Pole vaulting their way into victory
With the unwieldy pole in hand, he runs down the straightaway. Apprehension overwhelms him, but he knows he must do it. He has to – for his teammates in pole vault, the people who believe in him. He launches himself into the air and sets a personal record. Loud cheers and applause erupt from his teammates, and he’s reminded once again how lucky he is.
Pole vaulting is a track and field event in which athletes attempt to vault over a bar by using a long, flexible pole. Athletes sprint along a runway and try to clear the highest height without knocking the bar onto the ground. All athletes have a total of three attempts per height.
“[The hardest thing about pole vault is] mostly [getting the] upper body strength plus speed and getting enough momentum to swing and position your body vertically,” junior Melody Ngo said. “It can be so dangerous [because] you have to be able to do so much in such a limited amount of time like running, planting your pole in the pit, jumping as high as you can and inverting. Messing up one of those things can lead into a serious injury as you’re being at least 10 feet off the ground.”
Junior Yusuf Rehman initially joined the pole vault team because one of his friends inspired him to join. Since then, he has found a passion for the sport. Pole vaulting has become a way for him to escape from the stress of school and life.
“Pole vaulting is probably the biggest impact in my life because it’s become an outlet for me to express any emotions or anger that I have, and I can just direct all that in vaulting. It just helped me liberate myself in a way,” Rehman said. “I learned to channel all my emotions through vaulting, so I basically hooked onto that, and it was the best feeling ever just being in the air.”
Sophomore Crystal Thai joined pole vault after seeing other people playing the sport. She originally wanted to join the track and field sprints team, but the pole vault coach, Caroline Nguyen, saw potential in her and convinced her to join the pole vault team.
“I was very surprised [when I got in pole vault] because I thought I wasn’t good enough. [At first], it was very scary because I would have remember to do all these things like running fast, jumping, keeping my arms straight, and if I didn’t, I could get hurt. Over time, I overcame this fear because it taught me to have fun and to never hesitate,” Thai said. “I still sometimes get scared when I try something new in pole vault, but I know that it’s a part of the learning experience.
Pole vaulting is a rigorous sport, exercising all parts of the body, including the legs, core and arms. In order to have a fast and explosive running start, pole vaulters have to do exercises that strengthen their legs, such as squats and running. They also train their core and arms by doing V-Ups, planks and crunches, which help them get into the inverted position.
“We’re not exactly [part of the] jumps [team], and we’re not exactly [part of the] running [team]. Pole vault is like an entirely separate category. Taking that into perspective, we have a lot of individual practices. We don’t usually practice with [the rest of the track team], and through that, we bond more as a pole vault team,” junior Ethan Chang said.
Because of the strenuous nature of the sport, pole vaulters often have demanding practices in order to get stronger and refine their technique. Teammates motivate each other during these workouts with encouraging words and pats on the back.
“Practices are the time for you to get better. Not only that, it’s also a time for you to be around people who have a common goal. We always want to get better. Practices are important in both establishing a family and creating friendships and bonds, but it’s also good for you to be able to push yourself and reach outside your comfort zone,” junior Akira Romyanond said. “Sometimes Coach Carol gives us pretty hard workouts, but I feel like the fact that we know that we’re in this together [makes us] okay with doing it.’
However, this team spirit is not only limited to practices. During track and field meets, members encourage each other by cheering for their teammates when they are going down the runway. Before the meet, they try to release tension by joking and talking to each other.
“Track meets are definitely more competitive, but I think [that] because it’s more competitive, we motivate each other even more because we know we have to hype each other up in order for us to be better. During competitions, we try to humor each other, so all of us feel good that day,” Romyanond said.
Members on the team are especially close to one another because of the small size of the team, which consists of 12 people. They bond by having light-hearted conversations during practice, socializing after track and field meets and eating at restaurants.
“Compared to the rest of the track team, the pole vault team is much smaller than the rest, and I feel like that close quarters [type of] atmosphere makes us form more bonds with each other and have better friendships,” Rehman said. “It’s always [a] safe environment [where] nobody will judge you because we’re all a great big family, and we love each other.”
By Raymond Dunn, Staff writer
Photo by Tristan Gonzalez