength that you need for it. Being a gymnast and flipping around upside down was pretty comfortable, so I started doing it in junior high, and I loved it. After a couple of years, I got pretty good at it.”
Steddum was attending pole vault camp in Arkansas while in high school where he caught the eye of a South Carolina coach.
“I went up there for a visit and I liked the city and the facility,” Steddum said. “I met the other coaches and some of the other student-athletes, and it just felt like the right place. Being part of the SEC, which is super competitive, was another thing I liked as well. More than anything, it just felt like the right place, the right people, and the right environment for me to excel.”
It didn’t take long for Steddum to excel as he won his event at the SEC Outdoor Championships in the spring of his freshman year.
“The most memorable moment was the year we hosted SECs at home, and I won the meet, and my teammate, Jared Farabee, got second place,” Steddum said. “The two of us swept the pole vault, and to do it at home was pretty special.”
Steddum competed professionally for four years after college, and he endured some early misfortune after being involved in a bad car accident while driving back from a competition.
“I was really lucky,” Steddum said. “My car flipped six or seven times. I came away relatively unscathed. I had a gash on my arm, but no broken bones. It was pretty scary.”
In 2007, he went to graduate school and qualified for the Olympic trials in 2008 despite some additional bad luck leading up to it.
“During training, one of the poles broke on me and sliced open my hand in between my index finger and my thumb,” Steddum said. “That happened in December, and the Olympic Trials were in July of the following year. At that time, I still didn’t have my qualifier mark, and I lost a good month and a half of competition and training time going into what I knew was going to be my last chance to try to make it to the trials.”
I do miss travelling with the team. It was a lot of fun.
Steddum kept himself in shape and was able to rebound.
“Despite all of that, I was able to jump the highest bar I had ever jumped that year,” Steddum said. “So I set a new personal record heading into the trials. It would be hard to say that had that not happened that I would have done any better. A month before the Olympic trials I set a personal best, so I jumped higher than I ever had before. Anytime you jump a p.r. leading up to a big competition; that means you were ready.”
Ready to take the next step in his professional life, Steddum transitioned to life after athletics.
“It was tough to hang it up because that had been one of the biggest parts of my life since the seventh grade, I guess,” Steddum said. “It was definitely a change in transitioning into my finance career right after my last competition. I don’t miss all the training I had to do to keep in shape. I definitely remember August and September being some pretty miserable days out on the track where it didn’t feel so great. I do miss travelling with the team. It was a lot of fun.”
Back home with his wife, Tongula, and his four year old son, Colby, Steddum enjoys the competition in his career as an investment banker.
“We predominantly serve oil and gas companies,” Steddum said. “The thing I like the most about it is that it’s a pretty competitive job. It’s pretty intense, which is pretty similar to track. It takes a lot of hard work and it’s competitive. You’re always working on new projects. Each one is unique.
“Similar to track, you have different conditions. The wind, the weather, the runway and how fast you’re running or pole selection. There are a whole bunch of factors, so it’s similar to what I do now. Each deal is different and the things that influence the outcome are different each time.”
As South Carolina prepares to host the 2017 SEC Outdoor Championships at the new Cregger Track and Field Facility, Steddum looks forward to returning to Columbia someday to see next generation of Gamecocks.
“I have not been able to see the new track, but I definitely want to get back and check it out,” Steddum said.
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