FRONT ROYAL – Caroline Starling had a big family decision to make, and in the end her decision couldn’t have worked out much better.
Two years ago Starling’s parents gave her an option – the family could either stay in Virginia Beach or move to Front Royal, where Starling’s dad had a job offer at Randolph-Macon Academy.
The 6-foot-2 Starling chose to move to Front Royal where she is a senior this year and a track and field standout.
“He said if you’re OK moving in the middle of high school, we’ll move,” Starling said. “...Personally, I love it (in Front Royal). I’ve always liked the country. I love it more than the city, and it’s a lot more just relaxed overall, which is nice to have because everybody’s less stressed out and there’s less traffic. You can drive anywhere and see horses and cows, which I love.”
Starling said that she was also able to talk her parents into buying her a horse once they moved to Front Royal. She got a thoroughbred, which she said she recently sold. She recently bought another thoroughbred, which she named Blue.
Starling said she has always loved horses and has been riding since she was 4 or 5 years old. She said she hopes to open her own horse rescue business someday.
“It’s definitely a hard sport, especially since I do a lot of training with younger horses,” Starling said. “So it’s definitely very challenging. But I think it’s really cool to try and get inside of a horse’s head and work with them to figure out a problem because it’s not something a lot of people do. And I learn a lot about myself from doing it.”
Starling said she was born in California and moved around a lot when she was younger due to her father being in the Marines. When he retired, the family moved to Virginia Beach, and as an eighth-grader, she attended a private school in Virginia Beach. It was there that she first went out for track and field.
Starling participated in the high jump and shot put, and was a natural at it. She said she broke the school record that year in the high jump. The following year she attended Floyd E. Kellam High School in Virginia Beach, a school that has over 2,000 students.
Once again, Starling thrived in indoor and outdoor track and field at the high jump and the shot put at Kellam. She said she broke a couple of school records there. She also qualified for the national track and field meet her freshman year but decided to wait until she was older. She qualified for nationals again the following year, but had suffered a concussion that season and had to miss it.
She said her two years at Kellam helped her improve in the high jump and shot put.
Then she attended R-MA and continued to excel for the Yellow Jackets. Starling won the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association state title in both the high jump and shot put for R-MA. Her high jump of 5 feet, 7 inches was the best in the area and helped her be ranked in the top 100 in the country.
Starling said that she enjoys the focus and determination it takes to succeed in the high jump.
“I like it because it’s a huge mental game,” she said. “If you’re not focused and ready mentally, then you won’t do very well. It helps me focus and just put everything else behind me for however long I have to focus on high jump, which is a really good skill to have, I think because I can really just focus on that one thing without having to worry about school or family or anything else. So it’s kind of like a break because if I don’t focus, then I won’t do well. There’s a lot of self-discipline which comes into it, which has helped me a lot.”
She also is strong at the shot put, which is another event that she said comes naturally to her.
R-MA first-year coach Tony Sorrell said that Starling’s arch when she jumps in the high jump is what makes her stand out in the event.
“Her flexibility,” Sorrell said of Starling’s biggest strength in the high jump. “When you watch her, you can see how much she’s arching — that’s a natural thing. You get these athletes that try and come out and they jump – and even the ones that are jumping out of a gym – their arch is nothing like you’re going to see with her. ...That’s probably her most beneficial skill that she has.”
This season has been another stellar one for Starling. She leads the area in the high jump with a leap of 5-6 and is second in the shot put with a throw of 35-05.
On top of her already busy schedule, Starling has been playing travel volleyball throughout the spring. Most days she leaves her track practice at R-MA and heads to Winchester to practice with her travel team, Go Volley Elite Volleyball Club.
Starling, who also played volleyball at R-MA the last two years, said she enjoys playing on the Winchester travel team and said it helps keep her in better shape for track and field as well.
Starling qualified for the VISAA track and field state meet again this season, but she had another tough decision to make. The state meet is on the same day as R-MA’s graduation – May 18. Starling has decided to graduate instead of trying to win more state titles.
“It was a tough decision, but I definitely wanted to be there with all of my friends and finally graduate,” Starling said. “There’s a big parade that we do because it’s a military school. So I’m definitely excited to be in the parade with all my friends and walk across the stage. I didn’t think I could miss that.”
Her athletic career is far from over. Starling said she had numerous Division 1 college offers to perform the high jump in track and field. However, Starling has chosen to attend Division III Bridgewater College instead.
Starling said none of the Division 1 schools had the one thing she wanted the most – an equine program. Starling said she will major in business with a minor in equine studies.
“(Bridgewater) wasn’t on my list originally, because they didn’t have an equine major,” she said. “But once I met the director and saw the barn and everything they had to offer, I couldn’t decide to go anywhere else.”
Starling will be on the track and field team and the equestrian team at Bridgewater. She said she also loves that Bridgewater is a small college, much like R-MA has been the last two years.
Looking back on it, Starling said she’s happy that she and her family came to R-MA.
“I think I’ve grown a lot,” she said. “I’ve definitely been able to find myself a little bit more with the friends I’ve had. Since it’s so small, I kind of know everybody, which is nice to have rather than being at a high school where you barely know anybody walking through the halls. And now I know everybody, so it’s really cool.”