ROTTERDAM — There are so many factors involved in a successful pole vault.
There’s the speed component on the runway, planting in the box for takeoff, coordinating the physics of the flexible pole and your arms, back, hips and legs, then snaking yourself over that bar that is just so way up there.
And when you go to a school with no legacy, no history of producing good pole vaulters, you wrestle with that to some degree, too.
Lena Calkins is a sophomore at Mohonasen High School, which has never sent a pole vaulter to the state meet, but will do so on Saturday when she competes at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island.
Making the state meet, following a season in which she hit 11-0 twice, was a nice landmark moment for her and her school. But Calkins won’t be approaching this big meet with numbers or medals in mind, but with what got her there — sticking to the process of getting better at her event.
Based on her marked improvement since last year, Saturday promises to be an interesting day for Calkins, who started out practicing her grip with a broomstick out of the closet and is now one of the best high school pole vaulting girls in New York state.
“The goal is always to place, but I think the main goal is to have fun and PR [personal record],” she said. “PR’s are great, but they’re not always going to happen. Good runway, good vault . . . basically take what you’re trying to fix in practice and see if you can do it in the meet.”
“She’s very mature,” vaulting coach Dennis Hogan said. “Kids nowadays want instant gratification, and she picked a sport where the end of every day is going to be a miss.
“When I talk about the process, a year ago, she no-heighted at 8-0 in her initial meet. This year at her initial meet, she got up to 10-6. That’s a drastic increase, but a lot of that is from learning the process. When she misses, she definitely does get frustrated, but she delineates it pretty quickly.”
Calkins hit 11-0 on Dec. 28 at Utica College, finishing second to Averill Park’s Alana Carroll, and equaled it at a Suburban Council meet at Shenendehowa on Feb. 11.
She didn’t win the meet at Utica, but showed a steady progression after passing until the bar was at 9-0. After clearing that in her second attempt, she nailed 9-6, 10-0, 10-6 and 11-0 on first attempts before striking out at 11-6.
She was exposed to the event in seventh grade, when a group of five kids gave it a shot with some rudimentary drills on the suggestion of a coach, and since then, only she and teammate Emily Racana, who was second to Calkins at sectionals, have stuck with it.
“She’s a smart kid with the mental fortitude to even try it,” Mohonasen head coach Tara Halliday said. “Just to have the courage to catapult yourself through the air on this little pole, and it’s very technical.”
“She is obsessed,” Hogan said. “She’s tiny — 5-4, 102 pounds — and I’d love to see her get another 10 pounds of muscle. But it’s all gradual.”
“My mom tells me she tries to stay as far away as possible, because she doesn’t want her nervous energy, like, radiating onto me,” Calkins said with a grin.
“My dad, I’m not sure if he gets nervous. He tries to help me as much as he can during meets, but when I’m going for attempts, he gets nervous. He videotapes, so he might hide behind the camera.”
Just as there are a variety of moving parts that go into a good jump, there have been a variety of people behind the scenes who have helped put Calkins in position to excel.
With an athletic career still well on the rise, she made a point of thanking them for that.
Besides her parents, Renee and Dwight, who have gone the extra yard to shuttle their daughter to Hogan’s training facility in Ballston Spa twice a week all summer, Calkins is grateful to Hogan, who runs the Adirondack Aerial Assault Pole Vault Club, and Halliday, who coordinates with Hogan in the spirit of doing what’s best for her pole vaulter, even if it means missing a regular track practice at the high school to rest.
Calkins went so far as to thank Mohonasen diving coach Bill Mottola for opening the pool especially for her so she could do some laps in the water that would protect her strained hamstring, and massage therapist Claudia Payton.
“There were times when she would come in her pajamas just so I would be ready for the meet,” Calkins said.
Calkins faces some tough competition on Saturday.
Carroll boasts a 12-6 from the state qualifier, and there’s a Section V sophomore, Erica Ellis of Gates Chili, who has hit 13-1.
But it won’t be about that, in Calkins’ first of what should be many more state meets before she graduates.
She has stuff to work on.
“I’m trying to keep the pole close to me in the whole vault, which will allow my shoulders to drop and for me to invert so that I’ll get completely upside down and be able to go up higher and get the next heights,” she said.