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Rachel Altemose rebounds from pandemic lost season to end high school career with statewide accolades

Contributed Photo • Rachel Altemose pole vaulted her way into the record books during her senior season with the UCHS track and field team.

By Trey Williams

Sports Writer

 Spending her junior season sidelined by a pandemic was the pits for Unicoi County’s Rachel Altemose, but she ended her senior year on a high note.

Altemose, who found time to pole vault when she wasn’t doing a plethora of school activities, won the Times-News Relays and advanced to the state meet, where she secured all-state honors by matching her personal record (9-6) to finish eighth.

Not bad for a student-athlete with numerous irons in the fire. Altemose was also a cheerleader, Drama Club President, senior class Vice President, a member of National Honor Society, Key Club and Beta Club. Oh, by the way, she worked at Maple Grove Restaurant some 20-25 hours a week, too.

Altemose had to find her way in the early going this past spring.

“The Times-News Relays meet was a tough one,” Altemose said. “The weather was bad and I was dealing with an injury. I was lucky to pull out a win, clearing a whole foot under my personal record. Winning this meet felt like more of a mental victory, overcoming challenges thrown at me from outside the pit.

“Missing my entire junior season left me discouraged and not knowing that to expect for my senior year. So being able to compete at Sectionals and then finding out I would advance to state competition felt so surreal. Even having the chance to go to state was unexpected.”

Contributed Photo • Rachel Altemose won the Times-News Relays and advanced to the state meet, where she secured all-state honors by matching her personal record (9-6) to finish eighth.

Altemose was quick to credit her coach and teammates.

“I had an amazing role model in Halie Hawkins, who also has competed at the state level,” Altemose said. “A lot of people don’t realize that we have to do all of our pit practices using another school’s facilities two times a week. The fact that Unicoi County is producing state level athletes is an amazing testament to our pole vaulting coach, Thad Higgins. We have an amazing upcoming senior, Caitlyn Wilson, who I’m sure will be state-bound next season.

“When I went to state I met girls who have hours of private coaching every week. I even remember one of the girls telling me her coach was going to be in the Olympic trials. … I was proud of myself to make it on the podium with an eighth-place finish, which was higher than I was seeded.”

There wasn’t really a fear factor when Altemose began pole vaulting. Cheerleading produces many injuries, as does soccer.

“To be honest, I’ve always had a bit of a daredevil personality, according to my parents that is,” Altemose said. “Starting vaulting just seemed natural to me, having spent most of my life in gymnastics, cheerleading and soccer. Learning to trust your body and mind were skills I had already acquired, so it seemed like a natural progression when I started to clear higher heights. 

“I don’t even know where to begin about all the stories about bruises, falls, crutches, sprains, scratches, concussions, and even puncture wounds from my spikes. … In my experience, the worst part about the few serious injuries that I’ve had is that they can cause serious mental barriers. Fighting through those has been tougher than physical pain.”

The tireless Altemose’s mental toughness impressed Higgins.

“Rachel had a very busy senior year,” Higgins said. “She was working at a restaurant in town, involved in the drama department, cheerleading, and completing her normal school work, of course. In spite of these commitments, Rachel still managed to not just compete this past season, but to be competitive at the regional and state level. …

“I am so proud of the dedication and leadership that Rachel displayed throughout the past season and throughout her entire high school career. She will begin her collegiate career in the upcoming weeks at ETSU. She will also continue to be involved with UCHS sports as an assistant coach for the cheerleading team.”

Altemose will receive the Honors College Changemakers Scholarship while attending ETSU.

“This scholarship focuses on community involvement and leadership,” she said. “So I will continue to grow those skills while also continuing my educational journey. I plan to study education and return to Unicoi County as a teacher and a coach. 

“I had originally planned to try out for cheer at ETSU, but when I was offered the opportunity to be the assistant varsity and junior varsity cheerleading coach at the high school, I chose that option instead. I have enjoyed working with this amazing group of girls this summer.”

Altemose had some educated cheerleaders at Maple Grove.

Erwin Record Photo by Earl Neikirk/Neikirk Image • Rachel Altemose enjoyed getting her high school career back on track this year after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the 2020 school year.

“They really became like a second family to me and bent over backwards to accommodate my hectic schedule,” she said. “One of my bosses, Aric Long, was an Olympic athlete himself. So they definitely understand how committed I had to be to my sports schedule.”

The community support at UCHS resonated with Altemose, too.

“What a good feeling it was to feel so supported by my school district,” Altemose said. “My principal (Chris Bogart), the Superintendent of Schools (John English) and their families all came down to watch me compete. … When Dr. Bogart was my principal, he used to always say that high school is the last place where everyone is there to help you grow and succeed. Truly, the faculty and staff at UCHS, as well as my family and friends, have supported me in all of my endeavors.”

To hear Bogart tell it, the pleasure was all theirs.

“Rachel is an amazing young lady with tremendous talent,” Bogart said. “She worked so hard in her time at UCHS. She represented our school as well as anyone has not just in athletics but in our community. To see her get to cap her career competing and succeeding at the state level was so exciting. She deserved it. She was always working. It’s a testament to her character and drive.

“Rachel was a great leader in our school. We can’t wait to see her success as she moves forward in her life.”