Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Pole Vaulters Fly High at the Avenues; by Teresa Stepzinski

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Pole Vaulters Fly High at the Avenues; by Teresa Stepzinski

Article excerpt

Byline: teresa.stepzinski@jacksonville.com

Novice and experienced pole vaulters from throughout Florida competed in an open exhibition Saturday inside The Avenues shopping mall to hone their skills and promote their sport.

Curious shoppers lined the railing of the shopping mall's second floor to watch as about 80 vaulters ranging in age from 10 to 65 sprinted full speed along a narrow, springy 140 foot long runway before planting their pole then launching themselves up and over, a crossbar set at varying heights up to about 17 feet or 17.6 feet.

"This is the only event in the United States like this," said Coach Eli Sunquist, founder and director of the Jacksonville Athletic Club, which hosted the unique event.

Open to competitors of all ages and abilities, the event began at 10 a.m. and continued with the last round set to start at 7 p.m. in the middle of the mall. Participants included high school, collegiate and post-collegiate athletes newcomers to the sport as well as a veterans.

"Anybody can pole vault. It takes time to get some of the finer points of the technique down. But as long as an athlete is a little fearless and a little stubborn, and committed to getting better, you know, it's definitely something you can teach to anybody," said Coach Eli Sunquist, founder and director of the athletic club, which offers elite track and field training.

Sunquist said this is the second time since 2015 The Avenues has served as the venue for the indoor event. The reason they picked the mall, Sunquist said, is because it's two stories, and mall management has been gracious in accommodating the event.

"Nobody gets to watch the pole vault from a birds eye view like this. It's always been from the ground before this event," he said.

Regardless whether the vaulters cleared the crossbar or fell short, the crowd applauded their effort. Family, friends and coaches cheered on the athletes who whether they knew it or not, were an inspiration to at least one young spectator.

"Daddy! I wanna do it! I wanna do it!," Caleb Mitchell, 5, implored his father, Conrad, as they watched the first group a mix of boys and girls take on the challenge of heights ranging from four up to 12 feet. …

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