Pole vaulting has been added as a new event for this year’s Benicia Elementary School Track & Field Championships, which take place this Friday afternoon at Benicia High’s Drolette Stadium. Young athletes ready to brave the complex sport will have a world-class vaulter on hand to give them pointers and encouragement.
Stacy Dragila, a four-time pole vault world champion and a gold medalist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, will be at the Drolette Stadium vault pit all day Friday ready to help anyone interested in taking their athleticism to new heights.
“It can be kind of frightening when you first try it, so we take very elementary steps,” Dragila said. “You need the building blocks and skills in place before you go on to bent poles. We want to get all of that in place and hope they get excited to stick with the sport.”
Dragila has an impressive pole vaulting resume. A native of Auburn and a Placer High graduate who didn’t take up the sport until she was in college at the age of 22, Dragila is a 16-time national champion and has broken the world record 10 times in her career. She was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame last year and will be inducted into the Placer High Hall of Fame this weekend. Her personal best jump is 15 feet, 10 1/4 inches.
At the 2000 Summer Olympics, she won the first gold medal in women’s pole vaulting, dramatically coming from behind to beat the former Soviet turned Australian Tatiana Grigorieva on home turf.
Steve Thomas, who has been the long-time organizer of the Benicia Elementary Track & Field Championships, met Dragila at one of her pole vault camps last year at Sacramento State University. When Thomas told her about the annual elementary school event in Benicia, Dragila was intrigued. The two have begun a developed curriculum called “Vault Safe” that teaches kids the proper way to vault.
“We want to expose them to the sport and get them to try something they’ve never done before,” Dragila said. “It’s about teaching the sport to younger kids to get more vaulters doing things safer. We want them to learn the physics behind it as well as fitness and the history of the sport.”
Dragila has beginning vaulters start with “stick” jumping, which utilizes smaller non-flexible sticks instead of the longer, bendable fiberglass poles. Dragila’s biggest challenge will be getting young kids over the fear of leaping high over a bar using nothing but a pole, strength and technique.
“Kids shouldn’t be afraid to try something new because you never know where you’re going to find your niche,” Dragila said. “I was fortunate to have coaches who encouraged me throughout the process and I’d like to do the same for a new generation.”
The Benicia Citywide Elemantary School Track & Field Championships features athletes from Mary Farmar, Joe Henderson, Robert Semple, Matthew Turner and St. Dominic’s Elementary Schools. Events begin at 1:30 p.m. and admission is free.
For more information on the Vault Safe program, visit vaultsafe.org.