Moorestown High School sophomore Hannah Byrd-Leitner placed fifth at the NJSIAA (New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association) Meet of Champions in the pole vault earlier this month.
“Since I’m a gymnast, it’s pretty popular to go into that sport actually …” she said of taking up her sport. “ … But just seeing videos of amazing Olympians, it just looked honestly cool to try.”
According to worldathletics.org, pole vaulting involves competitors vaulting over a 4.5-meter-long horizontal bar with a pole usually made of carbon fiber or fiberglass. Competitors must clear the greatest height without knocking the bar to the ground.
“I would say strength and persistence mostly,” Byrd-Leitner said of the qualities a pole vaulter should possess. “Also bravery, because a lot of times when I tell people, ‘I’m a pole vaulter,’ they would be pretty nervous to do that because it’s so high sometimes.”
Pole vaulting demands speed, power, strength, agility and gymnastic skills. At major championships, the format is usually a qualification competition followed by a final.
The origins of modern vaulting can be traced to Germany in the 1850s – when the sport was adopted by a gymnastic association – and in the Lake District region of England, where contests were held using ash or hickory poles with iron spikes at the end.
“Physically wise, it’s honestly carrying the poles around everywhere,” Byrd-Leitner noted of challenges that come with the sport. “It’s not like a normal thing. They’re like 12 feet long. Mentally, some meets you can (have) ‘no height,’ which means you don’t clear a height, though it’s just making sure you can mentally get back into the competition while you’re there.”
Byrd-Leitner reflected on the NJSIAA Meet of Champions contest, held at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island.
“I was really grateful to have this opportunity,” she recalled. “ … It was an amazing meet. It’s probably my favorite meet … The facility and the people there were just all really nice.”
Byrd-Leitner described competing with teammates and advised pole vaulters to remain focused during meets.
“Everyone just acts like friends right away and you can really feel comfort with them, because everyone’s in the same situation when you’re competing,” she observed. “ … If you get a little bit upset at a practice or a meet, it’s just important that you stay determined to keep improving.”
Byrd-Leitner’s advice to anyone interested in pole vaulting is give it a go.
“There’s nothing negative about it, and it’s really important to try new things,” she pointed out.