Alex Howell

Westminster junior Alex Howell set a school and Carroll County girls pole vault record by vaulting 11 feet, one inch last week. (Kenneth K. Lam, The Baltimore Sun / January 7, 2014)

As a little girl, Alex Howell dreamed of becoming an Olympic gymnast, but in her freshman year at Westminster she decided to take on a new high-flying sport, pole vault.

Two weeks ago at the Frostbite Invitational, she vaulted a school-record 11 feet, 1 inch. That height would have won the state title in three of four classifications last winter.

At the Frostbite meet, the junior also set a school long jump record of 14 feet, 4 inches to finish seventh and matched her personal best in the 55-meter dash.

Howell, who has a 3.89 weighted GPA, wants to pole vault in college. She has qualified for the New Balance Nationals Indoor meet March 14-16 at The Armory in New York City.

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How did you start pole vaulting?

I used to do gymnastics and my coach Cathy Phillips, when I was thinking about quitting gymnastics, recommended that I should try pole vault.

What intrigued you about trying it?

I was running track at the time, and a lot of gymnasts when they quit, they get into pole vaulting. It takes a lot of upper body strength, and that's the same thing with gymnastics.

Why did you quit gymnastics?

It was just getting to be too much. It was 20 hours a week, and that was a lot with school. And I had injured my knee in gymnastics, and I didn't want that to happen again. I wanted to try something new.

What happened?

I was doing a skill on floor. It's like a back flip where you do a full twist, and I dislocated my knee cap. I had to be on crutches for a while, and I did not like that at all.

What do you enjoy most about pole vaulting?

It's just a lot of fun flying through the air.

Why did you decide to run track as a freshman?

During middle school when we'd have the races in gym class, I liked doing that because I was one of the faster kids, and I wanted to try track because some of my friends are doing it. Then I saw pole vault, and I was like, "Oh, wow. That looks like a lot of fun."

What's your goal for this season?

My goal was 11 feet, so now that I've reached that, it's 11-6.

What do you have to do to get better in this sport?

It's just a lot of practice and upper body strength.