Up, up and away: Reaching new heights in pole vault

Maggie Thornsberry shows her form two years ago as a freshman. As a junior, she now holds the girls school record in the pole vault.
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Maggie Thornsberry

The first time I had the idea of pole vaulting, I was in sixth grade. I always told my friends it was something I wanted to do when I got older. But I never imagined I would actually go through with it.

Although I ran track in middle school, pole vaulting wasn’t an option for middle school track.  I kind of just dropped the whole idea and forgot about it until my freshman year.

I became the varsity football manager. Coach Lance, our athletic trainer and pole vaulting coach, asked me if I wanted to do pole vaulting one day when we were sitting at football practice.  The following spring, I signed up for track. During  pre-season conditioning, I finally got to try pole vaulting for the first time. We started by learning the basics. We did different drills on the mat, the rope and did a lot of ab workouts to help prepare us. After a few days of training, we finally were ready to go outside and “get on the pole.”

The first time was a weird feeling. Holding a 10-foot pole in your hands and running down a runway is an awkward feeling. Coach Lance taught me how to hold the pole and pretty much just told me to go for it. I was kind of scared, but I went for it anyway. I ran down the runway and planted the pole into the metal pit and fell onto the mat. It was not nearly as bad as I had been expecting.

I loved it. I knew it was something I wanted to keep doing.

That year, I had about 30 minutes of practice at pole vault before I had to go to soccer practice. This made it that much scarier going into my first meet as a freshman and having very little experience and not knowing if I would make it over the first height. When we practiced, we never put the bar up.  So I really had no clue if I would make it over t when it came time to jump in the meet.

The day of the first meet, I did not think I was ready to jump. I definitely didn’t believe I could clear the starting height of 6 feet because I hadn’t been practicing enough.

I begged Coach David Bailey not to make me jump. I even got my mom to email him.  I did everything I could so I wouldn’t have to go out there and embarrass myself.

Even with all my begging, Coach Bailey still made me jump. When the meet started, we figured out it was only Stratford for the girls pole vaulting — me, Maggie Hamilton, and Ally Raymond. This made it a lot less intimidating.

I jumped my first two times and the bar fell. I went to jump on the last time, and I was freaking out. I was going to be embarrassed if I “no heighted.” But I jumped and I cleared 6 feet on my third attempt and placed third in my first meet.

I got a little better each meet. We finally made it to the region meet and it was Ally and me against two girls from Bulloch Academy. All I had to do was clear a height, and I would make it to state. I cleared 7 feet, 6 inches and came in second. The next weekend we went to the state meet in Albany at the Hugh Mills Stadium. I cleared 7 feet, 6 inches again and came in seventh. For my first year pole vaulting, it was a pretty successful year.

My sophomore year, I moved up a foot to 8 feet, 6 inches throughout the year. Our region meet was rained out that year, so senior, Maggie Hamilton and junior, Ally Raymond were picked to go to state.

Starting this year, my junior year, we began putting the bar up in practice which helped a lot in preparing us for the meets. It lets you get more of an idea of what height you’re going to get in the meet. We didn’t jump in the first meet but the second meet was at Stratford. Me, Ally, and a girl from John Milledge were the only three jumping but after she saw us jump in warm-ups she dropped out of the event leaving me and Ally as the only two girl pole-vaulters. Ally jumped 7 feet, 6 inches, and I jumped 8 feet, putting me in first place for our first meet.

Our second meet was at Mount de Sales. ,This meet was also just Stratford girls but we also had Autumn now. When we saw the mat at MDS we definitely thought it wouldn’t be a good day but we were wrong.

When the meet started, Autumn went in at 6 feet and scratched out. Ally and I went in at 6 feet, 6 inches and kept going to 9 feet, our previous school record for girls’ pole vault. At 9 feet, Ally scratched once and got over and then got out. I made it over 9 feet, 6 inches without scratching and established the school record for girls pole vault. When they raised the bar to 10 feet I hit the bar all three times and got out. I broke the school record for girls and placed first in that meet so I felt pretty accomplished.

The next meet we had was at FPD and we got to vault against Carson Dingler, who is a junior Olympic pole-vaulter. She holds the national pole-vaulting record for our age. In this meet, I vaulted against six other girls. I ended not doing near as well as the week before and Ally and I tied at third place with a vault of 8 feet.

Our next meet was at Stratford and we had to vault against FPD again. The coaches at FPD said that our height we were jumping from wasn’t right, we had originally had been jumping from the height measured from the bottom of the pit to the bar but they told us that wasn’t right and we had to move it up to jumping from where it was measured at ground level to the bar.

So I basically got 9 feet that meet but according to the FPD coaches I got 8 feet, which is probably why I did so bad the week before too. This put me in third place for that meet. After this meet I started practicing with Carson Dingler, her and her dad started coaching me. I’m almost up to 10 feet now in practice but we still have two more meets and then state so who knows what will happen from now until then.

From the first time I jumped I knew I loved pole vault and I wanted to continue with it. I have reached my goal for this year which was beating the school record. The Area meet was Wednesday at FPD and I got fifth. The sessions are  over but it was so much fun, and I can’t wait for next year.

Maggie Thornsberry is a junior and a staff writer and photographer on The Gazebo.