GRAIN VALLEY, Kan. — A lot has happened in the world of pole-vaulting in the past seven years, and storybook heroine Maggie Steele has been there.
Published October 12, 2012, the young adult novel, Maggie Vaults Over the Moon celebrates it’s 7th year today. The saga has become the gold-medal story of the sport, earning praise for it’s positive message for young teens, especially girls.
“It’s amazing to think that youngsters who were 13 when the book came out are 20 today!” said author Grant Overstake.
“Maggie Vaults Over the Moon has stood the test of time as a story that defines grit and perseverance, which is what this great sport is all about.”
Maggie Vaults Over the Moon is the magical story of Maggie Steele, a gritty Kansas farm girl who rebounds after tragedy and reaches new heights as a pole-vaulter. Kirkus Reviews calls it, “A fine young adult novel about perseverance in sports and in life.” The story also was voted the No. 1 Athlete Girl Book on Goodreads, and named national Book of the Week by Bookworks Publishers Weekly.
Maggie’s epic quest unfolds on a traditional family farm in Grain Valley, Kansas, where she experiences heartache and grief but finds support from a loving community not unlike the folks who occupy the real pole-vaulting world. The depiction of life in a Kansas farm town is so vivid that many readers, especially grown-ups, claim to have visited Grain Valley in real life, even though the place doesn’t exist beyond the imagination.
One nationally syndicated sports television show contacted the author to have Maggie Steel appear on their broadcast, not knowing that she was in fact, a fictional character. Beyond being realistic with its characters and country charm; experts in the sport say the story is also spot-on in describing the event and teaching the basics to young vaulters.
As a young teen, Taylor Graves-Millsap was featured on Maggie’s blog for reading the story more than 20 times on ebook. Taylor went on to medal at the Illinois state meet and now, at 20, is vaulting for Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois.
The sports elements ring true because the “coaching voice” comes from the legendary Earl Bell, one of the great coaches in the world. Earl is a former world record–holding pole-vaulter, who won the bronze medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics. He has coached a number of the nation’s top men and women vaulters as the US Olympic Team vault coach.
The idea for the story came while the author was watching Bell working with youngsters at a pole-vault clinic at the Tailwind Pole Vault Club in Jamestown, Kansas. Decades earlier, Overstake had shared a moment in sports history with Bell when he caught the pole for Bell’s world-record vault at the USATF National Championships back in 1976. But they had never met until that magical day at Tailwind.
“The young vaulters took their turns and went listen to Earl for advice on how to improve,” the author said. “In a moment of inspiration, I thought, ‘What if we could create a character who responded perfectly to his voice? Why, the right fictional athlete in the right conditions could vault over the moon! So I approached Earl afterwards and introduced myself, and told him about catching his pole, and it was amazing. Earl said he would be happy to be the coaching voice. When Earl said yes, I knew something special was about to happen, and it did!”
A podium full of pole-vault champions and coaches endorsed the book prior to the novel’s release, setting the stage for a successful launch at the 2012 Doctoberfest Street Vault at Tailwind. The facility is owned and operated by Mark (Doc) Breault, who backed the book financially.
“It was Mark and Earl who made Maggie Vaults Over the Moon happen,” Overstake said. “They believed in the story from Day 1 and their support made all the difference.”
From her farmstead in fictional Grain Valley, Kan. Maggie has traveled all over the pole-vaulting world. Highlights of her golden journey include:
- Endorsements from Olympic greats Jeremy Scott, Becky Holliday, and Erica Bartolina Fraley.
- Praise from the top female sportswriter in the nation, Christine Brennan of USA Today.
- Endorsement from the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) which honored the storybook heroine on the cover of the Kansas High School Activities Association Journal.
The book also was featured in a new publication in the pole-vaulting world, Vaulter Magazine, which under the direction of Doug Bouma, has become the go-to source for news and features about the sport.
The next big leap for Maggie came when Gill Athletics and vault clubs around the nation rallied to get the made into an audiobook by voice actress, Tavia Gilbert. Thanks to these sponsors, the Indigogo fundraiser exceeded it’s goal in less than a month and the audiobook was released on March 31st, 2015, earning excellent reviews from AudioFile magazine.
“It was a dream come true to hear my story brought to life by a superstar talent like Tavia Gilbert,” Overtake said. “Her performance as Maggie is so spot-on perfect, I just can’t wait for you to hear it.”
The creation of “Maggie Awards” as special event giveaways put the book into the hands of young people at pole-vault camps, street vaults and other events, all over the world.
Another highlight came when two masters British pole-vaulters — Allan Williams and Sue Yeomans of Great Britain — paid a special tribute to Maggie on the podium of the World Athletics Championship in Brazil.
As the years went by, young people outside of the sport were introduced to the story of Maggie Steele, whose grit and resiliency became the foundation for the author’s motivational program, “Don’t Quit! Use Grit!” presented through Arts Partners to hundreds of students in the Wichita area.
Blockbuster reviews have been written about Maggie through the years, including from those touting the book’s appeal beyond the pole-vault world. The harvest dinner described in the book was featured in the blog, “What are they eating?” And Chicken Soup for the Soul writer Nancy Julien Kopp featured the story in her blog, “Writer Granny’s World.”
A recent highlight for the novel was a sensational review by Team Hoot’s Shawn Francis, who called Maggie, “Maybe the best book ever written about the sport.”
Most recently, the author presented Maggie Awards to masters pole-vaulters at the Snake Pit Pole Vault facility in Granite Bay, California, where the author took to the runway with his fellow masters pole vaulters.
What’s next for Maggie Steele? Will there be a Maggie movie or maybe a sequel book? Could Maggie Steele return to a coach to a new generation of vaulters back home in Grain Valley, Kansas? The author says, stay tuned!
“We’ve been keeping our fingers crossed that someone would create a screenplay based on the book, and we’ve also been thinking a lot about writing a sequel to the story that would keep the magic alive for a new generation of pole-vaulters,” Overstake said.
“Based on the great response to the story seven years on, Maggie Steele will always be a hero in the pole-vault world. Her story will never grow too old.”
Highlights of Maggie Vaults Over the Moon: