TOPSHAM — Run. Plant. Jump. Fly. If you did the first three steps right, the fourth is what the pole vault feels like.

“It’s the most amazing experience ever. You feel weightless. You’re just hoping you bend your body enough that you clear it,” Nicole D’Angelo, a senior at Maranacook Community High School said after she won the Class B pole vault title at the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship meet Saturday morning. “The idea of flying through the air made me feel really cool. You can’t have wings when you’re an actual person, but you get to fly.”

D’Angelo vaulted 9 feet, 9 inches to win, setting a new personal and Maranacook school record on a day not conducive to flinging yourself skyward. In the morning, the girls vaulted through a mix of steady drizzle and rain. In the afternoon, the boys pole vaulters were delayed more than an hour before finally starting and battling heavier rain. The weather added a degree of difficulty to an event already tough enough under the most ideal conditions.

Here is a complete list of high school track and field events that require wearing a helmet: Pole vault.

That’s it. That’s the list.

It’s difficult and a little dangerous. Why would anyone want to be a pole vaulter? Well, because while difficult and dangerous, it’s also fun.

“I was a gymnast before this, and they were like ‘Try pole vault.’ So I did,” Messalonskee’s Libby Breznyak said. Breznyak placed second in Class A with a vault of 9 feet.

Pole vaulting combines speed, strength, flexibility, and mental toughness. The faster you’re able to run, and the more you’re able to bend the fiberglass pole, and the more you’re able to twist your body and arch your back in a reverse limbo above the bar, and the more you’re able to ignore the fact that you’re falling 10, 11, 12, oh man 13 feet, the more success you’ll have.

D’Angelo was able to arch her back as she spun in midair, twisting like a cat to clear the bar and hit the landing mat with a smile on her face.

“A lot of practice. I pretty much cemented (the back arch) this year, and I’ve been working with my coach sometimes early in the morning before school, 6 and 7 a.m. I’ve been staying after practices, just really going through drills, working my way up the pole, getting my confidence up,” D’Angelo said.

It’s a lot to think about. It’s best to let muscle memory take over.

“You always have to think, no matter what, because there’s always room for better form,” Breznyak said. “The form for pole vault is a lot like the form for bars in gymnastics. It kind of feels the same. I don’t know what I think of when it happens.”

“It is a lot of things to remember. Quite a bit is second nature now. It’s focusing on technique, making sure my arm is out and remembering I need to swing and get my feet up. The rest comes naturally now,” D’Angelo said.

The more you can bend the bar, the more the bar will do the work. Think of a rubber band. The more you pull the rubber band, the harder it snaps back when you release it. The snap back of the pole is what sends the vaulter, hopefully, over the bar.

“If you bend it, it’s going to fling you, and that’s going to carry you far. Without the bend it’s a lot harder to get yourself over,” D’Angelo said.

Very few things rest as delicately as the bar on the stand. It takes little more than a light breeze or an unkind thought to knock the bar free. Even on a successful vault, the bar will often shimmy or sigh, but it will not fall. When a vault is successful, it is beautiful airborne poetry.

When it fails, though, when bar and vaulter hit the mat together, it is ugly, like a joke that falls flat. And it can hurt.

“On your back, definitely,” Breznyak said.

“Depends on where it hits,” D’Angelo said. “I hit my shin the last time and it’s only sore for a minute or two, but it hurts.”

The pain fades, and the good vaulter is eager to try again.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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