It’s a measure of Michelle
Quimby’s courage that she was persuaded to take up the pole vault by people sho wanted her to pursue something less dangerous.
Quimby doesn’t run around underneath football crossbars anymore, but she regularly launches herself high enough to go over one.
The Shenendehowa junior has already broken the Section II record twice in the last 31⁄2 weeks, the last time at 11-11 at the Queensbury Invitational last Saturday and is right on track to hit 12 feet sometime this spring.
The indoor state champ has been one of the best in Section II since she was a freshman, after her
father, John Quimby, and coach Don Paretta, the Shen boys’ head coach and the top vaulting specialist in the area, convinced her to give up football after a season on the Shen modified team.
Michelle Quimby played wide receiver and cornerback for the Plainsmen, but, as much as she liked the speed and contact of the game, there was no real future in that; the pole vault, however, should open doors for her at any number of
Division I schools after she graduates in 2009.
“I just thought it’d be cool because I kind of like doing things that no one else does, something that’s different,” she said. “I was the only girl who ever played on a Shen football team for boys. I did it just because everyone’s always saying girls can’t do it. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll be the girl that does do it.’ ”
“Well, let’s say she’s not your typical little girl,” Shenendehowa girls’ head coach Lynne Lindquist said. “She’s never backed away from anything because of fear.”
Pole vaulting is a difficult, intimidating event that requires technical skill to handle all the various physical forces at work.
Quimby’s vaulting career almost didn’t get off the ground, but not because she was scared. It just took some time to put all the maneuvers together, and once she did that, she took off.
As a freshman, she went as high as 10-3 at the Class A sectionals and fell into a habit of finishing second to Ashlee Atwell, then a Niskayuna senior who held the Section II
“The first time I started, I actually quit, because I didn’t think I’d be very good at it, and then my coach told me to come back into it, because he thought I would be better at it,” she said. “I just had to give myself a chance to get the hang of it.”
“There’s a lot of technique in it,” said Christie Burns, who is in her second year coaching the Shen girls’ vaulters and jumpers. “I’ve learned a lot from coach Paretta, who’s coached her, I think, since seventh grade. Last year, I’d say it was pure athletic ability that got her to 10 feet constantly, and this year, she started putting together all the elements of pole vault. She started to really invert and get over the bar and turn and put together all those minor details that finish it off, and that’s why she’s jumped up a foot from last year.
Lindquist also brought up
Quimby’s body turn at the top as a key element to her progression this season.
Quimby had an excellent season as a sophomore, winning a bronze medal at indoor states and winning all of the outdoor meets before finishing second (11-3) to state record holder Stephanie Duffey of Washingtonville at the state meet.
She’s taken it up another notch this year, now that she’s turning at the top instead of essentially going over on her back.
She went 11-81⁄2 on April 24 to finish fifth at Penn Relays and pass Atwell on the all-time Section II list, then vaulted 11-11 at Queensbury. The 12-foot milestone can’t be far off.
“She’s a great athlete. It’s just a matter of time,” Burns said. “I think she has it in her. She has the ability and skill to clear 12 feet by the end of the season. It’s a good time for her to peak. She’s been moving up every meet.”
“It’s exciting to see her development as an athlete,” Lindquist said. “This year, she’s made some huge strides, and we’re hoping to reach that 12-foot mark by the end of the season. That would be a really great accomplishment.”
“It’s [Section II record] awesome,” Quimby said. “I didn’t even know that I got it until my coach said ‘You realize that was the section record?’ I knew what it was, but I didn’t really think of it when I was competing until after.
“I’ll try to get it higher. The higher, the better, the longer it’ll be up there.”
Penn Relays was an important meet for Quimby because it gave her an opportunity to go against several vaulters who are clearly better than her.
At many Section II meets, she’s able to win her event on one attempt, but at Penn, she got a taste of tough competition in a big-time setting in front of thousands at Franklin Field.
“It was the biggest track meet I’ve ever been to, and there was a million people sitting there watching you,” Quimby said. “It was
really cool. I was kind of nervous when I first walked in, because I was, like, wow, we were in the middle of the field, and everyone was watching.”
“I think now she’s really aware of what she needs to do to get up with everybody up around the
12-foot mark,” Lindquist said. “You’re not going to be at 14, that’s the really, really elite kids, but that 12-foot mark is a huge mark nationally and state-wide. She’s just
really more determined now that she’s seen all those kids doing it, and a lot of those kids down there are juniors, too. It’s her peers,
Quimby is also an accomplished high jumper, having cleared 5-3 at indoor sectionals, and is called on to compete in other events, like the triple jump and relays, to help the Lady Plainsmen score points.
She’s automatic in the vault, though. The word “touchdown” holds a whole new meaning, when you’re landing in a mat having cleared heights never seen in Section II.
“My dad was kind of scared when I played football,” she said. “He was hesitant about letting me do it. My mom was all for it, because she understood why I wanted to do it, so she didn’t really care as much. My dad was kind of protective of me.
“I don’t even think about the fact that I could get hurt. It’s more of the fact that it’s fun, and it’s what I like to do, so it’s more like a hobby rather than like a competition.”
“You have to have a risk taker,” Burns said. “You have to have somebody who’s just ready to gun it and do whatever they can. She’s always up for a challenge. She’s not afraid to throw her body in the air and be upside down 12 feet in the air; she likes the challenge of that.”
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