They come out of Thin Air.
Gymnasts, soccer and basketball players, swimmers and runners come together as the Thin Air Vault Club with a common bond. They’re hooked on pole vaulting.
“I never thought I could ever feel anything like that,” Lake Mary junior Erica Sergeant said of her first vault. “Just getting over the bar felt amazing.
“You feel weightless.”
The Sentinel coverage area is home to some of high school’s top pole vaulters. Sergeant won the Class 4A state title last year, and Haley Dierkes of Lyman and Jamie Brenner of Oviedo placed in the top 10.
All are in the Thin Air Vault Club, which is registered with the AAU, is run out of Lyman and attracts boys and girls pole vaulters from Tampa to Central Florida. Lyman track and field assistant Bill Cashman works with athletes from elementary school to college, but high-school vaulters are the club’s focus.
Sergeant, who cleared 12 feet at the state meet in Jacksonville last year, and other club members will compete at the Lake Brantley Open on Saturday.
“It’s not like any other sport,” Dierkes said. “You feel like you’re flying for a minute. It’s really fun, and you say, ‘Wow, I do something different from everyone else. No one else can do this.’
“Everyone can go around and kick a soccer ball, but not everyone can do a half-flip in the air.”
Sergeant and Dierkes have backgrounds in gymnastics and started vaulting in high school.
“I thought pole vaulting was interesting, but I came out [to track] mainly to do running,” Dierkes said. “I had to leave practice early once to go to gymnastics, so coach [Fred] Finke said, ‘Oh, a gymnast. Go to pole vaulting. You’ll be good at it.'”
Another Thin Air club member, Lyman junior Amber Murray, played basketball and soccer and was a competitive swimmer before trying pole vaulting after watching the former Disney Channel show Even Stevens.
“There was an episode where Ren was vaulting, and I thought that looked like a really cool sport,” Murray said. “It was definitely a new experience. I’ve never been thrown into something where I didn’t know where to start.”
Cashman said vaulting is dangerous and stresses fundamentals to his athletes. That step-by-step process has helped ease newcomers, such as Brenner, into the sport.
Brenner was a gymnast who became scared on the balance beam.
“My first year [pole vaulting], I busted my head twice,” Brenner said. “I didn’t want the same fear issues with gymnastics, and I’ve overcome it twice.”
Skills from gymnastics have helped Sergeant and Dierkes.
“Flexibility [and strength] have definitely helped, because you have to contort your body different ways to get over the bar,” Sergeant said. “Gymnastics and pole vaulting are pretty similar.”
Said Dierkes: “You’re running at an inanimate object like in vault. The swing-up phase is like in bars, so it helps.”
Fear and inexperience can be a downside for many new vaulters, but for the Thin Air Vault Club, the result is worth it.
“Everyone’s always like, ‘That must be the most terrifying sport,’ but it’s not really,” Murray said. “It’s only for a split second when you’re falling. But that fall is one of the greatest feelings.
“It’s an adrenaline rush.”
It’s a rush Sergeant recommends to those considering the sport.
“Just try it, and you’ll fall in love with it as soon as you start,” she said.