Men's Track & Field
How Daniel, Grimes Bonded Way to Championship

How Daniel, Grimes Bonded Way to Championship

by Drew Johnson

When watching Keaton Daniel, one word seems to describe him perfectly: Confident. The senior pole vaulter from Henderson, Nevada, has never been short of confidence, even dating back to his time at DII Fresno Pacific University.

“The only thing I knew was that I wanted to win a DI National Championship,” Daniel said on his time at Fresno Pacific. It was that goal that led him to Kentucky, where he would work with Coach Kris Grimes on that goal.

Once in Lexington, Daniel would earn that confidence over thousands upon thousands of jumps and countless hours studying film. Daniel is an obsessive in every sense of the word, with a mind that jumps between intensely competitive and relentlessly obsessed.

“It didn’t matter what we were doing, he had to win,” Grimes said. “Even if he was running against a sprinter, he would feel like he had to beat him.”

That intense level of obsession created a unique challenge to Grimes: How do you coach an athlete with relentless obsession, motivation, and drive? Funny enough, you calm him down.

“We don’t have to win the championship every day in practice,” Grimes would say to Daniel in his early years at Kentucky. “This is a process. We need to continue to work and it’s okay to make mistakes.”

But how do you calm down a relentlessly intense athlete like Daniel? For Grimes, the answer didn’t involve a grip, a bar, or even a pole. The answer to that question laid outside of practice altogether, in forming a bond outside of training unlike any other.

“I think our relationship is probably the closest relationship I’ve had with someone that’s competed at this level,” Grimes said. “We can joke around about stuff, and I’m generally interested in stuff that he’s interested in.”

That bond involved working together on home improvement projects, talking about their views on the world, and even joking about personal experiences.

“I lent him my shovel two years ago; he still hasn’t returned it,” Grimes said holding back laughter as Daniel couldn’t help but smile.

“It’s still sitting in my apartment,” Daniel said. “You’ll get that back one day.”

That level of bonding was important to Daniel, helping him understand the bigger picture of Grimes’ coaching methods.

“Sometimes that tough love is needed,” Daniel said. “I know it’s not that deep and he has my best interest [at heart].”

That trust and bond built over the course of three years at Kentucky, ultimately lead to a senior year in which Daniel was more ready for a title push than ever. The Southeastern Conference powerhouse pole vaulter dove in headfirst, with a meticulous dedication to his sleep, diet and recovery.

“You can’t expect to perform at that level if you’re not doing the things behind it,” Daniel said. “So, having progress goals was big rather than having this grand goal of winning a national title.”

Daniel was certainly on par with his progress goals, winning an SEC title and breaking the school record heading into Indoor NCAA Championships with one last box to check.

Daniel didn’t let the pressure of the biggest stage in collegiate track get to him however, mixing his trust in his coach with his relentless belief in himself.

“It’s a huge task, but I was really confident in my abilities,” Daniel said. “I’ve worked my butt off, I’ve done everything I need to do.”

It was finally time for that trust between Grimes and Daniel to be on full display, and Grimes didn’t let the moment slip.

“Right before the [competition] started, Grimes came up to me and was like ‘I trust you’,” Daniel said. “It was nice having that confidence going into the competition.”

Daniel put up a vault of 18’8.25″, breaking the facility record and winning the NCAA title, a goal he had set out on since 2019 when he arrived at Fresno Pacific. The crowd broke out into cheers and excitement having just witnessed history. Coach Grimes though? Not surprised in the slightest.

“I just felt like ‘oh he’s got this’,” Grimes said. “There was never a point where I felt like he didn’t have it.”

No matter what happens in Daniel’s though, one thing is for sure: Grimes has Daniel’s back, and Daniel has Grimes’.

Even if he won’t return that shovel.

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