LOWELL — Brendan Sullivan lives for the thrill of liftoff.
Sullivan, a rising senior at Yale University, is determined to keep soaring to new heights in all he does. This Westford native is continually gaining altitude in the classroom, where Sullivan sports an impressive 3.5 grade point average, and on Yale’s track team, where he’s one of the top pole vaulters in the Ivy League, in his pursuit to reach for the stars.
“I always care about how well I do in school,” said Sullivan, a political science major who is interning at Millward Brown Vermeer, a global marketing consulting firm in New York City this summer. “I’m always going to try my best to do well (academically). But what I’m truly passionate about is track.
“There’s nothing like (pole vaulting). It’s something you really can’t experience anywhere else. When you do well, especially when you win, there’s no better feeling.”
There have been plenty of high points in Sullivan’s pole vaulting career. This past spring, Sullivan, who is 6 feet and weighs 178 pounds, moved into second place on Yale’s all-time outdoor pole vault list at 16-feet, 8.75-inches.
He graduated from Westford Academy with the Massachusetts high school record in the event, clearing 16 feet at a Weston Twilight League Meet. He won a New England crown and two state pole vault titles while competing for the Grey Ghosts.
“As far as I know I still hold the state record,” said Sullivan. “I’m, obviously, very excited and proud of it.”
Now Sullivan is determined to sky to the top of the charts on Yale’s outdoor pole vault list. Jesse Stern (Yale class of 1997) is the current record holder at 17-feet, 3.75-inches.
“I’ve got to get the record,” said Sullivan, who also pole vaults indoors for Yale. “When I was in England recently (for the Harvard-Yale vs. Oxford-Cambridge track meet), I met the record holder and we got to talk. I know I can get it, I just have to get my act together.”
Sullivan certainly has his act together in the classroom.
He was named to the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Academic Team.
At Yale’s team banquet, Sullivan’s teammates acknowledged his leadership qualities by electing him captain for the 2015-16 season.
“Brendan is a born leader,” said Yale head track and field coach David Shoehalter. “From the time we met when I began recruiting him, I knew he would make a great team captain.”
Being named a captain is a huge honor at Yale since the Eli stick to a long-held tradition of only having one captain for each sport. Every captain is elected by a vote of the team.
“I’m very appreciative,” said Sullivan. “If I can point to anything I’m most proud of that I’ve accomplished at Yale, it would be that.
Being named captain is kind of the culmination of my efforts. Now I just have to become a good captain. That’s my focus now.”
Sullivan was born into a family of great track athletes. His father, Shannon Sullivan, was an All-American pole vaulter at Oregon State in 1983 when he cleared the bar at 17-feet, 10.5-inches. Shannon Sullivan had a collegiate best pole vault of just over 18 feet, and competed in three Olympic Trials — the 1980 pole vault, the 1984 decathlon and the 1988 decathlon.
Brendan Sullivan’s grandfather, Dennis Sullivan, who competed in track at the University of Oregon, is in his late 80s and lives in Oregon and still competes in decathlons in the 80-plus division. Sullivan says his grandfather puts mattresses down in his backyard and pole vaults into them while practicing.
Sullivan’s older sister, Natalie, was on the track team at Westford Academy.
When it comes to matching the legacy of his father and grandfather, the bar has certainly been raised high. But Sullivan welcomes the challenge and enjoys working on technique with his father.
After playing primarily soccer and baseball growing up, Sullivan went out for track his freshman year at Westford Academy.
“I did track because my dad was a track athlete and I always wanted to try what he did,” said Sullivan. “He never pushed me into it, and I found the pole vault to be the most fun. I kind of stuck with it and in my dad’s free time he would come and help coach me. It was a great bonding activity.”
Sullivan was slowed by injuries his freshman and sophomore seasons at Yale, including several hamstring tears. This hindered his development, but he is coming off a strong junior campaign and is eager to turn in a peak performance as a senior.
Despite putting in long hours at Millward Brown Vermeer, where he helps the client strategy team do market research for companies, Sullivan makes sure to find time to work out and run regularly.
“It’s been a real journey and learning experience for Brendan,” said Shoehalter. “He has fully embraced the level of commitment it takes to be a competitive NCAA Division 1 athlete. There is still a lot of room for improvement and it will come with consistent training and continued commitment to the process of being great.”
Sullivan can’t wait to return to Yale so he can be airborne again.
“I’m really excited for next year,” said Sullivan. “I can’t wait for it. I have a ton of goals.”