A dream is just a dream unless it is nurtured to reality.
Lacy Janson knows that her Olympic-sized dream may have never had a chance to come to fruition had she had not crossed paths with John Raleigh at Cardinal Mooney High School.
Dreams are defining moments, so it is not surprising that not long after Janson realized her personal vision of making the U.S. Olympic pole vault team, her thoughts turned to Raleigh. Janson has not forgotten the coach who believed from the start that she had potential to soar to great heights.
“He deserves so much credit for this,” Janson says about the coach who cajoled an accomplished volleyball player into giving the sport of pole vaulting a chance. “He put in so much time with me.”
It was Raleigh, who has tirelessly championed the sport throughout the area for more than a decade, convincing Janson to take that first leap of faith in the spring of 2000. It was Raleigh who, less than two months later, first uttered the word “Olympics” to Janson’s parents.
“I look back and I can’t imagine what Lacy’s mother was thinking when I said that,” Raleigh said recently.
Today, they know what he was talking about. They can thank Raleigh for his vision — and also for making vaulting a family affair.
Over the years, Raleigh, a certified financial planner who is now 49, has coached each of Charles and Laurie’s children. And each one — Kristin, Brittany and Charles Jr. — followed Lacy to compete in the pole vault event at Florida State.
And now, Lacy is living her Olympic dream.
For a sport to take hold there has to be someone willing to pass down wisdom, and Raleigh, a pole vault guru, has been more than willing.
It was not always easy. A state champion vaulter in high school in New Jersey and a letterman at Virginia Tech, Raleigh first tried to offer his expertise shortly after moving to Sarasota in 1992 by contacting every high school in the area. He got zero response.
Years later, Raleigh’s parents moved to the Venice area and his sister, Beth, who is 20 years younger, played basketball at Cardinal Mooney. It was while attending one of his sister’s games that Raleigh had a chance encounter with Mooney athletic director Bill Donivan, who at one time had been a track coach at the school.
During Donivan’s stint as track coach, Mooney had a state champion pole vaulter — Keith Kreger in 1983 and 1984. Donivan was eager to see the school revive its vaulting program and Raleigh was just as eager to get the job done.
The two formed a steadfast friendship, and Mooney had itself a pole vault coach. “What John Raleigh brought to us was amazing,” Donivan says.
What he brought initially were three poles, and a passion for the sport. What Donivan provided was an opportunity, along with support and, eventually, a pole vault pit.
What followed was not only a strong high school pole vault program but also a place for vaulters of all ages and sizes to learn the sport. Once Raleigh got established, Cardinal Mooney became a gathering place for vaulters throughout the area.
Word spread quickly.
“John welcomed anybody, athletes or coaches,” Donivan said. “It was not uncommon to see 30 poles leaning up against the fence near the football field and dozens of jumpers taking part in his Sky’s The Limit camp.
Raleigh came by coaching through the effort he put in to become a vaulter. Admittedly not particularly gifted athletically, Raleigh learned all he could in a technical-driven sport.
“I was one of those athletes who worked for what he got,” Raleigh says. “I had to learn and become very knowledgeable.”
He had an opportunity to work with a coach, Paul Richards, who had several high school-age students vaulting 16 and 17 feet. Raleigh would travel 45 minutes twice a week to Rutgers University and was allowed to hang around. And if there was time at the end of practice, Raleigh was allowed on the runway and the coach would work with him.
Raleigh has spent years repaying the kindness by coaching young athletes.
In remarkably good timing, Janson happened to walk past the pole vault pit the first year Raleigh arrived at Mooney. Janson and her friends had been making fun of the pole vaulters because of the odd-looking drills they were doing with the poles.
“We didn’t want to be a part of that because we thought we were too cool,” Janson said.
Raleigh spotted potential just by the way Janson moved, convinced her to give the sport a try and taught her what cool can be all about.
“It was just one of those magical things that happen in life, where you are in the right place at the right time,” Raleigh said about the way things worked out. “If Bill Donivan and I didn’t hit it off, if Lacy had not walked by … so many things happened to put me in that position.”
And now, with the start provided by Raleigh, Lacy Janson is living out her dream.
by: Mic Huber