Megan Clark
Megan Clark, a pole vaulter with Columbus High School track and field team, set the AAA record at state meet May 4. She cleared 12 feet, 2 inches.

FORT BENNING, Ga. (May 30, 2012) -- When Megan Clark vaulted 12 feet, 2 inches at the track and field state meet May 4, she set a new class AAA girls high school record for Georgia. The year before, the record was 12 feet.

"This is my first state record," she said. "I have three state titles, but I've never broken a state record before so that was special to me, and I was excited that my family and my coaches could be there for it."

The record ended her high school track and field career on a high note. She graduated Saturday from Columbus High School and will be pole vaulting at Duke this fall. In the interim, she'll be competing at nationals in June, along with other meets throughout the season.

"Ultimately, my goal is to go to the Olympics," said the 17-year-old, "but I hope in the next couple years to better my technique and increase my height because I'll just be focusing on pole vault."

Auspicious beginnings
"I actually used to be a gymnast," Clark said. "A lot of vaulters were gymnasts because you get more of the kinesthetic awareness, because you're used to turning upside down and you're used to going through the air. It doesn't scare you as much."

In high school, her mother signed her up for track.

"Which I wasn't too thrilled about
because I hate running," she said. "But when I started doing it, I really loved it and I loved the team. I tried every event."

Soon, one event stood out from the rest -- pole vaulting.

"It's relaxing to me in a way," Clark said. "I love vaulting. That's how I burn off my steam. And just the feeling of going over and you're flying through the air, it's awesome. I love that I can be committed to it and I can get better. I have potential and I know I can work toward a goal."

Columbus track and field coach Mark Erb said he's seen her improve in the last few months.

"She works hard," he said. "I've had a lot of really good kids, but I've never coached anybody who set an all-time state record. It was cool to be part of that."

The positive side of PCSing


The Clark Family moved to Fort Benning last June. For Megan Clark, it was her third high school in four years.

Unlike Virginia and New York, where she vaulted before, Georgia didn't have an indoor season, and there was no dedicated pole vaulting coach in the Columbus area.

"So my mom stepped up and learned how to coach me," she said.

"Having her mom there coaching her, I think we've grown closer as a family," said her dad, Col. Ron Clark. "I think we were more committed to her success as an athlete because we didn't have a program to fall in on.

Being a military kid, a lot of times you think moving is always a bad thing. Moving, I think, has caused us to improve."

Megan was all-state as a freshman in Virginia, said the 192nd Infantry Brigade commander, but her New York high school didn't have a vaulting program.

"But the blessing was 45 minutes up the road was the Hudson Valley Flying Circus, which is the best pole vault club in the country," he said. "I think Megan is a stronger and better vaulter now for having this experience (in Columbus) because she didn't have a coach. She had to become more aware as an athlete."

A Family affair
Megan Clark said she's enjoyed having her mom as a coach while her dad supports by covering each of her meets on video, providing nutritional and sleep guidance and helping her be calm before a competition.

"It's not just me that's committed to it," she said. "My parents are just as dedicated and committed to my dreams as I am. I couldn't ask for more supportive parents."

Ron Clark said his wife, Simona, began learning to coach from Tim St. Lawrence, the 2012 club pole vault coach of the year, who's trained all-Americans and Olympians.

"She really dedicated herself to becoming a good coach," he said. "I think for our family, it's a unifying thing. For me it's been a lot of fun, just to watch your kid … find their thing, whatever that is, and for Megan, it's track and field, specifically pole vault. And to see her achieve her dreams is really the thing for us. It's been great."

The couple have never missed a meet their daughter was at. This year alone, she's competed as far afield as New York and Nevada.

"It's a Family thing," she said.

The 'spirit of pole vault'
Simona Clark, who had previously learned to coach gymnastics and soccer when her daughter competed in those sports, also took on coaching for other prep pole vaulters, including several from Columbus High, Hardaway and Shaw. You would think that would be a conflict of interests, Ron Clark said, but it all goes back to something he calls "the spirit of pole vault."

"They're all competing against that bar; they're not competing against each other," he said.
"When you compete in pole vault, it's different from a lot of sports," Megan Clark said. "All the kids are rooting each other on. It's not like gymnastics where you're hoping someone falls so you can beat them. Everyone wants to win, but we're willing to help each other to win because by the end of the day it's how well you vault; it's not how well other people vault. So if I were to finish last at nationals, but I get a personal record, I would be more than OK with that."

At the May 4 meet where she broke the state record, another girl had broken the record with a height of 12-1 just two hours before. That girl loaned Megan Clark her poles because Megan's were too soft. That's not the exception, Megan said. She has often lent out her poles and seen other vaulters do the same.

"It's about helping them do their best, and you doing your best," she said. "What my coach used to always say about records is that records are borrowed, so yes, I have the record this year but I'd be happy for someone to come back next year and beat my record because that just means that the state's getting better, that pole vault is growing."

Balance in excellence
Megan has set some high goals for herself in the coming year. So far, she's cleared 13 feet. She's hoping to clear 14-6 by the end of next year. The national record for women's pole vaulting is 16-2.

But along with hoping to win championships and titles, she remains dedicated to her schoolwork, earning straight As in all her subjects.

"She's just got a great work ethic," said Erb, who's been coaching track and field for 28 years. "She does extremely well on and off the field. She comes to practice ready to work, and that's a really good example for all the other kids. She illustrates the typical military kid. She makes friends quickly. She's a good student. She excels."

Erb said he expects to hear great things about her -- at nationals in June and during her career at Duke, where she has a full track and field scholarship.

Through all of it, Megan has remained humble.

"Pole vault is a very humbling sport because every meet you end in failure," she said. "It doesn't matter how high you vault, you're going to miss three times on the next height. You always have something to strive for next time. I want to set a personal record. I want to meet my potential in pole vault and that's ultimately my goal, whether that's 13 feet or that's 15 feet or 16 feet. I want to get as far as I can in this sport."

Balance in excellence
Megan has set some high goals for herself in the coming year. So far, she's cleared 13 feet. She's hoping to clear 14-6 by the end of next year. The national record for women's pole vaulting is 16-2.
But along with hoping to win championships and titles, she remains dedicated to her schoolwork, earning straight As in all her subjects.

"She's just got a great work ethic," said Erb, who's been coaching track and field for 28 years. "She does extremely well on and off the field. She comes to practice ready to work, and that's a really good example for all the other kids. She illustrates the typical military kid. She makes friends quickly. She's a good student. She excels."

Erb said he expects to hear great things about her -- at nationals in June and during her career at Duke, where she has a full track and field scholarship.

Through all of it, Megan has remained humble.

"Pole vault is a very humbling sport because every meet you end in failure," she said. "It doesn't matter how high you vault, you're going to miss three times on the next height. You always have something to strive for next time. I want to set a personal record. I want to meet my potential in pole vault and that's ultimately my goal, whether that's 13 feet or that's 15 feet or 16 feet. I want to get as far as I can in this sport."

PRACTICAL APPLICATION: CSF-PREP for pole vaulting

A Soldier's performance has often been compared to an athlete's performance. Both rely on a combination of physical, mental and emotional excellence to perform at their peak capacity.

When Col. Ron Clark was looking for ways to help his daughter train for competitions, the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, Performance and Resilience Enhancement Program was a timely solution.

Clark said the five mental skills foundations -- building confidence, attention control, energy management, goal setting and integrating imagery -- helped her improve as a pole vautler.

"It's amazing -- the mental part of it," he said. "You'll see a kid vault 12 feet when the bar's at 11, but when the bar goes to 12 he can't clear it."

Megan Clark went through the curriculum to develop the mental and emotional aspects of competing.

"(In) pole vault, the greatest distance is the 6 inches between your ears," she said. "It's not about how high you vault. In your head if you think you can't clear something, then you're not going to. You have to be open-minded and ready to compete, and CSF helped me with that a lot this year."


The Columbus High school graduate said she often vaults much better in practice than at a meet. Working with CSF-PREP has helped her close the gap.

"If I hadn't gone to that, I probably wouldn't have cleared anywhere near as high as I did this year," she said. "The mental drives the physical. CSF-PREP teaches you to think, 'I can clear this.' You have to forget the mindset of training when you're competing. You have to focus. It teaches you to focus on the … positive."

Page last updated Wed May 30th, 2012 at 00:00