KING WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, Cassidy Kite, 14, transforms herself when she performs her pole sport routine.
Cassidy, from King William County, is a world champion pole sport competitor, aside from being a straight-A student. She’s won two world gold medals since she began training in the sport at 9 years old.
"You have to learn how to hold yourself up with different parts of your body,” said Cassidy at her gym in Hanover. “You learn how to grip with your feet, your thighs, your armpit, your elbow, and even with your stomach.”
But Cassidy aims not just to perform incredible aerial routines with stunning artistry. She's hoping to change the country's perception of her sport.
Talk of “pole” routines in the United States often carries another type of stigma. In America, there are less than five girls around Cassidy's age who compete in pole sport. The stereotypes often associated with a "pole” likely impact the sport's popularity in the states.
“I got called ‘stripper’ a lot last year,” said Cassidy. “It got to the point where I did a class presentation on pole sport."
Cassidy is committed to making sure others understand that pole sport, or pole art, is one of the most dynamic challenges an athlete can scale.
"I want the sport to be accepted for what it is," she said.
Pole sport is on track to being added to the Olympics. The Global Association of International Sports Federation gave pole sport "observer status" in 2017. It’s a first step on the road to possibly being added to the summer Olympics, as early as 2024.
"I skip school sometimes to go to practice,” said Cassidy of the weeks leading up to a competition. “Just so I can have a solid routine that's ready."
Kristen Kite, Cassidy’s mother, said she is well aware that her daughter’s sport can be misinterpreted by those who aren’t familiar with it as an amateur sport.
"I wasn’t naive to the fact that a lot of people associate pole dance with adult entertainment and that was something I was a little wary of,” said Kristen, of when her daughter’s coach first approached her about training Cassidy. “But my husband and I did a lot of research. We learned about the U.S. Pole Sports Federation.”
The U.S. Pole Sports Federation was founded in 2014 and aims to help pole sports be recognized globally and ultimately included in mainstream sports.
Cassidy’s pole sport career began when she was taking gymnastic lessons at her gym, as a 9-year-old. Her coach, Melvin Sanchez, a pole sport world champion himself, brought in a stage pole to use for his own practice. Cassidy began experimenting with some moves, and her talent was immediately evident.
“As soon as we saw what she was able to do... It was so amazing, we just couldn't say no," said Kristen.
Melvin Sanchez is also a former member of the national Honduran men’s gymnastics team. Together, he and Cassidy create routines, often using Instagram videos from other competitors as inspiration, since the sport is still relatively rare in the United States.
However, that’s not the case in Europe, where pole sport has a much larger- and accepting- following.
"Particularly in countries like Italy, France and Russia,” said Cassidy. “I've seen hundreds of girls show up to their competitions."
Cassidy said that although many are supportive in the U.S., there are still hurdles.
"We've had issues before with Instagram,” said Cassidy. “They would take down posts or say they're inappropriate."
Cassidy has used some of her routines to counter a stereotype while training up to seven days a week and persisting through multiple different broken bones over the last five years.
"She stayed up working on the new choreography, working in her cast, to get that routine done," said Melvin of when Cassidy had broken her leg weeks before a national competition.
She worked for days to re-choreograph her entire routine. Cassidy ultimately nailed her routine, winning silver and qualifying for the world championships, where she’d then capture the gold.
"She has stuck with this sport through thick and thin,” said Melvin. “She’s always been positive about it and never shy to be proud and represent the sport.”
“Whenever she’s on stage the tears just start flowing,” said Kristen.
“It’s so worth it in the end, because once you get on stage and perform for all of these people... it’s the best feeling,” added Cassidy.
Photography: Dan Heffner
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