The track looked familiar, but the height of the bar in the pole vault did not.
The scene was the Falcon Track Classic on May 10, an invitational track meet held annually by Fauquier High School.
Fauquier’s Grant Holmes stared down the red painted runway track of the pole vaulting area at Falcon Field — something the senior had done countless times before in his hours of practicing.
The Falcon senior beat all of his competitors that day in the pole vault by clearing 14 feet, 6 inches, a normal height for him but one that none of the other vaulters could master.
As usual, the last remaining vaulter continues vaulting until he couldn’t clear the bar. It was up to the vaulter and his coach to set the height, and Holmes let FHS vaulting coach Ted Uhler decide.
Holmes walked back up the runway, starting the process of visualizing a successful next jump.
He noticed the height was set higher than normal but thought nothing of it as he took off down the runway and started to gain momentum.
He reached the mats at a good speed, planted his pole, and executed what he had been trained to do for the past three years, arching his back as his 5-foot-10, 155-pound frame flew over the bar and landing triumphantly on the mats.
He smiled as he lifted himself up but his happiness turned into confusion as he noticed the height written out on the official’s board and the looks on his coaches, teammates, and the spectators’ faces.
“I just remember looking at 15-1 written on the board and seeing the smile on Coach Uhler’s and everyone else’s face. I went up to my coach and asked, ‘What did I just vault?’” said Holmes.
It the best vault in school history, breaking a mark that had stood since 1994, before Holmes was born.
That old record of 15-0 was set by the All-Met pole vaulter Jeff Atkinson, one of Fauquier County’s all time greats, and put Holmes in some rarefied company.
Breaking records was nothing new: Holmes had already captured the indoor vaulting record the previous season, yet this record meant a lot more.
“Breaking the outdoor record is definitely my favorite moment of my high school track career,” said Holmes. “Spring track is the most competitive season, and we use winter pretty much to train for the outdoors. It’s when you are supposed to be at your best, your peak performance, and fortunately mine resulted in the record.”
Holmes’ success — he later won the Group AA state title — was nothing short of outstanding, earning him 2013 Fauquier Times Fauquier High Boys Athlete of the Year Award.
Holmes becomes the first boys athlete to win the award as a track specialist. The Fauquier Times strongly considered versatile Colin Diehl (football, basketball, lacrosse) for the award (which goes to the best senior athlete who shines in more than one sport), but ultimately chose Holmes.
“Grant is a two-sport athlete,” said FHS coach Quentin Jones. “I know some people may consider winter and spring track the same sport, just one long season, but it is actually two different sports as cited by the VHSL.
“Grant had to peak twice in a year for the district, regional and state competitions in both indoor and outdoor,” said Jones.
Holmes sure mastered the routine of peaking.
After a strong indoor season came to an end with a second-place finish at the VHSL Group AA indoor meet, he knew that he wanted more.
He was motivated by his three-year rivalry with Chance Parmly of Fluvanna High School.
“Losing to my rival at indoor states really sucked, but it was good motivation for outdoors. Coach Uhler would always bring it up that Chance might be working harder than me at each practice. ‘Do you think Chance is taking it easy right now?’ and so on. It really stepped up my preparation,” said Holmes.
That preparation paid off in the spring, as Holmes ended up winning the VHSL Outdoor State pole vaulting title over Parmly.
The success at the highly competitive level of States attracted the attention of a few colleges, most notably Virginia Military Institute. VMI track and field head coach Darrin Webb was the first to contact Holmes and was persistent in his interest.
Webb, an outstanding pole vaulter at Syracuse University, had only positive things to say of his new recruit.
“I think Grant will add a lot of enthusiasm and dedication to a very young and talented group of rats [first year VMI students] and sophomores next season. He has improved a lot this past season, and we are excited to push him to reach his potential,” said Webb.
Being in a military environment won’t be new for Holmes, who attended two military schools prior to attending Fauquier in ninth grade.
He grew up a young boy in Fairfax, at one time playing almost every sport from which a young kid could choose: football, basketball, soccer, and lacrosse.
He stepped onto the track at Fork Union Military Academy in the sixth grade, where a coach there saw potential in his agile, athletic frame to be a pole vaulter, and it took off from there.
It wasn’t always 15-foot jumps and perfect landings, though. Pole vaulting can be very dangerous for a beginner, something that Holmes found out first hand.
“I did get hurt some when I first started out,” Holmes reminisced. “I hurt my back once landing wrong, which happens a lot in the beginning. Another time, I let go of the pole mid-bend and it unbent and hit me. The more you vault, the more you get into the habit of doing things the right way. The occasional hitting-the-box-in-front-of-the-mat always hurts, though, and it can happen to even the best vaulters.”
Holmes switched to the Marine Military Academy for his 8th grade year. He said the military lifestyle took a toll on him.
“I definitely was done with the military lifestyle and didn’t want to continue with it. However, when coach Webb and [associate] coach [Garrett] Brickner contacted me, I looked at VMI as a good opportunity for my future. It’s a good school, and on the track I am looking forward to working with coach Webb and the other vaulters,” said Holmes.
Holmes gives a lot of credit to coach Uhler for his rise in pole vaulting. His skills progressed after each year of high school, each time setting up higher expectations for the next season.
In his first year under Uhler’s guidance at Fauquier in 2011, Holmes’s best jump of the year was 11-6 — not bad for a sophomore.
He skyrocketed to 14-6 as a junior and won the state title as a senior. He leaves Warrenton in full praise of Uhler’s teachings.
“Coach Uhler was great at teaching the fundamentals. Pole Vaulting is 90 percent mental, and coach did a great job of calming my nerves and getting me to relax and visualize going over big bars before each of my jumps.
“He really worked on my body control, and that is now a big part of my success in the sport. He was very laid back but very influential at the same time. I really enjoyed both the coaches and the team at Fauquier. It was a great team,” said Holmes.
Of all the tools he has accumulated through countless hours of training, Holmes says that having a proper mindset before each jump has perhaps become his greatest attribute.
“I feel comfortable before I get into my sprint. I do a lot of breathing exercises and even some physical therapy to relax my muscles and wash out the nerves. Visualization is huge and is something I do before each vault.
“I just feel like I know what to do beforehand when I see it in my mind. I actually do get nervous but the breathing and visualizing really does help me maximize my performance,” he said.
As much as Holmes credits his coaches for his success, coach Jones believes the young vaulter deserves most of the credit for his own success.
“Grant did a lot of out-of-season preparation for his senior season,” he said. “He did summer pole vault practices, cross fit workouts, which are very intense lifting and conditioning program, and ran. He stayed very active all year long during the season and during the out of season.
“He is a district, regional and state champion. Many people may take this for granted, but this is a feat that does not happen overnight. To get this honor, along with breaking a 19-year-old pole vault school record, shows the amount of work and dedication that someone needs to have to achieve this,” said Jones.
The FHS coach pointed out that only two state vaulters hit 15 feet this year.
Holmes also left his mark in a few other jumps, as the Falcons tried to utilize his athleticism in multiple events. He recorded respectable marks in both the long jump and high jump to go along with an outstanding career in the triple jump. His triple jump mark of 44-0 was the best jump for a Falcon since 2006.
Don’t expect him to continue jumping at VMI, though.
He’s now a full-time vaulter looking forward to competing with future teammate Stayton Mayfield and former Falcon Ryan Enos, who will attend Radford.
“Stayton Mayfield went to Fork Union with me. It’s going to be weird competing against Ryan in multiple meets. I’m excited though and know that it will take a lot of work to be great in college,” said Holmes.
Holmes left his FHS Athlete of the Year photo shoot a little early to attend a Crossfit training session.
Hey, VMI’s indoor season isn’t that far away.
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The Holmes File
Family: Mom Gael Keys is a U.S. Airlines pilot. Dad Bill Holmes is a motor coach bus driver. Three sisters include Amber Holmes, 28, a Virginia Tech graduate; Rachel Harned, 21, who was a Marine and now studies at Lord Fairfax; and Rachel Keys, 8, who attends Wakefield School.
College/major: Will attend: Virginia Military Institute and major in psychology.
Favorite thing about pole vaulting: “How complex and challenging it is. You really have to work at it, but through that work you can get so much better.”
Favorite movie: Pulp Fiction
If you could eat a meal with any one, living or dead, who would it be? “I would eat with Brad Walker, the American pole vaulting record holder. He is my role model in the sport so I’d like to hear his experiences from him.”
Hobbies: “I’m a big car guy.”
Car: 2005 Subaru Impreza WRX.
Favorite sport outside of track: “I’ve always loved baseball. The Boston Red Sox are my team.”
Favorite school memory: Graduating.
Favorite pole vaulting memory: “It’s a tie between breaking the school record and winning states. I was fortunate to have great coaching.”