Lofty ambitions

The Baltimore Sun

South River senior Jen Whitfield got hooked on pole vaulting in her freshman year, and she's been clearing the cross bar ever since. Competing in the indoor and outdoor seasons for four years, she has won one state title (her sophomore year in indoor) and has finished second at states in each of her first three years of outdoor. She would like nothing better than to come away with that elusive outdoor state title this spring.

Whitfield has also won a number of county titles in indoor and outdoor and has the school record in both seasons - leaping 9 feet, 7 inches in indoor and 9-6 in outdoor. Maintaining a 3.0 grade-point average, she is considering UMBC and Salisbury among other colleges and plans to study physical therapy while continuing pole vaulting.

Whitfield spent two years playing forward for the Seahawks' varsity soccer team and enjoys playing with her two dogs, Duke, a boxer, and Rox, a cocker spaniel. To prepare for college, she is part of the Jump Start Program, taking a college-level reading class.

What do you enjoy you the most about pole vaulting?

Everything - the adrenaline rush you get from it.

What was it like the first time you tried it?

I was really nervous. I think my biggest fear was falling backward on my head or something. But I landed on the mat.

What was the feeling like when you won a state title in your sophomore year?

I can't even explain it - I think I was just so shocked by everything. I never get the feeling [that I may have won] because there are so many great competitors out there, so it's really tough.

What's the feeling like when you prepare to pole vault?

I think the whole feeling starts when you step onto the runway. You're just thinking: 'Oh my God, it's coming up.' I hope that everything goes right because in pole vaulting if you messed up one thing, you mess everything else up. So if your step is wrong where you take off at, then your whole vault is wrong. So I'm really nervous and just want to make sure that everything goes right.

The art of pole vaulting, can you break it down for me?

You have to run really fast first. When you plant, you have to make sure that your arms are extended and that you get yourself upside down. When you think you've cleared the crossbar, then you twist your body. Then you throw the pole back and hopefully you cleared the crossbar.

How has the Jump Start Program helped get you ready for college?

College is a big step, and it has definitely relieved some of the stress, especially my senior year of high school because I'm starting to think about graduation, prom, where I'm thinking about going to college. So it has definitely given me a good opportunity to see what college is like.

What's it like being a senior?

It's a good feeling. You feel like you run the school even though you don't. I just want to have fun with my friends, have a great prom and make sure I have some great memories.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

It's a quote my pole vaulting coach told me: "Quitters never win, and winners never quit." He told me that my sophomore year, and it's always stuck with me through everything I do.

Next year, when you're off to college and then come back home, what's the first thing you ask your mother to make you for dinner?

Probably the shrimp linguine she makes, but everything she makes is special.

What's it like coming home every day to your dogs?

Duke always jumps up and down and, Rox always barks to let me know he's there.

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