The Colleen Gruendel story (subtitle: when smart people win dumb contests)


Colleen Gruendel

The idea was to add a new Overtime contest for the spring, one that didn’t look to award the “best” anything.

Lacking any real inspiration, I came up with a really dumb idea. Boy, did I get lucky that a smart person — a really interesting person who also happens to be a good athlete — won.

The Overtime Spring Fling was nothing more than a race to see who could accumulate the most votes in a short period of time. There was no intention of writing a blog post on the winner.

Until Ridgefield’s Colleen Gruendel won.

Ridgefield High School's Colleen Gruendel with a successful vault.

Ridgefield High School’s Colleen Gruendel with a successful vault.

Gruendel is one of the FCIAC’s top pole vaulters; she finished in fourth place at Tuesday’s FCIAC championships despite spending most of the spring recovering from an elbow injury. She started as a gymnast, switched to competitive dancing, then used that as a springboard — no pun intended — to become a diver for Ridgefield’s swim team.

Gruendel’s Spring Fling prize was dinner with 10 of her friends — a very cool group — at Bobby V’s. One of my first questions: how does one become a pole vaulter?

“I was on the team at my swim club, it was just a summer thing, and I started diving my freshman year,” Gruendel said. “One of the reasons I stopped dancing was I wanted to do a sport and be more involved with my high school. When I was a freshman there was a senior diver who was the captain of the track team. She convinced me to try track. I started fiddling with the pole vault.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable doing it. It is something you are always working at. Once you get it, you get it. You have to work a lot.”

Pole-vaulting, diving….there seemed to be connective tissue. No fear of heights for one.

“I’m definitely not a dare-devil person,” Gruendel said. “I don’t ride roller-coasters. Certain sports you use the same muscles. Most kids I meet don’t do both. Most divers do it year-round.”

Gruendel is not only a talented athlete — she will be captain of the Tigers’ diving team next year and is not ruling out continuing her track career in college — but someone who truly embodies the often misused label of student-athlete.

Gruendel has a 3.9 grade point average. Her course-load is almost exclusively AP and high-honors classes.

Gruendel also takes giving back to a new level. She is on the board of the National Charity League, a mother-daughter organization, and the vice president of the Philanthropic Youth Council of Ridgefield, which is made up of 23 high school students who operate under the Ridgefield Community Foundation’s umbrella as a not-for-profit advisory board. It has granted over $130,000 to local charities.

“I’m involved in a lot of philanthropy,” Gruendel said. “Academics are important to me. Don’t get me wrong, athletics are important to me. I try to keep it balanced.”


Colleen Gruendel, to the left of Bobby Valentine, and her friends on Saturday night.

Given her ability to squeeze 36 hours’ of activity into a 24-hour day, it should come as no surprise that Gruendel left Tuesday’s league championships without knowing how she finished. She had a philanthropic grant ceremony she had to attend.

Gruendel’s future is boundless. Like at Ridgefield High School, she will enjoy the full college experience. She has mulled a number of possible careers, but right now there are too many that interest her, and too many options to chart a path so early.

If she opts not to continue pole vaulting in college, she will still be involved in athletics in some manner.

“I don’t think there is club pole vaulting, but maybe I will try playing indoor soccer or something else. I just enjoy staying active.”

I was strongly considering a new contest for next spring, but getting the chance to meet Colleen Gruendel and her friends has given me pause. Instead, I’m doing something much smarter.

Gruendel is my new official Overtime contest consultant.

(I invite you to follow me on Twitter: @DaveRuden and like the Overtime Facebook fan page.)