There was a familiar thud of landing on a pole vault pit. Looking up, I expected to see the bar falling down on me. Instead it was wobbling on the pegs. I was speechless realizing that I just set a new school record. Immediately on my feet, I ran to hug my friends. Only a few seconds later I burst into tears. My coach had been trying to help me clear this height for almost a year; but I was a few days too late. Four days earlier my coach had an unexpected heart attack and passed away. I had attended his wake the night before the meet. Training at his pole vault club for over a year, it was heartbreaking to realize I would not be able to tell my coach that I finally did it. Mixed in with all the other emotions, I became reflective, realizing that I almost gave up the opportunity to finally achieve my goal.
Traveling to the meet, there was already a huge knot in my stomach and tears forming in my eyes. I wasn’t even close to being emotionally prepared. I had it set in my head that I would not do well. Warm up jumps were a complete train wreck and I decided to enter the competition at 6’, three feet below my personal best. Vision blurred from the tears, my first few jumps were embarrassing. I couldn’t stop thinking about Coach Al long enough to focus on a vault. What were normally easy heights seemed impossible to clear. Landing with the bar next to me multiple times only exacerbated my horrible attitude.
I managed to clear my head long enough for some jumps, clearing the heights on my second or third attempt. Since it was a small meet, it wasn’t long before I secured first place at 7’6”. Drained of all emotional energy, I sat down and said that I was not going to try and vault any higher. I had already earned all possible points for the school so it seemed like the logical decision. I wouldn’t let my team down and also wouldn’t make a fool of myself continuing to vault. At any other meet I would have eagerly grabbed the chance to go for a higher height. I knew that I was physically ready to continue but my mind had a different plan. I was convinced that it would be impossible to prove myself today.
Sitting down, I finally stopped fighting all my emotions. My coach’s voice filled my thoughts, encouraging me to get back on the runway. I started hearing all the advice Al had given me over the months. Realizing I could turn things around, I told the official I would continue jumping. I was ready to show everyone what my amazing coach had taught me. On the runway my head was finally clear. It became just me, the bar, and my coach’s voice. Taking the first step of my run, I heard the comforting “Let’s go Tinker Bell!” in the back of my head. Quickly gaining confidence each jump, I had no trouble progressing up to higher heights.
Before I knew it, I was clearing a bar at 9’6”, setting a new school record and personal best. My coach might not have been able to hear about it but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t there with me. Whether it’s a track meet, difficult class, or goal I’m working towards, I know that a few mistakes in the beginning don’t determine the outcome. Seeing the certificate in my room every morning, I’m reminded that I can turn even the most troublesome days into a triumph.