13-year-old from Salcha places 10th in beginner boys pole vaulting

FAIRBANKS — Dawson Brannan placed 10th among 30 participants two weeks ago in the beginner boys category of the USA Track and Field Pole National Pole Vault Summit in Reno, Nev.

It’s an impressive achievement for the 13-year-old from Salcha. Before his vault of 7 feet, 6 inches on Jan. 18 in the Reno Livestock Events Center, the eighth-grader at Star of the North Academy in North Pole had never vaulted in competition.

Brannan also carries a 4.0 grade point average and he’s autistic.

“I was a little afraid before I went down there,’’ Brannan recalled during a telephone interview, “but I pretended that I was only competing with myself, with no one else around me.”

Brannan also imagined a manageable aspect of a difficult sport, having a little fun in an event that drew hundreds of pole vaulters of various ages and experience.

“I pretended that I was jumping over bungee cords,’’ Brannan said. “I pretended the real bar was a bungee cord.

“I just tried my hardest,’’ he added.

Brannan’s achievement is unique, too, because a pole vault facility in Alaska is as rare as an outdoor swimming pool in the state.  The event is not contested in the high school track and field season in Alaska.

How did Brannan prepare himself for the National Pole Vault Summit?

His father, David, and his grandfather, James, built a pole vault facility outside the Brannan’s home in Salcha.  David Brannan also started a club in Salcha that’s sanctioned by USA Track and Field, the national governing body for the sport.

Dawson Brannan is a third-generation pole vaulter.

His grandfather was a Wyoming high school state champion during the 1950’s.

“That’s when they were using bamboo poles and landing in sawdust and dirt,’’ David Brannan said lightheartedly.

David Brannan competed at the NCAA Division I level for Brigham Young University in Utah. In 1991, he set a Cougars record of 17-10 and the mark stood for 10 years.

David Brannan saw his son’s potential for the pole vault when Dawson was 12 and competing in the long jump in the Arco Track and Field Games, conducted each summer in Fairbanks.

“I thought that he had some spring and some speed, and I naturally wanted to get him involved in pole vaulting,’’ David said.

Speed is critical in the pole vault.

“You build up that kinetic energy and you store that in the pole, and the pole returns it,’’ David said. “The longer and the stiffer the pole is, the higher you can go.

“It all equates to how fast you can run and how efficient your technique is,’’ he added.

David, who will be Eielson High School’s head track and field coach this coming season, decided to purchase a pole vault equipment, including the padded pit, online from a person who lives near Houston, Texas. James Brannan, who lives in Utah, went to Texas,  packed the equipment onto a 28-foot snowmachine trailer and drove it from Texas to Salcha last summer.

“He did it all by himself. I sent him money for gas and the trailer,’’ David said. “He’s pretty awesome.”

David and James spent a few months last summer teaching Dawson how to pole vault. Dawson reached 9-8 during the sessions in the family’s yard in Salcha.

“It’s one of the most frustrating sports in the world, but he seemed to take it in stride,’’ David recalled.

Said Dawson, “I enjoy accomplishing my goals for jumping over the bar.”

When Dawson was entered in the National Pole Vault Summit, it was more than just his competitive debut. The summit featured clinics for competitors and an appearance by 2012 Olympic men’s champion Renaud Lavillenie, of France.

“It was nice to have the other coaches there to reassure him,’’ David said.

Dawson wants to follow his father’s path in the sport.

“I think I’d like to go pole vault in college,’’ he said.

Hockey Week

Hockey Week in Fairbanks opens Friday with a traveling exhibit from the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

The exhibit will be in place at the Carlson Center from 6-10 p.m. Friday. On Friday, it will be at the Big Dipper Ice Arena from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and back at the Carlson Center from 6-10 p.m.

The exhibit includes such items as the Calder Trophy, which goes to the rookie of the year in the National Hockey League, and a Team Canada jersey worn by Wayne Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time leading scorer.

Wallace qualifies for D-III diving

University of Rochester (N.Y.) junior diver Joanna Wallace, a Monroe Catholic High School graduate, posted a NCAA Division III qualifying mark while competing Sunday in the Dick Comanzo Diving Invitational in Ithaca, N.Y.

Wallace placed seventh on the 3-meter board with a personal-best total of 418.75, qualifying her for the Division III Regional Qualifier on Feb. 22-23 at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Wallace also placed sixth on the 1-meter board at the Comanzo Invitational, finishing with a 375.50.

According to NCAA rules, a diver must post two qualifying marks during the season to qualify for the D-III national meet, scheduled for March 20-23 in Indianapolis.






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