Paris Pijuan lives for thrills. And being a pole vaulter for Westlake High gives them to him.
“I really do search for trouble, I guess, some people would say,” Pijuan said. “Adrenaline is a big factor, but once you get up there one time, you really start getting addicted to it. It’s all you think about, it really just captures your attention outside of the track.”
The thrills are coming faster and higher this season for Pijuan, whose best jump is 15 feet, 6 inches. The senior is hoping to improve and maintain enough consistency to land a spot in the CIF State Track and Field Championships.
“Pole vaulting is a very mental thing,” Pijuan said. “It’s the only competition where you end in failure every time. You end by missing three bars. It’s quite something to think about. But the important thing is to be resilient and come back from something like that.”
Pijuan is confident he can continue to improve and have the consistency to succeed at the state finals.
“Individually, I feel I can make the state finals and I feel I can show up (and do well) at the state finals too,” said Pijuan, whose name is pronounced “pih-HWAN.” “You look at state finals and you look at rankings, this year is just an incredibly competitive year. It’s very, very difficult. But the thing that makes state is consistency. The vaulters who can consistently produce marks above 15 feet are the vaulters who succeed, and those are the vaulters you’ll see at the state finals.”
Big talk for a guy who couldn’t even make 14 feet last season. His best mark was 13-9. But during the offseason, Pijuan began working with pole vaulting coach Brooks Morris, who coaches at Los Angeles Valley College.
Morris, who himself vaulted as high as 17-10 during his competitive career, and whose father Ron won a silver medal for pole vaulting (15-1) at the 1960 Olympics, broke down Pijuan’s vaulting to the fundamentals.
“I used to be quite a dangerous vaulter,” Pijuan said, “and what he did is take me from ground zero and build me all the way back. I used to get on the runway, get the biggest pole, do the farthest run I could get to, and just go for it, which would make me, in turn, a dangerous vaulter.
“But he started me from smaller steps, small poles, worked fundamentals and really just getting to know the sport more. I think that’s a huge thing. I understand the sport probably 500 percent more than I did last year. I just really went from a closed-mind view to a very open-minded thing.”
Westlake coach Joe Snyder in addition to Morris’ help, Pijuan has benefited from the time he has devoted to the sport. Snyder has also been grateful for Pijuan’s team orientation, with the senior also running in the 400 meters and the 4×400 relay.
“I think more than anything he’s been a really hard worker and been willing to do more than one thing, for point scoring,” Snyder said. “If we wanted him to do the 4×4, he’s done that. He’s got a great attitude and we’ve been really pleased with him.”
Pijuan was first as the Pasadena Games at 15-4 and 12th in the Arcadia Invitational at 14-7¼. His season best of 15-6 came at home in a double dual meet with Calabasas and Newbury Park. He tied for sixth Saturday in the invitational pole vault at the Mount SAC Relays at 15-0.
Pijuan’s father, Julian, was born in the Philippines and played professional basketball there. The family is looking into making Paris eligible to compete for the Philippines.
“We’re actually currently trying to process dual citizenship because I would hold the junior national record over there, and could hopefully break the open national record within a year,” Pijuan said. “There’s committees that help third-source countries send athletes there so there’s a possibility there.”
Pijuan signed his letter of intent Monday to compete at Cal State Fullerton. Making a college choice wasn’t easy; he wants to study kinesiology and business and wasn’t sure if he wanted to go to Fullerton or perhaps join Morris at L.A. Valley for two years. His rapid improvement made colleges take notice, but weren’t sure of his potential.
“That’s actually something that colleges (said) when they (would) email me and stuff,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Your mark is good, it’s really good and it’s something we would look at, but it’s not something that we would jump on right away. But since you’re improving so drastically, we’re jumping on it because we feel you have the potential to improve even more.’ ”
Pijuan started as primarily a high jumper in middle school, then discovered pole vaulting in his freshman year. Between his freshman and sophomore years he went from 10-1 in his sophomore year to 13-9 in his junior year.
“And that was all in the gym, lifting and doing everything I could off the track,” Pijuan said, “because I had no access to actual vaulting on the track.”
Once Morris got hold of him, the improvement became exponential.
“He has really just helped me evolve as an athlete,” Pijuan said. “He has taken me from 13 to 15-6 — from 13, which is maybe a sizable mark locally, to 15-6, which is a sizable mark nationally.”
A mark that could take him to the state finals.