It takes a special and sometimes “crazy” person to become a pole vaulter.

After all, how many athletes do you know sprint down a runway at top speed carrying a fiberglass pole and then thrust themselves 12 feet in the air?

But 15 vaulters regularly show up to train with coach Brian Triolet.

Triolet is the head track coach at Princess Anne High School, but he’s also the Beach District’s go-to guy for the pole vault. He trains vaulters from Kellam, Ocean Lakes, First Colonial and Tallwood.

“It kind of snowballed and we started having more kids come,” Triolet said. “I have to give the coaches from the Beach District a lot of respect because they let me work with their kids each day. And my coaches at Princess Anne have been great too because they have allowed me to work with these kids.”

They practice together most days – often forming a traffic jam at the pole vault lane – then compete against each other at meets.

“It’s kind of nice because when we go to meets, we know everyone,” First Colonial sophomore Jacqueline Meeks said. “It’s like one big family.”

Triolet graduated from Great Bridge High, which is known for its dominance in the pole vault. The Wildcats have won 16 state titles in the event over the past 20 years.

“But I wasn’t an awesome vaulter … I just kind of fell into it,” said Triolet, who picked up the event with his brother, Chad, who was state runner-up in 1989. “We didn’t have coaches back then, so we kind of coached ourselves. And then when new kids came in, we coached them, too.”

Triolet went to various camps and spent time with other coaches to learn more. And like former Great Bridge standout vaulter Brian Hunter, who now coaches at Grassfield, Triolet wants to pass his knowledge onto others.

Some of his top pupils are Meeks, Princess Anne junior Kelsey Radke, Kellam senior Brad Johnson and Ocean Lakes senior Derek O’Connell. All four are among the top pole vaulters in the state, and Johnson won the Group AAA state indoor title in March. Johnson became just the sixth Virginia Beach vaulter – and first since 2000 – to win the event.

“When I first started to pole vault, we didn’t have a coach,” Johnson said. “So we would watch YouTube videos about pole vaulting and learn from them.”

He began working with Triolet after the two met at a track meet.

“He started working with me at the end of my sophomore year and told me I had the potential to be a good vaulter,” said Johnson, who recently signed with Virginia Tech. “I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot.”

Kellam coach Bill Bernard said he’s glad Triolet has been there to help Johnson succeed.

“I don’t mind him coaching Brad at all,” he said. “He goes there and works with Triolet and he’s developed him into a good vaulter.”

The coaches at Ocean Lakes also are thankful.

The Dolphins were battling for the team title at the 2010 Group AAA state outdoor meet. With all of the other events complete, the team watched as O’Connell competed in the pole vault. O’Connell, then a sophomore, had a previous best of 11 feet, but cleared 13-6 to finish sixth and secure the state championship for the Dolphins.

“Ocean Lakes gave me a state ring as part of their coaching staff,” Triolet said. “So I got recognized, which was awesome.”

O’Connell said he owes all of his success to Triolet. His mother used to drive him to Richmond once a week to work with a pole vault coach because Ocean Lakes didn’t have one.

“I probably wouldn’t be a pole vaulter today if it wasn’t for him,” said O’Connell, who has the state’s best performance this season at 15-6. “The pole vault is a sport where if you don’t have coaching, then you can’t develop. So I appreciate everything he’s done.”

Meeks, meanwhile, is Triolet’s rising star. When she started, she could barely get over 8 feet. Today, she is sixth in the state at 10 feet, 3 inches. This past indoor season, she won Beach District and Eastern Region championships and finished third at the state meet.

“I don’t even know where I’d be without him,” said Meeks, who was third at the state indoor meet and has a personal-best of 11 feet. “He’s put so much effort into me.”

The vaulters enjoy seeing each other succeed – even if it means they get beat. O’Connell and Johnson are expected to battle this spring for the Beach District, Eastern Region and Group AAA state titles.

“We’re competitively friendly,” O’Connell said with a smile. “We push each other. And even at big meets, we support each other and give each other high fives because that’s the only way to stay productive.”

Triolet earns a small stipend as head coach at Princess Anne, but he said he’ll keep offering his services for free as long as other vaulters want help.

Other schools have helped pay for equipment – poles range from $400 to $700 – and rivals also helped after a fire destroyed $26,000 in track equipment at Princess Anne. The team now trains at Tallwood and Landstown.

“If I did it for money, then I’m doing it for the wrong reason,” Triolet said. “For me, it’s about them getting better and giving them an opportunity to get scholarships.

“We have a good time and we work hard. That to me is just affirmation that we’re doing the right thing. That’s my reward. Their success is my success.”

By:  Larry Rubama

Retrieved From:

Brian Triolet

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