SARATOGA SPRINGS – You eat a lip balm.
You snort a live fly up your nose.
You run with a 13-foot pole, stick it in the ground and invert yourself into an upside-down position.
In the multiple Golden Globe award-winning movie “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the act of “verse-jumping” — finding another version of yourself in the Alphaverse — is initiated by some unusual, seemingly random move.
In the real world, people actually perform Choice No. 3 above, though, and sometimes even find themselves in a whole new world when they do.
For years, Amelia McBain, a junior at Saratoga Springs High School, found her comfort zone on the gymnastics mat. Then her mom, Tracie, convinced her to make a leap of faith and try pole vaulting, and Amelia McBain gave it a shot when she was a sophomore.
Turns out she’s really good at it, too. McBain has hit 12 feet four times since October, and it seems like only a matter of time before she gets over 12-3 for another personal record. She’s the best pole vaulter in Section II right now, boy or girl, which means it’s not unusual for her to have to wait for her event to essentially be over before she gets her turn, since her starting height frequently is higher than the last height attained by her fellow vaulters.
That was nearly the case during a Tri County Indoor Track League meet at Union College on Jan. 7, when McBain passed on every height until the bar was at 10-0, at which point two South Glens Falls vaulters, Jacob Revell and Xavier Johnson, were the only ones left. They both exited at 11-0, leaving McBain by herself to tackle 11-6, which she accomplished on her second attempt. It took her one shot to clear 12-0, then she missed on three attempts at 12-3.
“I’ve really been happy with how I’ve been jumping,” she said after that meet. “Obviously, very happy with 12. But I do see a lot of ways I can improve my form to get that extra bar. It’s hard, and everything goes really fast.”
“It helps when there’s a boy or two kind of jumping with her,” Tracie McBain said. “It’s good and bad. It’s good because what you can do is, once you win it, she can pick her heights. She doesn’t have to go up six inches, she can get a PR at three inches. The bad is you’re going, and then you’ve got to go again, and there’s no wait time. She’s really good mentally. She’s tough. She manages it.”
Mental toughness is a critical element to pole vaulting in general, anyway, but McBain needs that quality for days like Jan. 7, when she had to wait until almost the end of a five-hour meet before she got to start vaulting.
Then time became compressed, since she was given just five minutes between attempts.
“It’s very nerve-racking,” Tracie said. “When you watch a race, it’s over and then it’s done. This is like, they jump, and then you have to get nervous again, and then you have to get nervous again.”
“I wasn’t expecting it to take this long,” Amelia said about the meet, with a laugh. “I focus on myself, and I focus on my jumps,” Amelia said. “Everyone else jumping around me doesn’t matter as much, because it’s more about me against the bars than me against other opponents.
“I focus on my teammates. I like to keep busy. I don’t like sitting around. I’m always running around to different field events.”
“She’s a very bright girl, and she’s mentally tough,” said Linda Kranick, the longtime Saratoga co-coach with her husband Art. “She knows how to turn it on and turn it off, and she’s interested in what the rest of the team is doing, also. She interacts with the rest of the team, and she’s concerned with what everybody else is doing, too. That’s the ultimate team player, when you care about your teammates and you want to contribute as much as you can.”
Tracie McBain, who ran track and cross country as a high schooler in Ohio, then in college at Ohio University, recognized the pole vaulter in her daughter while Amelia was still competing in gymnastics.
Amelia’s older sister, Sadie, now attending Colorado School of Mines, where she runs track and cross country, had competed for the Blue Streaks, but it took some time to sway Amelia toward the team.
“Actually, my mom forced me into it,” she said. “I was a gymnast, and she saw me and said, ‘Wow, you seem like you could have this body type, you should try it.’ Then my gymnastics friend brought me into it and I really liked it from the start
“I didn’t really want to join the track team, because my sister was on track, and I was like, ‘This is so hard.’ I can’t run. But ever since I joined, I can’t even imagine not doing it. The team aspect is so great. I miss my gymnastics team, but kids at school, it’s really nice to know everyone.”
“Amelia’s like, ‘Naw, no, I’m not interested in that,’ ” said Amelia’s father, Ed. “Couple weeks later, Tracie would say, ‘Hey, your friends really seem to like it.’ Then she did try it, and it was like a light switch.
“That’s something, with her gymnastics background, it translated pretty good. Then some good early coaching helped accentuate the things that create that movement. But even in gymnastics, she was always powerful, but she was graceful. In the air, she was really good. Her floor routine was really good. So I think it translated.”
Amelia has been working with vaulting coach Dennis Hogan, who runs the Adirondack Aerial Assault club at his home in Ballston Spa, where he has devised a variety of equipment to introduce newcomers to the event and help the experienced ones get better.
Pole vaulting is highly technical, an event where just the slightest flaw can sink an attempt.
So Amelia is constantly tweaking her form to optimize her skill, athleticism and preparation.
“I really like it because of all the different components it has,” she said. “Speed, and just the components of body control and body awareness. But I do think it’s harder than it looks. I like that there’s a lot to it, so it’s not like you’re just doing the same thing every time. There’s always something I can fix and work on.
“There are certain things like that. If I don’t move my hand, I can’t clear any bar, because I won’t be deep enough into the pit. Right now, the big thing is my invert, getting really close to the pole and going straight up. I’m kind of falling out of it and hitting the bar. I need to stay with the pole a little more and go straight up.”
Averill Park’s Alana Carroll set the Section II girls’ outdoor record at 13-0 in 2017 and the indoor record at 13-3.25 in 2018.
A two-time Section II champion, McBain went 11-3 at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island to finish eighth at the indoor state meet last year, followed by 11-3 to finish ninth at the outdoor state meet in Syracuse.
For now, the only goal is “just to keep improving,” Linda Kranick said. “That’s all. We don’t have a set height. And just keep enjoying what she’s doing. And Dennis is indispensable. What he’s doing is not only promoting the sport, but also the pole vault.”
McBain probably doesn’t need any help staying engaged during long meets, but toward that end, the Kranicks have also had her compete in sprints on occasion, and at the Jan. 7 meet, McBain tried 50-meter hurdling for the first time. She finished third behind teammate Genevieve Duchaussee in 8.9.
McBain said she’s grateful to the Kranicks for making her feel like she’s part of the team, and not just an athlete in her own isolated world off to the side, while the track buzzes with non-stop activity.
On Jan. 7, the afternoon meet drew hundreds of athletes, so there were people everywhere, doing everything, on the fieldhouse floor at first.
Toward the end of the day, many of them had cleared out, and all at once, McBain’s pole was the only one still jutting up into the air.
She cleared 12-0, which transported her back to October, when she did it for the first time.
“I was jumping really good. Like, I could feel my form and felt like this is going to be a good day,” she said of her first successful 12-footer. “December, I got it again, which I was pretty surprised about, and also got it at another meet, so this is four times making 12.
“Which I’m happy with, but kind of excited about that next step.”
Contact Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.