Lakeview seniors Hannah Emery and Michael Martin like to feel the rush of adrenaline.
Emery enjoys snowboarding and wakeboarding, while Martin likes riding motorcycles.
But those seasonal activities take a backseat to the year-round adrenaline-pumping sport that helped put them both on the national stage recently — pole vaulting.
Emery and Martin competed for Vermontville-based Landon Athletics at the New Balance Indoor Track and Field Nationals March 13-15 in New York City. Both came away with 17th-place finishes in the event, with Emery clearing a height of 11-feet, 1-inch and Martin going 13-feet, 10.5-inches.
“People definitely think pole vaulters are crazy. We’re kind of almost our own community,” said Emery. “In the summer, we’ve been able to go to the beach vault where they set it up on the Grand Haven beach and then there’s the Barry County vault which is at a fair. I’ve vaulted in a cave. There’s crazy people that get together and put on these vaults and it’s just a fun time and you meet so many nice people and experience so many fun things.”
Both Emery and Martin began pole vaulting in middle school, and honed their skill by working with local pole vault expert Jerry Sessions and his Landon Athletics program.
For Emery, doing pole vault seemed natural as her father did the event in high school and college and her two older brothers were standout vaulters at Lakeview. The second oldest brother, Dan Emery, is currently in his junior season as a pole vaulter at Stanford University.
“I started going to Jerry’s in eighth grade. As a newbie, you don’t know anyone,” Emery said. “But a whole bunch of kids go and were very welcoming… And we’ve had some of the best coaching I would say there is.”
Emery, who finished 11th in the pole vault at the 2014 Division 1 State Meet, has progressed enough that she will pole vault collegiately at Division 1 Appalachian State.
“Working with Hannah has been extra special for me, as I have watched her overcome many things,” Sessions said. “The sport of pole vault is a difficult event. Hannah never gave up. She stayed focused, consistent, and worked really hard to achieve her success. What Hannah did was remarkable… Due to her tenacity and desire, I would never count her out at the state meet. I believe Hannah is a force to be reckoned with and has a great future at Appalachian State.”
RAISING THE BAR
Martin is a self-described late bloomer, which made him especially relish the opportunity to compete at the New Balance Nationals.
“Last year I was kind of a nobody in pole vault, so just the opportunity to go there was insane,” Martin said. “It was an extreme blessing. I went from jumping 12 feet to 14-3, which is kind of unusual.”
Martin too will continue his pole vaulting career after this season, committing to Grand Valley State University.
“Jerry Sessions, my coach, never really gave up on me. And I was kind of a lazy kid for a while, and it wasn’t until last year that I really kicked it in. Them sticking with me and pushing me really helped me out… Kind of a Cinderella story.”
Sessions credited Martin’s growing physical and mental maturity for his newfound success in the sport.
“He has gotten stronger and faster. He has also grown and improved in his attitude and way of thinking,” Sessions said. “He has realized his natural abilities and is trying to capitalize on that by working hard. There is so much more that we will see from Michael. He hasn’t come close to his potential. I believe in him and I think he now sees he can achieve even higher levels. I look for him to excel and have a great pole vault season and do great at Grand Valley State University.”
BEYOND THE POLE VAULT PIT
Both Emery and Martin will conclude their high school careers for the Spartans this season, and have set high goals for themselves.
But those goals don’t include clearing the bar at a specific height.
“Right now I’m just trying to work on getting a really good takeoff and attacking the plant,” Emery said. “I’m not worrying about the heights right now because it’s the beginning of the season.”
Martin added, “I have to take it day-by-day. I used to be like, ‘I’ve got to jump 15 feet.’ But now it’s not like that. The last American to win the Olympics was 36 years old. So it’s not really a here-and-now sport like football and basketball. It’s over time, who can master the form the most. Over time, I’m just trying to build the best form possible and see where it takes me.”
For those who know the two level-headed 18-year-olds, this approach comes as no surprise. Both understand what they want in life and what it will take to get there.
Emery wants to study sustainable development at Appalachian State, using the degree to help companies become more green and eco-efficient.
“I took an environmental science class this year and fell in love with it,” Emery said. “I just wanted to think about how I could help the environment because I love traveling and I’ve gotten to see lots of things in nature. And seeing the stats about pollution made me realize I wanted to make a difference.”
Martin plans to study business at GVSU, and the young entrepreneur has already helped create a company focusing on his other passion — motorcycles.
“Always adrenaline,” Martin said. “You gotta love adrenaline.”