As he looked down that the earth, Andrew Barnett realized this was where he wanted to be. Flying through the air, propelled by his own mass, velocity and strength, the then-freshman John Burroughs pole vaulter cleared the bar, turned his body to land on the mat and immediately wanted to be back, flying through the sky.
“(The pole) unbent and shot me into the air. It was one of the coolest feelings I’ve ever felt,” Bartnett said. “Because its just like getting flung into the air by this pole. It was cool.”
Never shy about climbing a tree or swinging from a rope as a youth, Bartnett was messing around in the gym, hanging from the rim of the basketball hoop when his physical education teacher and eventual coach Wayne Scott saw him and said he should give pole vault a try.
It wasn’t exactly a hard sell.
“I was a crazy, climber kid. I never had any problem with heights or any of that,” Bartnett said. “It was channeling that into a sport for me. I didn’t have any reservations about that. I was gung-ho to start vault.”
That was then. Now a 6-foot-2, 160-pound senior, Bartnett, 18, is chasing down a state championship and his own personal goal of clearing 16-feet. He went 13 feet at last week’s Skippy Keefer relays at John Burroughs, winning the event in the process.
That he was able to make it 13 feet was a huge step for Bartnett to start the season after finishing as the Class 3 runner-up a year ago. A wrestler in the winter, he was four practices into the preseason when he suffered a nasty injury to his ribcage. There was some damage done to his cartilage while he was sparring and it sidelined him for the better part of four months. Active in sports most of his life, Bartnett’s injury was the first time he’d been forced to slow down and let his body heal. It was absolutely dreadful.
“That was probably the first time in my life I haven’t done sports for that period of time. That was definitely difficult for me,” he said. “The first couple of weeks I couldn’t do anything. Then I could do some leg work. That kind of helped me stay sane, if you will.”
The injury sabotaged his wrestling season but Bartnett has made sure it won’t derail his track season. The first moment he was cleared to attack track training he began pushing himself to the limit. There was no time to ease into the workouts. He went as hard and as far as he could, maxing out to try and make up for lost time. Being forced to sit has taken an already motivated young man and pushed him to another level.
“My goal this year is not only to get back to state and hopefully win it, I want to vault 16 feet,” he said. “That kind of propelled me in my workouts.”
To get there Bartnett is going to lean on his coaches but also his teammates. A baseball player as middle school student, he wrestled with giving up his bat and glove to pursue track and field once he hit high school. One of the biggest reasons he stuck with the track team was the way the athletes pulled for one another. He said the camaraderie of the Bombers is tough to beat.
“Our track team has a great dynamic,” he said. “I just love that sense of community that is present at the Burroughs track team.
“I have a couple of good teammates in pole vault. We love to push each other in practice. You’ll come get your feedback from coach. All the guys will pat you on the back. It’s really good dynamic in the pole vault section of the team.”
That being said, Bartnett has put in the time, effort and has a unique set of skills that make him a dynamic vaulter.
“(You look for) a unique combination of speed, strength, coordination, flexibility and what we call a kinesthetic awareness,” Burroughs coach Daniel Harris said. “You have to know what your body feels like moving through space.”
Bartnett knew what it felt like the moment the pole shot him into the air. It was the best feeling in the world. Maybe even better than standing atop the podium.