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East County Wednesday, Apr. 6, 2022 4 months ago

ODA junior ranks third in Class 1A boys pole vault

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ODA junior Tyler Beck aims to soar to a state medal in the pole vault.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Editor

He thought he was paralyzed. 

Tyler Beck, of The Out-of-Door Academy, was on his back and he could not move after attempting a pole vault at Venice High.

Beck had tried to get in his rock back position — where pole vaulters rotate their bodies using their shoulders as a pivot point, so their legs point into the air — but he rocked too far. His feet went behind his head. Beck tried to turn to catch himself but he landed on his back. 

He was not paralyzed, but he was hurt. He pulled tendons and had the wind knocked out of him. But he was back to competing within a month.

Still, the moment scared him. The risk of serious injury in pole vaulting never goes away. 

That was early in his career. Now an ODA junior, Beck doesn't think about the risk. 

"You have to put that stuff out of your mind," Beck said. "I live in the moment. I don't think about anything (when preparing to vault), actually. It all comes naturally now." 

As of April 1, Beck has the third best effort in the pole vault among Florida High School Athletic Association Class 1A athletes. His vault of 13 feet, 5.5 inches came March 23 at the IMG Spring Break Invitational. He is tied with Bishop Snyder senior Jacob Tantarelli and is just 3 3/4 inches behind Providence High senior Jonah Casey for second place. They all trail Community School senior Nick Molloy (15 feet, 9 inches) by a significant margin.

Beck is not ruling out the possibility of catching Molloy by the time the state meet in Gainesville arrives May 11. 

That's because Beck was off to a late start this season. He also plays on ODA's boys basketball team and he suffered a concussion during the basketball season that left him unable to participate in early track and field practices.

When he returned, his conditioning was off and he had not built up the strength or speed necessary to reach heights that would put him among the state's best. It took Beck weeks to feel like he was where he needed to be in his training. 

Beck said he feels good now and he is trying to make up for the time lost.

Not originally a pole vaulter in track and field, he started as a distance runner. As a sixth grader, Beck was told by then-ODA distance running coach Jeff Taylor that he would make a great pole vaulter because of his natural athleticism and strength. The only problem was that Taylor did not know how to coach pole vault. Taylor suggested YouTube videos. 

"I was OK with that," Beck said. "I was kind of crazy back then." 

Even without an experienced coach, Beck was able to vault eight feet as a sixth grader. His abilities as a runner provided him with a lot of momentum going into each vault. 

Since that first season, Beck has worked with a number of experienced pole vault coaches to improve as much as he can. He currently trains with Lacy Harper, a Cardinal Mooney High graduate who made the U.S. Olympic team in 2012. Harper and John Raleigh, Harper's former coach, run an AAU pole vault club that practices at Cardinal Mooney each afternoon. Though Harper has tons of personal experience with pole vault, she's only been coaching for a few years. As a result, Harper said, she tries not to go overboard when discussing a pole vaulter's potential. Still, Harper said she believes Beck has a bright future. 

"He has been progressing well because he's been doing it for so long," Harper said. "He's experienced, he's big and he's strong. He could easily jump 15 feet someday but we're hoping for even more than that. He's quick on the runway and that is super helpful. We're just focused on fixing a few technical things."

Beck said his biggest improvements have come when he goes back to the basics. Sometimes, Beck said, he thinks every aspect of every vault has to be perfect, that all elements of a vault have to be weighed equally. That is not always true. A good plant — the transition between the approaching run and going vertical — can make up for a lot of mistakes elsewhere. As long as your plant is strong, Beck said, you can worry less about other things. Remembering that has helped him get out of ruts in the past. 

Beck also said being in the air is comforting to him. So comfortable he is now working toward a pilot's license. It's that love of floating through the air that drives him even more than any medal.

"For me, it's about knowing you have the ability to do something that few other people can do," Beck said. "It has a uniqueness to it. It has freedom."

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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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