At its most stripped-down level, college recruiting is a sales job. Coaches are the salespeople, the athletes the customers, and it’s the coach’s job to convince the customer, aka the recruit, why their product is the best one.
Sometimes, though, the coach needs to forget about the sale and just focus on the person.
When Tuesdi Tidwell was going through the recruiting process, she unexpectedly found herself in a place where that sales decision suddenly didn’t seem that important. Tidwell was a four-time state-qualifying pole vaulter at Early, Texas, who was considering joining Baylor as an invited walk-on. But on a recruiting visit to Waco, she received word of a family emergency that forced her to cut the trip short.
“I never got to finish,” Tidwell said. “But they prayed over me, and they were very sweet. And both Coach (Brandon) Richards and Coach (Todd) Harbour, they were very supportive of me, and just getting better and getting past it, instead of saying, ‘Oh, you have to go to Baylor.’ They told me, ‘Don’t worry about picking schools, just worry about yourself. And then we’ll figure out where you’re going to go after.’”
It wasn’t the Baylor coaches’ intention, but by showing Tidwell they cared they actually made her decision to come to Waco all the easier.
“That really solidified it. It was a very tragic thing that happened, but it definitely helped me make my decision,” Tidwell said.
Pole vault has always been viewed as the one event that’s a little out there. And in some ways, that fits Tidwell to a tee. She admits to being a little different, starting with her unusual first name, an homage to classic Hollywood actress Tuesday Weld and Princess Diana. Tues-di, get it? Tuesdi’s Instagram handle is @PerksOfBeingAWeekday, so she owns the moniker.
“I got started pole vaulting by my mom,” Tidwell said. “She’s not a vaulter, she just likes random things. She’s the one who named me Tuesdi. So she was like, ‘Let’s go try this thing.’”
The running part of the vault came relatively easily to Tidwell. But even with a gymnastics background, she said she struggled with the upside-down twist over the bar after takeoff.
Even today, after years of vaulting, Tidwell said she never stops learning. She never has felt like she has completely mastered the event.
“Every day I’m like, ‘Wow, I’ve got a lot more to learn,’” she said.
Tidwell is climbing at a much more rapid rate than she lets on. When Baylor pole vault coach Brandon Richards, himself a former national high school record holder, first started recruiting Tidwell, her personal-best was 12-3. She managed to set a Class 3A state record at 12-9 her senior year at Early, but she has progressively elevated ever since arriving at Baylor.
Tidwell cleared 14-2 1/2 during the indoor season, and owns an outdoor season best of 13-11 3/4, which ranks 16th nationally.
“She’s come a long way fast. That’s not a typical progression,” Baylor head coach Todd Harbour said. “That’s really not. And for her to do that in her first year (in 2018) forced me to put on her almost a full scholarship, and this year she’s gone up even higher, made All-American. Just had an incredible Big 12 meet (during the indoor season). She knows how to compete. She’s just a super, super young lady. Coach Richards has done a great job with her.”
The scholarship meant the world to Tidwell. During her freshman year last year, she found herself fretting about her tuition bills and about trying to perform well enough to get some scholarship money. Financial aid only goes so far.
“Last year I was very stressed, because money is hard,” she said. “It’s hard, and I knew I needed money to stay at Baylor. And (Harbour) knew that. I was always stressing about, ‘Oh, how am I going to get the heights?’ and he was like, ‘Don’t even worry. You will get it. I promise you. Don’t even worry, just trust me.’ And he was always confident.”
Tidwell feasts on her coaches’ confidence like it’s an energy bar. She gives credit to her coaches and family for being the wind beneath her wings, for helping her to soar to heights she never thought possible.
“I’ve always had great support from my family,” Tidwell said. “They’ve always told me that I can do it, and they’ve always believed in me. It’s honestly been everybody else believing in me that pushed me, and Coach Richards has never had a doubt in me. He’s the one who, if I’m being negative at practice or being upset, or I’m worried I’m not going to do well, he’s the one who always says, ‘I have all the faith in the world in you.’ That keeps my confidence up.”
Tidwell said she even took a measure of inspiration from one of Baylor’s athletic trainers at the Big 12 Indoor Championships. Down to her last jump, the trainer approached Tidwell and said, simply, “You got this.” She managed to explode with the best vault of her life, surpassing 14-2 1/2, a personal best by a full nine inches at the time. The performance gave Tidwell a silver medal and qualified her for the NCAA Championships.
“I definitely couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support,” said Tidwell, who ended up finishing 14th in her first NCAA meet experience, clearing 13-7 3/4.
Tidwell hopes to transition to bigger poles next year. She’s currently using 14-1 poles, and she thinks the next size up may give her the bounce she needs to attack the Baylor school record of 15-1 1/2 held by former All-American Annie Rhodes.
She is studying to become a speech pathologist after Baylor, and when she’s not studying or practicing the vault you can often find her relishing her role as “Aunt Tu-Tu” to her niece and nephew. “They’re my biggest fans, and I’m their biggest fan,” she said.
As for the rest of this season, Tidwell is hesitant to voice a number. Once you clear one bar, you’re always gazing upward at the next. But outdoor nationals is a viable goal for sure.
“It’s almost like every time you get better, you realize that you’re not as good as you think,” she said. “So the better you get, the more you want to get.”