Kentucky track and field’s Keaton Daniel soars to new heights


Kentucky Wildcats senior Keaton Daniel sets a school record in the mens pole vault during the Razorback Invitational track and field meet on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Photo by Maigan Williams | UK Athletics.

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Keaton Daniel made his way into the headlines this past season of track and field when he managed to break a school record, that he himself had set, on the pole vault during the the McCravy Memorial meet in January 2023.

Then, just within that same month, Daniel did it again, re-breaking the record in the Razorback Invitational in Arkansas.

While the accomplishments placed him in the spotlight, Daniel emphasized that breaking records is not what motivates him to continue to improve, rather, he just wants to improve himself every day.

“I try not to think about the records,” Daniel said. “I’ve been trying to shift my mindset and improve myself. Whenever you get caught up in the competition or what they’re jumping, that’s something you can’t control. Something I can control is aspiring to be the best athlete I can be. If you’re constantly doing it for the gratification of wins, you’re going to (burn) out because during off-season training (the wins) aren’t there. I think rather than loving winning, learning to love what you’re doing is key.”

That mentality plays into Daniel’s motto that he takes with him into competitions: “control the controllables.”

“You wake up and it’s, ‘What can I control today? What can I not?’” he said. “Those things that you can control, do to your 100%. Knowing that you’re putting your full effort and not half-assing things. If I’m going to do something I’m going to do it to my full extent, and I think that’s a big part of pushing myself to be the best. It’s not about getting first or second or nationals, it’s ultimately about where I am trying to go with this and what type of person I’m trying to be.”

Daniel expressed an appreciation for the culture surrounding track and field, saying that the athletes he encounters at meets aren’t necessarily trying to defeat their opponents, they’re just trying to be the best versions of themselves.

“It’s probably one of the best things about track,” he said. “(I was talking to) one of my friends — he’s from Arkansas — and I’m actually coaching him because his coach is busy. He went and jumped a PR (personal record) which is cool, I’m not going to take credit for it, but it’s cool seeing your friends succeed. It’s not like, ‘Ah, I knocked you down so you didn’t jump well and I beat you,’ no, we both jumped well and whoever came out on top, you went to the top.”

Originally hailing from Henderson, Nevada, Daniel came to get his start pole vaulting at the age of eight in Texas, though he wasn’t able to compete until he was 12.

He stated that the first four years of just trying to master a craft, rather than compete for wins, really helped him to fall in love with vaulting.

Daniel had known Kentucky Assistant Coach Kyle Grimes from the latter’s time at Texas A&M and, thanks in big part to the niche community created around track and field, was recruited to come to Lexington to continue his athletic career.

“I think (we have) a good friendship,” Daniel said. “It’s more level now, we’re a team. It wasn’t him telling me what to do and me doing it, it’s our accomplishment, like together we’re conquering these records. He definitely taught me a lot, not even just track but philosophy and all these things. We were traveling and it’s like 5 a.m., and we’re sitting on the bus talking philosophy. It’s funny and it’s definitely a really good mix.”

Daniel’s relationship with his coaches are far from the only ones he credited with creating the right environment for him to succeed, with the senior also crediting his relationship with his girlfriend as well.

“I think having a really healthy relationship (is key for me),” he said. “It’s nice having an identity outside of pole fault. Like my girlfriend, just knowing that there’s something else after I can be like, ‘Okay, bad day today, but it’s fine, there’s still bigger things to go do.’ It’s been a really big motivator and kind of eases the bad days.”

Daniel also elaborated on how having a good work-life balance is key for having a healthy mind since becoming a college athlete.

“It’s definitely been a shift I’ve had to make since high school,” he said. “(In high school) track was my way to release and a de-stresser. Now, track is the stress. (It’s important) to find times you can go and release and it means absolutely nothing. I really like fishing or going on bike rides and just making time for myself outside of track because as soon as you rely on track as the source of your happiness when you win you’re going to be screwed over.”

Daniel elaborated, saying he has a three-foot fishing rod that he takes with him during outdoor season and searches for canals or ponds to fish in wherever the team ends up, citing his favorite location as the University of Oregon and recalling seeing the slide marks of alligators when fishing in Gainesville, Florida.

While Daniel will have to wait a bit longer for outdoor season to return, he won’t have to wait much longer for his next opportunity to compete, with the track and field team taking part in two competitions this weekend: the Tiger Paw Invitational at Clemson and the Husky Classic at Washington.

Whether or not he breaks his own record for the fourth time this season, Daniel will continue to do what he loves and soar through the air in an effort to be the best version of himself he can be.

“(When you’re flying through the air) you’re falling and you’re fully aware,” Daniel said. “It’s a really good feeling.”