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Pole Vaulting Unveiled: The Good, the Bad, and the Bungee Cords

By Zahra Ahmad

“I think it’s unique; it takes a lot of different components of athleticism. You have to be fast, strong, coordinated, explosive, all at the same time. And you have to do all those things at a particular timing, just to go up,” said pole vault coach Adam Benkers.

At Batavia High School, the pole vault team is a tight-knit group, consisting of four girls and around seven boys. Despite its small size, the team is tightly interconnected, bonded by their shared passion for the sport. Each athlete meticulously selects a fiber-glass pole, considering factors like height, weight, flexibility, and strength, in search of the perfect fit. It’s a process almost comparable to the infamous wand-picking in the Harry Potter series.

The day begins with a jog and dynamic stretch warm-up, designed to get the blood flowing and muscles primed for action. Then the team transitions to short pole runs, known as “3 steps” to ingrain a variety of techniques into muscle memory. Techniques such as “pushing” the pole, achieving a “vertical” position (essentially going completely upside down), or practicing “stomach turn drills” are all part of the routine. The pole vault team’s unique drillwork and habits don’t go unnoticed by others.

Sprinters and distance runners passing by the pole vault pit are often drawn in by the compelling tunes emanating from the speakers, which typically blast 80’s and early 2000’s hits alongside some modern mix-ins. The top favorites consist of Rihanna, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, and Travis Scott. As much as music may impact performance, it’s up to athletes to perfect their form. 

Athletes can often be seen continuously reviewing and re-reviewing their videos, visualizing their next vault. Sprint. Plant the pole. Push the pole while keeping the arms strong and straight. Keep the driving knee bent with the swing knee back. Use momentum to swing more than 200 degrees upside down. Allow the recoil of the pole to spring the body upward. Row the top arm on the pole from the feet to the shoulder. Keep the toes together and pointed upwards. Follow through with a turn. Throw the pole to the ground. Finally land flat on the pole vault mats. The team highlights that as scrupulous as the process may seem, there’s still far more to vaulting than meets the eye.

The mental aspect of pole vaulting is a recurring theme among these athletes. 

“Not only is it very physically challenging, but it is extremely mentally challenging,” said Batavia’s top female pole vaulter, Delia Fulton. “And although it can be very difficult and honestly scary, it’s also very rewarding and fun! The mental aspect can be overwhelming compared to other events, but it definitely makes pole vault a unique experience.” 

Others cannot say they disagree. 

“I would say that it’s 60% mental and 40% physical, because obviously you need to be athletic in almost every part of your body, but even if you have all that, it really relies on your mindset to actually achieve results,” said varsity athlete Hailey Giometti. 

To cope with the mental challenges, some vaulters may listen to music to stay focused, while others chat nervously with teammates to ease tension. 

“It’s scarier, more than anything, but I learned some new skills along the way and made some great friends on the team,” said sophomore vaulter Elias Chaney. And despite the individual nature of the sport, the athletes frequently rely on words of encouragement and motivation from team mates for such a “mentally demanding” event, further connecting their roles as a team. 

“Pole vault is a lot more social than competitive at meets. Everyone wants to learn; it definitely has a stronger collective growth aspect to it,” said pole vaulter Tyler Baxter. 

Even at track and field meets, opposing coaches are seen offering guidance to other athletes, and officials provide advice to vaulters on slight adjustments that may enhance their performance. In a sport as technical as pole vaulting any advice from the few knowledgeable in the event is often appreciated, even hand placement on the pole plays a crucial role in clearing new heights. Despite the specifics, an aura of encouragement never fails to permeate the air, transforming competition into a shared journey of improvement.

This supportive atmosphere extends to practice sessions, where athletes thrive in a comfortable environment. 

“The team is great,” said Owen Chenoweth. “We’re able to joke around with each other a lot, but get work done.” 

The team often passes witty comments and snarky responses throughout practice, but the light banter kindles a collective bond among the athletes. Freshman vaulter Macee Olson has also embraced the unique camaraderie.

“We all get to cheer each other on and give tips, and since there are only a few of us, it’s easy to get to know each other,” she said. 

The constructive feedback has allowed the athletes to focus on addressing the punctilious technique needed for every vault. All seriousness aside, to balance the intensive practices, the vaulters incorporate occasional games. Some of which may include volleyball matches, pull-up competitions, plank battles, or even handstand face-offs.

Pole vaulting at Batavia High School embodies a combination of athleticism, team support, and mental resilience. As much as motivation is needed, discipline is vital for an amazing vaulter. According to Coach Benkers, what sets apart a good athlete from a great one is “Practice, more practice, and truly putting in all the work.” From intense training routines, to consistency, every aspect reflects the dedication of the athletes. Among all these struggles, they look for support in music, banter, and an integrated team environment. 

The vaulters often question that, with the captivating environment in mind it’s a wonder why there aren’t many more new vaulters to get in on the action. When asked, many respond with feelings of fear, rightfully so, to the fascinating yet intimidating event. 

“If someone wanted to try pole vault but was too scared, I would remind them that you never know what something is like until you try it,” Fulton said. “Nobody is judging you, and everyone is there to support you. Trying pole vault is super fun, and even if you mess up it is easy to laugh it off! It’s a great environment and a challenge people shouldn’t be scared to try.”

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