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East County Wednesday, Apr. 25, 2018 4 years ago

Lakewood Ranch pole vaulters explain their success in a unique sport

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Two Mustangs have the change to medal in the event at the state meet.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Editor

At Lakewood Ranch High’s district meet on April 16, Karen Kay Lyvers found herself falling.

The senior had already secured first place at the meet. The wind at Seminole High was whipping at 20 mph. There was no reason for Lyvers to jump, but she needed to clear 12 feet to feel satisfied, so she tried.

It didn’t go well. The wind messed up her timing. Her hands were late, she said, and her base arm didn’t get out in time behind them, so there she was, falling from the distance she hoped to clear.

She landed flat on her left side. In the moment of impact, Lyvers thought she had broken her hip (she hadn’t, but she was still feeling the impact four days later). Instead of calling it a day and getting a medical check, Lyvers got back in line for another attempt.

She cleared 12 feet and, finally, felt content.

That’s what pole vaulting can do to a person.

Karen Kay Lyvers.

Lyvers is the top girls pole vaulter in Class 4A with her season-best jump of 12 feet, 2.5 inches coming on March 24 at the FSU Relays. Her Mustangs boys counterpart, senior Nick Napier, holds the fourth-best jump in Class 4A, a 14-foot, 3.25-inch leap at the Manatee Varsity County Championships on April 3.

Both pole vaulters are expected to compete for medals at the state championships on May 4-5 at the University of North Florida, assuming nothing catastrophic happens at the regional meet in Lakeland on April 26. Lyvers’ fall shows that nothing is a sure thing.

It’s a sport that gets weirder the more you think about it, and the competitors know it. That’s what they like about it, they said. Napier said he’s never been scared by heights, and thinks the feeling of being surrounded by nothing but air is fun. Lyvers agrees.

“It’s such a rush,” she said. “You feel like an awesome athlete. There’s nothing like it.”

Pole vaulters aren’t one-dimensional. The sport requires speed to get momentum, strength to control the pole and coordination to slither through the air and over the bar.

Nick Napier.

Napier said the sport is simpler than it looks, and that the most successful vaulters are the ones who listen to coaches. It’s the little things that have taken him from good to great, he said. More rest, swimming laps, eating less junk. None of it is new-age science. Napier has been vaulting since his freshman year, but only started taking it seriously last season after sitting down with his dad, Mustangs track and field coach Mark Napier.

“He said I had a chance to be good,” Nick Napier said. “He inspired me to make the changes.”

Napier is able to “invert” when he vaults, or cross over the bar upside down. That’s the holy grail of vaulting, as Lyvers said. It allows you to maximize your vaults, adding up to two feet, and it looks cool, too. She’s not speaking from experience. Lyvers said she’s not coordinated enough to invert.

The reason she’s able to beat girls who can is her strength. Lyvers uses a 14-foot, 150-pound pole. It feels like a tree in her hands, she said, and when she gets it to fully bend it “rockets” her into the air. Lyvers said not many girls can control a pole of that length and weight.

She doesn’t look as stylish as Napier going over the bar, she admits. In fact, some people have said it looks like she break dances over the bar. Lyvers said she is fine with looking funky as long as she keeps winning.

Both Lyvers and Napier will attempt to make that leap at regionals.

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I’m the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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