ST. JOHN | If Katie Brown were to add her relationship with track and field to her Facebook page, it would fall under the category “It’s complicated.”
That doesn’t mean she is constantly breaking up and getting back together with track. She’s as committed as ever.
No, complicated is transporting poles for the pole vault down Indianapolis Boulevard in her SUV, with all of them sticking out of the front passenger side window, like some modern form of jousting. Complicated is practicing daily at a track that is only built with a one-way pole vault pit, a track that until recently did not have bleachers. Complicated is trying to lead a team with five consecutive conference titles and a state-record 21 straight sectional titles while it lives a somewhat nomadic existence.
As a result of construction, Lake Central’s old track is mostly churned mud right now. Consequently the track at Hal E. Clark Middle School in St. John, the L.C. programs’ home away from home, is a busy place this spring. On a given day, there could be more than 200 students present combined from the L.C. boys and girls teams to the Clark boys and girls teams.
L.C. coach Ron Fredrick notes that the weather and the constant travel have combined to create the most muscle pulls and strains he’s seen in his 12 years at the program’s helm. He’ll have to weather this for two more seasons after this one, too.
“It’s an extra challenge in a year where we’ve had a number of challenges with the weather and a region that has really good teams,” Fredrick said. “This year was similar to a first season. Everything was new.”
Although they don’t have much equipment to haul, runners grew stale before the season with routines such as running hallways and elliptical machines. For events with bulky equipment, such as the pole vault, everything’s a production. The day before meets the vaulters have to take the poles on a bus from Clark to L.C., then back to Clark on the days after meets.
“It’s a hassle,” Brown said. “It’s really time-consuming. It takes out a lot of practice time. Being a senior, I wish I could have graduated using our track.”
As it was, Brown and the other Lake Central seniors had to settle for a single home meet — opening night and senior night all in one. Fans sat in lawn chairs as the Indians hosted Michigan City in mid-April.
Most pole vault pits are adjusted for wind direction. That’s not an option at Clark, and feeder middle school Kahler doesn’t have a vault setup, and Grimmer doesn’t have a track.
So how badly are L.C. pole-vaulters suffering?
Brown and Kaitlyn Moricz are tied for the No. 1 vault in the area, having cleared 11 feet, 6 inches. The next-best vault was 11-4 by their junior teammate Brooke Lambert.
“That says a lot about Katie’s character, work ethic and talent,” Fredrick said.
Brown was hurt her freshman year but learned by watching state qualifier and current Indiana State vaulter Alyssa Markiewicz. Her sophomore year she and Moricz were the only vaulters, and Brown qualified for state and placed 21st. Last year she jumped a season-low 10 feet at the regional and didn’t get to state in it.
She ran the second leg on the regional champion 400-meter relay team that placed seventh in the state in 2012, and she joins Moricz on that squad again this year.
Despite the letdown in her main event she earned a full ride to pole-vault for Western Kentucky, where she’ll study photojournalism starting in the fall.
“Now I just want to stay focused and stay positive about everything and all the problems,” Brown said. “I just want to finish my senior year and have fun.”
The homecoming queen this past fall, Brown doesn’t try to be too fancy or flashy. She grew up around three brothers and rode dirt bikes and enjoyed extreme sports in addition to baseball and softball. Her parents are runners, and her mom is a personal trainer.
A gymnast most of her life, Brown has always derived a thrill from the vault.
“People don’t realize the amount of energy it takes and how mental it is,” Brown said. “But I just love that feeling, the feeling of doing something like that — just flying in the air.”