LOUISVILLE — At 15 years old, Max Manson isn’t allowed to drive, but he requires no license to fly.
There’s no foreseeable limit for the Monarch freshman who cleared 14 feet, 11 inches indoors in the pole vault during the offseason, then negotiated 14-7 outdoors this spring, a state record for ninth-graders. He also has the lineage and coaching to lead one to believe he’s headed for much higher heights. His father, Pat, still holds the state mark at 17-3 he set for Aurora Central in 1986. And Max’s event coach at Monarch, Mike Tully, was the 1984 Olympic silver medalist.
However, the day after Max Manson set his record and flirted with 15 feet at the Boulder Invitational in Broomfield, he was playing what he called Ninja tag and broke his left big toe. He’s still rehabbing it.
“I was messing around with my buddies at a playground,” he said, “and I jumped off a platform and hit a toe. It hurt like crazy, and I knew it was bad. It could have been worse.”
Monarch track and field coach Kent Rieder has been able to deal with Manson only briefly because of the injury, but he understood how this could happen.
“They’re kids and not thinking about winning state championships or team scoring,” Rieder said. “They’re just having fun, which is what they should be doing.I know he does a lot of crazy stuff. I think it fits into the pole vaulting psyche.”
By age 12, Manson had climbed all 54 fourteeners in Colorado.
“We went up to Eldorado Canyon when I was, like, 4,” Manson said. “I loved it, being outside. … Two years ago, I joined a competitive climbing team, and I’ve really gotten into it.”
And it was only a year ago that he decided to take pole vaulting seriously.
“There was never any pressure on me growing up, but I had seen all of the camps,” the 5-foot-10, 150-pounder said.
His father still runs some of those camps. What was Manson to do? Ignore them? Pat Manson’s accomplishments span decades. His best as a high-schooler was 18 feet. At Kansas, he was a seven-time All-American (counting indoors). As a pro, he set a world record by going over 18 feet in 21 consecutive years. He won gold three times in the Pan American Games. He was in five Olympic Trials. And he owns a personal best of 19-2¼, the same as Tully.
“Max is way ahead of where I was by a mile,” his father said. “I remember jumping 11-9, and they told me it was a freshman record. I didn’t even know. … Then I jumped 13-6 at the end of the summer. But (Max’s) jump is the best by a freshman in the country.”
While Max Manson is preparing to return to competition, Tully has given him homework “to see how his head is working and see how he thinks.”
As far as Manson’s potential goes?
“Oh, yeah, it’s there,” Tully said. “He’s going to be special. He really is.”
Manson said he wants to see how high he can go.
“It’s just so much fun,” he said. “When it all works, it’s almost like all of it is in slow motion, clearing the bar. … I love pole vaulting. I’ll still climb in the fall and winter for the same reason I like rock climbing. It’s just super fun.”
Pat Manson knows all about his son wanting to have fun and embraces the fact that Max is getting high-end coaching from someone other than himself.
“Max is lucky to have such a good coach at school,” he said. “Mike coaches the right stuff.”
Tully said, “(Now) I have to find a way to keep Max healthy during the season.”
Max Manson’s 14-7 easily qualified him for the state meet, to be held May 19-21 at Jefferson County Stadium in Lakewood, and he’s scheduled to return, perhaps as soon as next week, in time to compete in a couple of meets. Winning the 5A championship is a goal, but so is surpassing his father’s mark, one of the oldest in state annals.
“It would be great, just a fun thing to do,” he said. “Hopefully, I can bump it up and keep the record in the family name.”