There are heights she wants to clear, and destinations she wants to reach.
But after all she’s endured the last few years, the overriding goal for Holly Tokar is rather simple.
“The main thing is just to stay healthy,” the Ventura High senior pole vaulter said. “I just want to compete in every meet through the season and be there at the end of the year for my team. I don’t want to be on the sideline.”
Tokar is off to a flying start.
She recorded a personal-best vault of 12 feet, 3 inches to capture the title at the recent Ventura Invitational. It was the second-best mark in county history behind only Heather Strickler’s 12-3½ for Camarillo in 1997.
The UC Davis-bound Tokar had never cleared 12 feet before the meet, but eclipsed that height on her third attempt and set the bar 3 inches higher.
“I had no doubt about 12-3, and it was pretty cool because I had the whole crowd behind me,” Tokar said. “They helped me so much to get that adrenaline going and push my confidence. I was completely honored for them to do that. It was something I will never forget for sure.”
It was even more meaningful considering all the time Tokar has missed vaulting because of injuries.
The day before the Channel League finals during her sophomore year, Tokar fractured her sacrum in practice and was sidelined for nearly eight months.
She had to lay on her stomach during classes because she couldn’t sit for long stretches, and carried a red pillow around campus as padding for several weeks.
But Tokar always kept a positive attitude.
“I never really got discouraged,” she said. “My parents taught me that if you get hurt, what matters is how you respond. You have to make the best of it, and I never had a doubt in my mind I was coming back.”
Helping maintain that perspective was the realization her injury could have been much worse.
“I landed on my head, so I was lucky. I could have been killed,” she said. “I never take that for granted and it’s not the end of the world.”
Although she wasn’t able to pole vault, Tokar faithfully attended every practice and remained engaged with the team.
“I learned a lot because I had the opportunity to help my teammates and coach them a little bit,” she said. “I was able to see different things by watching them, so when I came back I really hadn’t missed much. Mentally, I was ready to go.”
But it wasn’t long before Tokar suffered another physical setback. Last year, she tore cartilage in her knee and missed another four months.
“She’s been through a lot, but Holly is one of those kids who will find a way to make the best of it,” Ventura coach Kory Anderson said. “If there is anything to be gained from working hard and doing it the right way, she will get it. It’s very unusual to find a person that young trying to find out how good she can be in as many capacities as she does.”
Tokar never imagined that would include pole vaulting. Heck, she had never participated in a single track and field event until reaching high school.
But she was the “guinea pig” in Anderson’s grand plan.
Anderson was determined to bring pole vaulting back to Ventura’s program and figured Tokar would be the ideal candidate to be the first female.
“I anticipated her being great,” Anderson said. “I knew what type of athlete she was and I knew if we could get someone like her doing the pole vault, it could attract other kids. If they saw someone who wasn’t a track kid start to succeed at pole vault, they would think maybe they could accomplish great things as well.”
Tokar certainly had the genetic components for success.
Her mother, Cindy, played volleyball at Stanford and her father, Bill, was a runner and former successful cross country coach at Ventura.
Tokar, however, didn’t follow their lead immediately. She started out as a gymnast.
“I loved it because my parents knew nothing about it,” Tokar said with a laugh. “But once I hit eighth grade, it became too much for me and I realized I needed to find something else.”
Tokar joined the volleyball team at Ventura, but soon discovered her true passion was vaulting over a bar.
“I am kind of a daredevil and I love to fly,” said Tokar, an AP student with a 4.5 GPA. “I also love technical sports where every single tiny detail matters and you can spend an entire practice working on the smallest detail.”
Although some track and field athletes become absorbed in their individual results, Tokar thrives in the team atmosphere.
“We have 240 kids out here and everyone is on the same page,” Tokar said. “Coach Anderson sets the standard at a certain level of how we should be as people and teaches us life lessons, and we all strive to exceed his standards. Everyone has each other’s back and pushes each other constantly. We call it serious fun, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
To that end, Tokar is competing in the long jump and 4 x 400 relay for the Cougars because the pole vault is not scored for points in the Channel League.
“I don’t really focus on the pole vault until the postseason because I want to help the team get a league championship,” Tokar said. “My only concern is doing everything possible to help our team.”
But Anderson expects Tokar to be in prime vaulting form once the postseason rolls around. She reached the CIF-Southern Section finals and Masters Meet last year, but failed to qualify for state.
“I think if she makes it, she would be the lovable underdog everybody would root for,” Anderson said. “It would be a great storybook ending if that happened.”
Just don’t expect Tokar to rehash any chapters of her career for sympathy.
“It’s not a sob story. Everyone has injuries at some point. Mine are just really strange and odd,” she said. “Things happen and you move on and make the best of it.”