Local native has Olympic dream
Fairmont grad would compete for Philippines.
Following her gold medal pole-vaulting performance, Kettering native Natalie Uy shows off the Philippine flag at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, December 2019, in Capas, Philippines.
By Kari Carter
Contributing Writer

At least 14 Olympic athletes have resided in the Dayton area, and Kettering native Natalie Uy is hoping she’ll be next.

A 2013 graduate of Fairmont High School, the 26-year-old pole-vaulter and 2019 gold medal winner of the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games has faced her fair share of difficulties over the past 12 months. In late summer 2020, Uy was forced to cut back on her training after she broke a pole, slicing her hand and fracturing her wrist. The pandemic, meanwhile, has led to postponed competitions (including the 2020 World Indoor Championships), canceled travel, the inability to work with a coach at times, and a postponed summer Olympics.

Speaking from Atlanta, where she currently lives and trains under two-time world champion polevaulter Brad Walker, Uy nevertheless sounded energetic and upbeat.

“I feel a mix of emotions every day following this dream,” she said.

“I feel so lucky and excited to go after the Olympics, but there definitely have been many obstacles.

The biggest obstacle right now is my wrist injury, which is making me anxious about my timeline.

But in my head I only give myself one option: choose to believe that hard work and perseverance will pay off.”

Uy grew up in Kettering. Her father, the Rev. Henry Uy, is a retired Kettering Medical Center Clinical pastoral education supervisor who was born in the Philippines and moved to the U.S. in the 1970s to further his education. Her mother, Patricia Uy, is an Ohio native and retired social worker.

Uy credits her parents’ support and a number of Dayton-area sports programs and coaches for helping propel her to excellence. A program at Carroll High School allowed her to begin track and field while in grade school. When Uy was at Fairmont, coaches Patrick Miller and Pat McDermott recommended her to Wayne High School coach Terry Wasson, who had more expertise in pole vault and helped her add almost 1.2 meters (4 feet) to her jumps.

After graduating from Eastern Michigan University (EMU) in 2017, where she competed in pole vault and heptathlon on a full ride scholarship, Uy taught English in Madrid for a year, continuing to train and compete. There she pushed her personal best to 4.3 meters (14 feet, 1 inch), gaining pro status. From August 2019-July 2020, she was coached by former U.S. Olympian pole-vaulter Becky Holliday in Kentucky, when Uy won her SEA Games gold medal.

Despite limitations posed by the pandemic, Uy has been living the athlete’s dream: training with top coaches and world-ranking athletes and traveling to exotic locations.

Today, the talented pole-vaulter — who also boasts a bronze medal from the 2019 Asian Championships — has discovered her best chance for an Olympic spot not on the U.S. team, but through her father’s native country.

Uy was first contacted by the president of the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATFA) while a junior at EMU. Joining the Philippine national athletics team meant Uy would have to seek a derivative dual Philippine citizenship, and her father would have to regain his citizenship, which posed some hurdles for the young athlete.

Uy eventually found herself on the Philippine team.

Uy says that choosing to represent the Philippines offers her a unique chance to connect more fully with a part of her heritage.

Before joining the team, she had visited the Philippines only twice.

Now, she will have many opportunities to travel there — once pandemic restrictions are lifted. Uy currently ranks first in her sport in the Philippines.

While choosing a team based on heritage rather than birthplace is not a widely known practice, other Olympians and Olympic hopefuls have gone that route. Athletes around the world have switched citizenship to compete for the U.S. team, as well. Uy describes her current situation as ideal, given current circumstances. She trains for several hours a day with a small cohort of elite athletes, including roommate Katie Nageotte, who represented the University of Dayton Flyers in 2010-11 and currently ranks in the top five in women’s pole vault internationally.

To qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, slated to run July 21-Aug. 8, 2021, Uy must clear 4.7 meters (15 feet 5 inches) or rank among the top 32 female pole-vaulters in the world by June 29. But even if she does not qualify this time, she can set her sights on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympic Games.

As an upside to the pandemic, Uy has a bit more free time. She enjoys reading, watching TV shows in Spanish, hiking, trying new restaurants and taking part in Bible study. She added, with a laugh, “I’ve been attempting to improve my cooking skills.”

Uy’s parents say they are excited for her, but they have watched every step of her journey and also have reservations. “It takes so much sacrifice,”

Patricia Uy said. “The discipline is overwhelming.”

Uy, however, seems to have no regrets about pursuing her Olympic dream. She reflected that competing for her father’s homeland offers a number of intangible benefits: getting to know Filipino relatives, connecting with people around the world, and discovering what it means to be a global citizen.

“Learning about my father and his country — it’s been almost healing,”  Uy said. “It’s been incredible to learn about my culture.”

Kari Carter is a member of the Dayton-based The Journalism Lab and instructor at Sinclair Community College.