The runway having been run, the fiberglass pole having been planted and bent, and the body having been flicked higher than it could ever go on its own.

Then comes the euphoric payoff of pole vaulting.

“It feels pretty cool,” Edward Little assistant coach Jaclyn Masters said. “When you’re falling after clearing a bar, you have like a split-second, but it does feel cool, you can feel it.

“But most of the time, you’re more excited or sad about clearing or missing the bar.”

Was the vault high enough? Did you turn and arch your body quick and well enough that the bar remains nestled at its set height? These are the constant stressors of the pole vault.

If you did all those things, you’re good. Enjoy the free-fall.

“I like the fall at the end,” Edward Little junior pole vaulter Alex Thompson said. “I like getting as high as I can, and then trying to land on my back as hard as I can. I find it relieving when I hit the mat and the bar didn’t fall.”

“I feel accomplished and happy,” Lauren Berube, another Edward Little junior pole vaulter, said. “But sometimes you’ll be on the way down and the bar will shake, and you’re like, ‘Oh, no, please don’t fall off.’”

‘Kind of crazy’

At a recent practice at Edward Little High School, Berube was wearing a tank top with an inverted pole vaulter image and inverted writing that says, “Life is better upside down.”

“I made it,” she said.

It takes a certain type of person to be a pole vaulter.

“Hard-working person that has above-average speed, above-average upper body strength, and be able to go and take something in their hand and trust it,” Lisbon coach Dean Hall said.

And maybe a little crazy. In Maine high school track and field, pole vault is the only event that requires athletes to wear a helmet. So, clearly, there is some risk associated with the event.

“You have to be excited about being in the air and trying something that’s scary,” Masters said. “At some points in pole vault you can’t see what you’re doing, you are upside down.

“You kind of have to be crazy and fearless to do it.”

That’s about describes how Masters started. Before setting pole vault records at Edward Little (she’s a 2012 graduate) and the University of Maine (from which she graduated last year), Masters was 13 years old and stoked to finally be old enough to do the pole vault during summer track and field.

“It just looked fun,” Masters, in her first year as Red Eddies assistant coach, said. “I think that’s what draws a lot of kids to it, it looks fun.

“I thought it looked kind of crazy, and I was a crazy 13-year-old, so …”

Thompson and Berube also are products of the middle school summer track programs.

“My head coach now, (Rebecca) Hefty, she got me into it,” Berube said. “She was like, ‘You have a gymnastics background, you should just try it.’ So I tried it, and the first meet I cleared like 5 feet, and ever since then, I’ve been doing it.”

Gymnastics experience is fairly common among pole vaulters, but it isn’t necessary. What is necessary is athleticism, strength and body control.

“It’s a full-body thing,” Masters said.

‘A spiritual event’

It also takes resilience and patience, because, as Kurtis Bolton, a four-year pole vaulter at Lisbon, says, the pole vault is “very, very technical.”

It starts on the runway. Thompson said the EL pole vaulters either do five- or six-step runs (which are actually 10 or 12 steps — only every other step is counted). The final step, the fifth or sixth, is when the planting should start. The pole should be planted in the center of the box.

Once the pole is planted, then it’s time to bend it.

This is the leap of faith of pole vaulting. Either something good or something potentially terrifying is going to happen.

“When you bend it, I always tell the kids, it’s a spiritual event, a very spiritual event,” Hall said. “Because it’s going to propel you.”

“Once you get the pole center in the box,” Masters said, “and you jump off the ground and you’re pressing the pole, it will bend, if you press it correctly. It’s scary for a lot of kids; when you bend the pole, because you’re holding on, like, ‘What do I do?’“

Bending isn’t for beginners.

“You start (by) holding the pole straight, without bending it, and you kind of muscle through it,” Masters said. “You kind of put it in the box without pressing it, you kind of pull yourself up and get over a bar.”

This tactic has limited height potential. To really get high, vaulters must then learn to make the pole bend.

“It takes some people months if not years to get to a point where they can bend,” Hall said. “And once you get there, it becomes a matter of 90 percent of everything on the runway is in the event. Ten percent is when you take off the ground. You got to get there first.”

Once vaulters can bend the pole, they then turn their attention to swinging over the bar. To do this, several movements must be made quickly.

“Then you have to drive your knee up, swing your leg,” Masters said. “And when you time it correctly — because pole vault’s all about timing, in all aspects of it — you roll back and you extend with the pole.

“Then, at the end of it, you turn your body over the bar, so you’re belly is to the bar, so you can kind of see what you’re doing, and you push off the pole and then clear it, and pull your arms.”

These steps must be done with precision and impeccable timing. A misstep or delayed action will likely send the athlete right into the bar.

Try to not let all that wrack your nerves.

“Even though you have so many things you have to think about when you’re vaulting,” Berube said, “if you just relax and just know, because it’s body awareness and it’s repetitiveness, if you just relax and go down the runway, don’t think about anything, you should have a good vault.”

Improvement is a never-ending process, and failure a constant companion. Accept that, Thompson says.

“Nobody’s perfect, nobody’s going to get it right every time,” he said.

But once a vaulter starts to get it, they can go pretty high.

“I’d say the success you gain from it, knowing you can go over a basketball hoop, knowing you can go 15 feet in the air, stuff like that, that’s the fun part,” Thompson said.

Thompson’s personal record is 12 feet, 6 inches, which he achieved May 11. Berube’s outdoor-best in 9-09 and her indoor-best is 10 feet.

Masters stands 5 feet, 6 inches tall. A year ago this month, she set the UMaine women’s outdoor record of 13-04. That’s nearly two-and-a-half times her own height.

The United States men’s pole vault records are 19-09.75 (outdoor) and 19-09 (indoor). The women’s top marks are 16-04.75 (outdoor) and 16-06 (indoor).

The Edward Little boys’ record is 14 feet, held Josh Clark. The girls’ record is 11-01, held by, of course, Masters.

Since before she started high school and before Masters became her coach, Berube has been gunning for that record.

“I want Lauren to break my record if she can,” Masters said. “If not this year, she has next year, and I think she can do it. She just has to believe she can. I know she can.”


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