A small crowd gathered around the pole vault pit at Lakeview High School this week, and Spartan senior Dan Emery was all smiles as he encouraged the group to clap him on.
He sized up his run, took off and shot up about 15 feet into the air and over the bar. Then he fell to the mat — and the bar promptly followed him, first bouncing off his hands and then on to his face.
It was the kind of thing that would make most parents cringe. But Kandy and Bob Emery had seen their son crash before and knew he would be fine. After all, he knows what he’s doing as the top pole vaulter in the state and in Lakeview’s history — a skill that helped land him a scholarship to Stanford University.
“If people have ever seen me pole vault, they all know I wear a helmet because I crash a lot,” Emery said. “I’ve kind of been able to get the crashes out of my mind and just think about making the bar and just running and hoping for the best. You can’t think about it too much, because if you think about the danger too much you’ll mess up and something bad will happen. You just got to run, hope you have a good day, that your steps are on and hope you make the bar.”
It’s probably not a bad idea Emery wears the helmet, as he has a pretty big brain to protect. He scored a perfect 36 in the math portion of his ACT and owns a 4.0 GPA. His current course-load includes Advanced Placement (AP) Government, AP Chemistry and Spanish 4.
He’s such a quick study that it took him just over a year as a full-time pole vaulter to post the school record and the top height in the state. Early this season, Emery successfully cleared 15-feet, 9-inches.
“Dan’s kind of just a natural athlete. It wasn’t very surprising when he (started vaulting),” said Lakeview junior and fellow vaulter Austin Fritz. “If some random person came out and started pole vaulting as well as him, I would be surprised.”
It’s not as if Emery was a total stranger to the pole vault. He had dabbled with it before his junior year, but his specialty had previously been the high jump.
He comes from a family of vaulters, as his father Bob was one time the Lakeview record holder, his brother Jake was one of the school’s better vaulters, and his sister Hannah cleared 9-6 in the event this week.
Emery credits his coaching for helping him reach the next level. He travels to Maple Valley about once a week to work with pole vault coach Jerry Sessions.
“A ton of it is technique. You can take Usain Bolt and he wouldn’t be able to pole vault 12 feet if he doesn’t know what he’s doing. And you can take an average athlete and they can go 14-6 if they know what they’re doing,” Emery said.
“It’s all about how long you’ve worked at it and how hard you’ve practiced. Coaching is a huge part of it. I never cleared 10 feet before I got a coach.”
Last year Emery finished sixth in the state in the pole vault. Now he is seeking uncharted heights for vaulters in the state.
“Right now I want 16 (feet) because I got 15-9. What I’m thinking towards the end of the year is 16-2 or 16-7 —16-2 is the D1 record, 16-7 the all-around state record. That’s kind of what I want to shoot for. I don’t know if I’ll get there or not, it’s just a little personal goal.”
Lakeview head coach Matt Miller is used to seeing Emery aim high. He said he never has concerns about the senior getting reckless in the sport’s most dangerous event.
“He’s been great for us and done so many things,” Miller said. “I never have to worry about Dan doing the right thing… Since we’ve had him, we’ve been pretty successful. We haven’t lost a meet in six years and he’s been a big part of that. He was our leading scorer last year.”
It is Emery’s versatility that had Stanford calling.
This past summer, he did a decathlon during the AAU season. He sent out his scores, and Stanford, Michigan and Michigan State responded by expressing interest in him competing for their programs.
When Emery arrives at Stanford, his pole vault coach will be 2004 Olympic silver medalist Toby ‘Crash’ Stevenson. Ironically, he’s known for being he only pole vaulter in the international elite to wear a helmet.
Emery’s athletic talents aren’t limited to track and field. This past fall, he earned All-Conference and All-City honors as the starting safety on the football team. Miller, who is also the head football coach, said he probably could have hit the gridiron at the college level if he wanted to.
“I used to play baseball and I found out it wasn’t for me. I never could golf, so I tried out track,” Emery said. “I found out I was pretty good at jumping, so I figured I would try jumping and fell in love with it.”
By: Nick Buckley