Maggie Vaults Over the Moon

New Study: Teen Mental Health Improved by Exercise, Sports

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Many grown-ups know firsthand that physical exercise can help overcome the angst of adult life. Now a new study suggest that physical activity, especially competitive sports, can be even more helpful for teens.

You might have heard the segment on today’s Morning Edition entitled, “Why Exercise May Do A  Teenage Mind Good,” touting nprlogo_138x46the value of daily physical activity for adolescents’ mental health.

HighResFrontCoverIn the report, Yale University child psychologist Alan Kazdin, the editor of Clinical Psychological Science, says the findings show just how bountiful the benefits of exercise can be.

“I think it would be too strong to call it an elixir, but it has the broad effects of something like that,” he says.

Maggie Vaults Over the Moon is a new novel that retells the story of Maggie Steele, a farm girl from tiny Grain Valley, Kansas, who suffers a major tragedy in her life. Written by Grant Overstake, the story chronicles Maggie’s difficult rise to a brighter future through pole-vaulting, a very demanding form of exercise.

“At one level, the story is about a girl’s struggle to vault over a rising crossbar,” Overstake says. “But at a deeper level, the bar symbolizes her journey upward from despair. I think Maggie’s story helps to reenforce what the new study says about the importance of teenage exercise as it relates to mental health.”

Maggie’s quest to overcome hardship through physical activity is a theme that U.S. Olympic pole-vaulters Jeremy Scott and Becky Holliday could relate to. Both of them were eager to endorse Maggie Vaults Over the Moon.

“We have all experienced loss, heartache or tragedy, but not all find a way to overcome,” Scott said. “It’s about finding something in which you are passionate and not giving up. Maggie does just that. She finds her passion and it ends up taking her over the moon.”

Holliday, adds, “I myself experienced loss when I was a young girl. Sports were my outlet and helped me through some of the hardest times of my life.”

Healthy teens like Mackenzie Van Pelt of Beloit, Kan., stay active at pole vault clubs such as the Tailwind Pole Vault Club in Jamestown, Kan.

In the survey, researchers found that teenagers who took part in organized sports had a more positive self-image and greater self-esteem than teens who weren’t physically active. They were simply happier, more grounded and less likely to engage in problematic behavior, “like social withdrawal and anxiety, getting into trouble, aggressive behavior with others,” says Kazdin.

All these negative behaviors were lower among the teens who exercised, the report says.

In the story, Maggie, numbed by grief, becomes inactive and uninvolved in outside activities while isolated on the family farm. Even when she goes back to high school, she feels alienated; things she once found interesting aren’t interesting anymore. But when she begins to pole-vault, her life begins to change.

The author hopes Maggie’s story will help teenagers, especially young teenage girls, consider a similar path to a brighter future, through exercise.

“Hopefully they’ll say, ‘If she can do it, why not me? I think I’m going to try.'”

Maggie Vaults Over the Moon is available at

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