Leaps and bounds: Francis visits East Ridge pole vault camp
Fourth grader Elena Dexheimer made a run up toward the pit, stuck her pole in the ground and came barreling into the padding.
As she got up, Shawn Francis called her over and gave her a few tips.
Dexheimer took the news and raced back in line to take her next crack at a vault.
And when she went again she went just a few inches higher into the air before again tumbling into the padding.
“There you go,” Francis said. “Wasn’t that better?”
Dexheimer rose up from the padding with a big smile and nodded quickly before racing back to the end of the line, eager to try her newfound tricks of the trade one more time.
Dexheimer was one of many kids Hastings native Francis helped at East Ridge pole vault coach Mark Haesly’s free summer pole vault camp last week.
“This is why I love coming here because they hit these little personal records and they’re so pumped to fly through the air, about four feet into the air,” Francis said. “You take it for granted when you’re jumping 18-feet in the air, that’s why you do it. It’s fun.”
Francis experienced the ups and the downs involved with learning the sport, and for beginners, there are far more downs than ups. He said even now, in his 14th year in the sport, he has yet to master it. He described the sport as unmasterable, saying it’s a constant puzzle competitors work to solve. Haesly, who was Francis’ coach at Hastings, said it takes about 10 years for someone to really learn the sport.
“These kids, if they start in ninth grade they’ve got four years,” Haesly said. “They still haven’t perfected that sport. It’s the type of sport where you have to work hours and hours on your own time as well as going to camps and clinics and it’s just not an immediate success sport.”
That’s why Haesly looks for kids with strong work ethic to succeed in the sport.
“With vaulting it’s going to be failure, failure, failure, success, then failure, failure, failure,” Haesly said. “I always tell my vaulters that when you’re done at a meet, you’ve always missed your last jump. I just think these kids have to learn to work and be dedicated and they will see success down the road.”
Haesly said Francis had the best work ethic of any vaulter he’s coached in 32 years.
“His dedication of trying to learn the sport mentally as well as physically, he’s never given up,” Haesly said.
That might explain the high level of success he’s experienced.
Francis has vaulted as high as 18-feet-2-inches, which would be good enough to qualify for the 2016 US Olympic trials. Francis just needs to hit that height within 365 days of the trial, but he has ideas of going even higher. He’d need to jump about another half-foot higher to have a good shot at heading to the Rio games in 2016.
“[I’m working on] that consistency and maybe jumping a little higher so I can make that team down the road,” he said. “That’s what we’re shooting for. … The height’s there, it’s just we need to keep the bar up one of these times.”
Francis said Haesly’s coaching at Hastings almost instantly helped him improve his vault by 2.5 feet. That steady improvement continued during his high school career under Haesly’s tutelage before heading to North Dakota State for college.
“He helped a lot,” Francis said. “Just his positive attitude and the fact that he has such a passion for this event, you can tell that the pole vault is in his blood. That’s why he was a good coach back then and he’s a good friend today.”
But last week Haesly took a step back at his camp and allowed Francis to do much of the coaching. He wanted his campers to see the level they could aspire to be at if they just keep working, keep vaulting.
“I just hope the kids when they see Shawn really are impressed by what he’s done and his dedication,” Haesly said.
It was apparent whenever Francis would take a few turns at the vault and all of the kids stared as he effortlessly soared into the sky they were at the very least impressed by his height — wondering how high they themselves could go.