MADISON >> Hand junior Ian Bergere sprints down the runway, plants his pole and drives his body upward toward the sky.
Soaring nearly 15 feet above the earth, he lets his mind go blank. In a matter of seconds, so much can go right or wrong. When attempting to clear the bar and fall backward onto the mat, Berger has found not thinking to be his best approach.
“I don’t remember much,” Bergere says with a laugh. “I get nervous when the bar is teetering back and forth. I pray a little. ‘Stay on, stay on.’”
For Bergere, that method works. His teammate Hunter Stokes has a similar approach. “It’s just natural instinct,” Stokes said. “You do sort of black out and sort of do what your body’s natural response is.”
The Tigers have one of the strongest pole vaulting crews in the state. Bergere cleared 14 feet, 9 inches on Saturday to break the school record. Bergere and teammate Rich Sangster, who has jumped over 13 feet, own some of the top marks in the state. Kyle Boling, Stokes and a few others aren’t too far behind. Hand placed three pole vaulters in the top 15 at the indoor State Open in February.
“It takes a special person, a little daredevil in them,” Hand coach Tim Geary said. “The pole vault is not for everyone, but it’s a fun sport.” Stokes says the training involved with pole vaulting is unlike any other sport. Bergere says the simplest way to explain the event is to start with the basic plant. Then you work your way up.
“The running up is the hardest part to get down,” Bergere said. “You build up your speed first, have a strong takeoff, and then you try and jump as high as you can. You have a long drive, and you swing, and then you extend your body all the way up the pole.”
Easier said than done. Stokes, a senior, said it took him about one full season to fully grasp the event.
“I started pole vaulting freshman year,” Stokes said. “I was about 6 feet, 7 feet. It wasn’t too fun at that point, but I knew that it would be fun if I could get up higher.”
Geary has seen a few mishaps on the pole vault during his years.
“I’ve seen the pole break and that can be pretty scary because it’s like a gun goes off,” he said.
Stokes said his only major mistake happened last year, when he dropped his pole into the front of the box instead of the back.
“It caused my hands to slide down and I slipped and hit my head on the back of the track,” Stokes said. “It was because I wasn’t focused on dropping the pole. I was really focused on the bar. I was looking up instead of where I should have been looking.”
Bergere said he’s not close to mastering the pole vault. The Tigers are still working on the first step, the approach.
“I would say the run up is just as critical as everything in the air,” Stokes said. “Running upright with your knees high, on your toes for the whole way is tiring. (But) I think the thrill to get six inches higher is what drives people to keep doing it.”
Bergere said repetition and practice are the keys to Hand’s success.
“One of the things is they have all stayed together,” Geary said. “They feed off each other.”
As the Hand crew has reached new heights, that success has translated into new equipment. Over the winter, Geary says they blew their entire budget on new poles.
A new pole costs between $500-800. Bergere, who is currently using a 15-foot pole, could be in the market for a new one if he keeps progressing. “It would be a nice dilemma if we had to buy new ones,” Geary said.