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How One Photo Changed Gifted Athlete Allison Stokke’s Life

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People always tell us to be careful of what we share online, but sometimes we’re not the ones sharing our pictures or comments with the world. Allison Stokke didn’t think anything could happen from a photo taken by a journalist at her track meet that was posted online. After it got in the hands of website, With Leather, however, her life was changed forever.

A Rising Athlete

Stokke comes from an athletic family, and many believed that she was going to become a competitive gymnast like her brother. However, Stokke decided to pursue pole vaulting, and by the time she was 15, she was breaking records. In 2004, she set the national record with a vault height of 12 feet, 6 inches. Although she broke her leg in high school, Stokke continued setting records, even setting a new freshman record.

Her sophomore record vault was 13 feet 5 ¾ inches. In her senior year, Stokke became the second-ranked vaulter in the nation at 13 feet 6 ¾ inches, which was her new personal best. With her accolades and accomplishments, Stokke seemed like she was going to become one of the country’s greatest athletes.

A Life-Changing Photo

In 2007, a journalist snapped a picture of a 17-year-old Stokke at a track meet and posted it online. This photo found its way onto a website called With Leather, which is a male-oriented site known for objectifying female athletes. The website flipped the narrative about Stokke’s incredible athletic performance to her attractiveness.

With Leather posted her picture with the headline “Pole Vaulting Is Sexy, Barely Legal,” and unfortunately for Stokke, her photo gained attention from the website’s readers. The original photographer was displeased with the post and threatened to sue Matt Ufford, the founder of With Leather, unless he removed it. However, it was too late because the image had gone viral.

A Chaotic Life

Due to her instant infamy, fan groups dedicated to Stokke began popping up on the internet, attracting thousands of followers. The Stokke family hoped that the internet’s obsession with the young athlete would fade away so that Allison could return to her normal life. However, she only became more famous with her name creating over a million Google results. Publications such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Germany’s Der Spiegel wrote pieces on Stokke’s unwanted fame.

When the media attention became too much, she hired a consultant. The two created a plan to shift the focus from her appearance and back to her incredible talent. Stokke shared a YouTube video giving an interview on pole vaulting techniques, and within days, it was viewed over 100,000 times. Sadly, this video did little the stifle people’s obsession, and most comments were about Stokke’s appearance. She told The Washington Post, “Even if none of it is illegal, it just all feels really demeaning.”

An Athlete Taking Control

The recruiters at the University of California, Berkley did see Stokke’s talent and offered her an athletic scholarship. Although she didn’t qualify for the NCAA Championships, she still trained for the 2012 Summer Olympics at the age of 23 and set a new personal best at 14 feet 3 ½ inches. However, she failed to clear the opening height, so she didn’t qualify for the Olympics.

Stokke still competed regularly in national-level meetings, and she has come to embrace the attention that bothered her while she was a teenager. In 2018, she announced her engagement to pro golfer Rickie Fowler. And, as of 2015, Stokke has been a fitness model for Nike, Athleta, and Uniqlo. This time, she’s not objectified by men hiding on the Internet and she’s calling the shots and taking control.

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