NEW IBERIA – Morgann Leleux has never soared higher than she did last weekend.
And she never feels more grounded than when she returns home to New Iberia.
There, she's known by many as a gymnastics instructor at her father Shane's New Heights Gym, where she first flashed athletic talent before discovering the pole vault.
It is the pole vault that has lifted Leleux to Olympian status after she finished second at the U.S. Track and Field Trials with a career-best 15-feet-5-inch effort in the finals.
But the gym is where it all began.
Morgann Leleux, the Ragin’ Cajuns and Sun Belt Conference record-holder in pole vault, finish second at the U.S. Track and Field Trials on Sa…
“Dads dream of their kid competing in the Olympics,” Shane Leleux said. “To be honest, I thought Morgann was going to be a gymnast. She was a Level 10 gymnast by age 12 or 13. My wife (mechanical engineer Bridget) and I took a leap of faith and bought the gym.
“Her passion was always there in gymnastics. But she really took to the pole vault. When she cleared 10-6, I said 'We've got something here.' ”
The fearlessness of gymnastics routines translated well to pole vaulting — racing down a runway, getting lifted into an upside down position 15 feet in the air and plunging back to earth — with speed, power and balance.
“I stayed in gymnastics until my senior year of high school.” Leleux said. “But by my junior year I knew pole vault was going to be my ticket to college. I had 27 full-ride offers, then broke the high school record my senior year (raising the bar to 14-2).
“I still tried to compete in both. I tried to do it all, and it was way too much. I'm still a gymnast at heart.”
The Catholic High product was spotlighted Saturday in an exhibition pole vault competition at New Heights, joined by some 30 other vaulters and including high school clubs from Texas to Alabama.
While there were numerous participants, the focus naturally fell on Morgann after her Trials performance. She served as a U.S. Team alternate on the 2016 squad, then took the next step to punch her ticket to Tokyo.
“I was definitely more confident this time,” she said. “It's amazing how much pressure there is in the preliminary rounds. Once I got through that, I felt good about it.
Sometimes, dreams do come true.
“I could visualize the plant, my pole carry. All the signs were there. At the same time, I'm still way off to the right when I'm competing. We're working on that. We filmed some of my (Saturday) attempts from behind to see what I'm doing.
“It's a very detailed sport, a lot you have to know.”
Morgann learned rapidly, and soon she was winning meets, lots of them.
She won five LHSAA State Indoor titles, with one runner-up spot, from 2006 to 2011. She owns five crowns in LHSAA State Indoor competition and one second place, jumping for Catholic High.
She set the state class record of 13-9 as a senior, signed with the Georgia Bulldogs and earned multiple Southeastern Conference titles and All-American status..
“I loved Athens (Georgia),” Leleux said. “(Coach) Petros Kyprianou (of Cyprus) has such love and passion for the sport. My freshman year was one of the best years if my life. It was amazing.
“My sophomore year, I had a detached retina, Tried to come back. Tried to keep up, That started a downhill spiral. I started rushing. It hurt my level of confidence.. But I still managed to win the SEC and make All-American.
“I was thankful to have the opportunity.”
As a Georgia senior Leleux took 20 hours of classes to finish her degree, then transferred to the University of Louisiana and competed for the Ragin' Cajuns while in graduate school.
Naturally, she starred there, too, setting a UL record of 15-1, winning the Sun Belt Conference and earning ,All-American notice under coach Lon Badeaux, a former New Iberia Senior High and UL standout.
“I'm thankful to coach Badeaux,” she said. “It all worked out.”
Morgann and husband Jacob Romero are content to call Acadiana home, with one asterisk.
She will be halfway around the world in August, competing for Olympic glory for the USA, but she's still the small town girl who's comfortable in the family gym where it all began.