PROVO — Running fast and jumping far and high weren’t enough for BYU’s Elise Romney when she was growing up in El Paso, Texas, and playing every sport imaginable. After all, almost everybody in her family was into extreme sports, like heli-skiing.
So when she was in her early teens, Romney (nee: Machen) decided to give pole vaulting a try.
“At first, I was terrible at it,” she said.
Now, she’s quite good. So good that she broke an 8-year-old BYU indoor track and field record in February, soaring over the bar at 14 feet, 1.75 inches (4.31 meters) at the Boise State Indoor Invite.
“It was like a mixture of relief and validation and just the satisfaction of knowing that my hard work had finally paid off,” she said. “It was quite a long time coming, for sure.”
Before her school-record vault — “which kinda came out of the blue,” she said — Elise, 24, was known more for being married to BYU quarterback Baylor Romney, who had a breakout season of his own in 2019 by leading the Cougars to wins over Boise State, Utah State and Liberty.
The couple met at a youth conference in El Paso when Baylor was 14 and Elise was 15 and Baylor, having recently moved to the United States from a colony in Mexico, showed up wearing a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and a big belt buckle.
“Despite that, I thought he was kinda cute,” she said. “And that’s how it started.”
They were married in December 2017, shortly after Baylor returned from his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Carlsbad, California, and Elise got back from her missionary service in Hamilton, New Zealand. They began their missions on the same day.
“Before he played a lot, before he got (playing) time, it wasn’t really a thing,” said Elise, who jokingly takes credit for getting Baylor to BYU. “But yeah, people sometimes call me Baylor Romney’s wife. It’s OK, I guess.”
A year ahead of Baylor at Franklin High, Elise was actually recruited more than her future husband, who originally signed with Nevada. Elise “blew up” her senior year when she vaulted 18 inches higher than in previous years and was recruited by national track powers such as UCLA, Arkansas and Arizona State.
“It was like a mixture of relief and validation and just the satisfaction of knowing that my hard work had finally paid off. It was quite a long time coming, for sure.” — BYU pole vaulter Elise Romney
“BYU was my first choice because all three of my older brothers went to BYU,” she said.
She began her freshman season at BYU in 2015 by winning a couple of indoor and outdoor meets with vaults in the 3.85-meter range, then served her mission where she exercised for 30 minutes a day but didn’t even lift weights, let alone take a stick and try to clear a bar more than 14 feet above the ground.
She gradually improved her sophomore and junior seasons at BYU, and as a junior in 2019 she posted a 4.17-meter mark at the NCAA West Preliminaries, the fourth-best outdoor mark in school history.
Before breaking the school indoor record — about a half-inch higher than her personal best — in Boise, Elise switched back to a shorter pole she was more comfortable with, and that helped a lot.
“It was my third (and final) attempt, which usually makes me more tense,” she said. “I just had to relax and tell myself to let eight years of doing this pay off.”
It did. And it felt “awesome,” she said, noting that she knew she had it once her chest cleared the bar and she was already smiling and celebrating before she hit the mat.
What’s the secret?
“There is quite a bit that goes into it,” she said. “It is pretty technical. I think the most important thing is speed and fearlessness. … I have a little bit of crazy in me.”
Elise said Baylor gave it a try once and, well, it wasn’t pretty.
“Actually, it was pretty funny,” she said. “Let’s just say he’s not great at it.”
Elise was looking to improve her mark and perhaps win a national championship in March when BYU arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the national indoor finals. But the day before the meet was to begin, everything was canceled, including basketball’s Big Dance.
“My initial feeling was one of frustration and anger that they had canceled everything even though we were already there, and we had already worked out in the facility, and we had already been exposed to people that were there,” she said. “But as time went on and we began to realize the severity of everything, I came to understand the situation. But yeah, initially, there was a lot of frustration. I felt like I was being cheated out of the opportunity.”
A month later, the NCAA announced that spring sports seniors will be allowed to get their seasons back, so Elise will return next spring to compete in the outdoor season with an eye toward breaking Anginae Monteverde’s outdoor school record of 4.30 meters set in Eugene, Oregon, in 2015.
“It was a hard decision, but based on the indoor season I had this year, I just feel like I want more and don’t want my career to end like that,” she said.
She pulled her graduation in exercise and science at the last minute last month and will add a minor. She will take classes for that this fall and next winter, while applying to physician assistant school.
Besides, Baylor Romney has three more seasons of eligibility left, if he wants them.
“We could be in Provo for awhile,” she said.
Elise recently had minor surgery on her foot, she said, and the couple has been working out and training in Chandler, Arizona, because Baylor’s parents have weights in their garage and that’s easier than trying to find facilities in Provo.
“My goal is to get that (outdoor) record and compete for an NCAA championship next year,” Elise said. “That’s definitely within reach. … And the trend is usually that you jump higher outdoors than you do indoors, just because of tail winds and that kind of thing. I am definitely hoping for more.”