Sarah Prystupa has never had her feet placed firmly on the ground.
For six years through elementary and middle school, the Burroughs High product was involved in gymnastics and became accustomed to flying through the air and soaring to new heights in a variety of events.
When she entered Burroughs, which doesn’t have a competitive gymnastics team, Prystupa was looking for an athletic endeavor that suited her.
“One day when I was walking around the field and the track, the pole vaulters were doing a ring exercise,” Prystupa said. “I saw them and I asked [pole vault] coach Mike [McHorney] if I could try it. I had done gymnastics and it looked really fun to me. I tried it and I really liked it.
“So, the next week there was an all-comers meet and coach McHorney said, ‘Hey, you should give the pole vault a try.’ So I gave it a try, I loved it and I’ve been doing it ever since. I was really drawn to the sport because it has so many aspects that are the same as gymnastics, there is running and jumping and a real athletic aspect of it.”
With her gymnastics background, Prystupa found success in the sport that combines strength, agility, speed, balance and a fair amount of fearlessness. She won the Pacific League girls’ pole vault championship as a freshman and ended her tenure at Burroughs in the spring as a four-time league title-holder.
“That is just something you just don’t see, someone winning four league titles,” said Indians boys’ pole vaulter Christian Valles. “But that success is all about the hard work that Sarah put in to accomplish that. In the summer, she would wake up at 7 in the morning to go and work out and get better. She does put a lot of work in.
“She has a lot of natural talent and being a gymnast really helped her be successful as a pole vaulter.”
Along with the league crown this past season, the senior set a new school record, placed second at the CIF Southern Section Division I finals and advanced to the CIF State Track and Field Championship, where she placed seventh. It is because of her accomplishments that Prystupa has been voted the 2016 All-Area Girls’ Track and Field Athlete of the Year by the sportswriters of the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Cañada Valley Sun.
Burroughs has had its share of accomplished pole vaulters throughout the history of its track and field program. Members of the group have won numerous league titles, captured a CIF Southern Section championship and even won a silver medal at the Summer Olympics. However, all those feats were accomplished by male athletes.
But Prystupa broke through the all-boys club and continued the legacy with a fine senior campaign.
Her crowning achievement came in June when she cleared 12 feet, 2 inches to place seventh at the state meet at Buchanan High’s Memorial Stadium in Clovis. A day earlier, Prystupa cleared 12-0 in the preliminaries to earn a spot in the finals.
“I’m really happy that I was able to get to state this past season,” said Prystupa, who holds the Burroughs school record at 12-3. “I made a goal for myself and I said that I really wanted to make state and jump to the heights that I wanted to and I was able to accomplish that. That is really exciting for me.”
Prystupa was the second Burroughs athlete to qualify to state in the pole vault in three seasons after Matt Schwartz advanced in the boys’ competition in 2014. Coincidentally, Schwartz placed seventh, as well.
“It’s kind of neat to continue the legacy of the pole vaulters at Burroughs and to be the first female is really special,” Prystupa said. “You look back at all the great pole vaulters who have come out of Burroughs and I’m just excited to be able to be a part of that. There was some pressure because no other girls’ pole vaulter had ever made it to state, so to be the first is great.”
Along with McHorney, who introduced her to the sport, Prystupa said she has been able to learn a great deal under the tutelage of UCLA Coach Anthony Curran, who runs No Limit Sports. Curran is a former Bruins All-American who has coached his share of Olympians, national record-holders, NCAA champions and Pacific-12 Conference title-holders in his 33 years of coaching.
“I think that one of the reasons that I was able to be successful is that I trained really hard since August to try to get better my senior year,” Prystupa said. “Being able to train with [Curran] with all the success that he has had with a lot of vaulters really helped me improve.”
Burroughs Coach John Peebles said once Prystupa began to excel in the pole vault, it ignited a fire that made her strive to achieve higher success.
“I think what happened with her is in her freshman year she kind of started an appreciation for the pole vault and it really became a passion for her as a sophomore,” Peebles said. “Just the work that she’s put in since then, working with coach McHornney and also going down to UCLA and working with Anthony Curran, she definitely put in a lot of time to reach where she was able to reach.”
With her high school tenure behind her, Prystupa will move on to Biola University, a National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics college in La Mirada.
“As a freshman, I jumped 9-3, and just to see where I’ve come from then is pretty amazing,” Prystupa said. “Looking back, I’m just glad I tried the pole vault that one day or none of this would have ever happened.”