Many who watch pole vaulting, never having experienced it first hand, wonder what it is like to soar through the air, clinging to the flexing pole before clearing the bar so high in the air.
Ask Mazama sophomore Tanner Harris, and he will tell you.
“Oh, no. What am I going to do? Am I going to hit the bar?” Harris said of the approach. “And when I clear it, it’s like biting into a new candy bar you bought from the store.”
Perhaps not everyone’s experience, but the excitement or rush the event provides appears to be one of its greatest appeals.
“It’s really fun and it’s a challenge,” Henley junior Lottie Heater said as she watched teammates, Mazama and Phoenix opponents vault after her at Wednesday’s track and field meet.
Overcoming the vault’s mental challenge may be the biggest key to success. Henley pole vault coach Bipper Clark said a lot of younger athletes try it, but it is upperclassmen who succeed.
“Maintaining focus (is the hardest part),” Clark said. “It is a very mature event for high school. Typically, a lot of the younger ones want to try it, and the seniors are the only ones you can get to focus … maybe. The timing of each movement requires intense focus.”
Overcoming initial fears is important too, for which Clark has a simple corrective measure.
“The fear factor at the beginning is the main thing,” he said. “Walking back and forth, doing grass vaults like a little kid trying to jump over a mud puddle.”
One youngster trying to make a go at it is Mazama freshman Kierstyn Cooper, who, as of Wednesday’s meet, had been vaulting for less than a week.
“It looked exciting,” she said. “I have only had five days of practice.”
In her brief introduction, Cooper has successfully cleared 5 feet, 6 inches, and she knows there is a lot of work to be done. She takes the opportunity of watching opponents during competition to learn.
“It’s oddly reassuring because you can see who you are going up against,” she said. “Even though they are competition, if they are better than you, you want to watch them to see how you can become better.”
Heater added: “It feels more relaxed, actually, because you aren’t in the moment trying to outrun them or something.”
Relaxed atmosphere aside, all vaulters fault, but as is the case for Harris, it’s about getting back up to get the candy bar.
“I was nervous the first time. I hit my shin the first time and knocked (down the crossbar),” he said. “It was bad, but I got over it and I am starting to do better at it now.”