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AIRBORNE
POLE-VAULT CHAMP AIMS HIGH

Mary Saxer, a senior at Lancaster High, holds school records in the 55-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, the 4x200 meter relay, the long jump and the pole vault. She has Section VI records for the long jump in both indoor and outdoor track.

If that's not impressive enough, she also holds the national indoor pole vault record. This year, she vaulted against Olympians in New York City. Not many high school students get to compete at an Olympic athletic level. Nor are they in Sports Illustrated, but Mary was.

Before she learned how to vault, Mary, who is 5 feet 7 inches tall, sprinted, ran relays and long jumped. The long jump was her "big event" until last year, as a junior, when she first tried vaulting. Although she thought about doing it "once or twice" before, she never did. Then, a private coach got her started only a year and a half ago.

When describing pole vaulting, Mary says: "Pretty much, you just run down a runway with a pole between 11 and 14 feet long. You plant the pole in a box, and then try to propel yourself over a bar. Of course, there is a lot of technique that goes into it, too."

Technique along with a wild and crazy personality!

"When I'm in the air, I usually have a pretty good feeling if I am going to clear the bar or not, but sometimes I'll be over the bar and hardly hit it, and it will still fall down. It's a tricky event like that," she says.

Just as she wears specific shoes for running and jumping, she has spikes for vaulting. "They help me get on my toes more," she says.

Mary has several of her own 14-foot-long poles; each holds between 140 and 160 pounds. On average, she uses up to six poles a meet. She goes through different poles as she warms up, and she "blows through poles" as her speed and power change.

Mary practices at school Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and goes to her private coach's house Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays: "He has a field house in his backyard, and that's where I practice. In the summer, I use his pole vault pit outside," she said.

When most teenagers are sleeping in on Saturdays, Mary makes the trip to Rochester to train. "The drive gets long, but when I see the rewards of practicing, it's worth it."

To train, she does a lot of drills and she lifts weights for vaulting. "I also practice running with the pole, and, of course, I actually vault," she says. "I don't have a specific diet. I love to eat, and I don't eat too healthy either! But I try to have a pretty balanced diet."

Besides having a few hamstring problems and shin troubles, Mary has never had a major injury. "I've been pretty lucky with that," she says.

With all of the pressure to meet high standards, Mary psyches herself up to get ready: "I listen to music to get in the zone. I also try to focus and think about what I have to get done."

Mary clarifies that she has a boyfriend, but with a smile, she exclaims: "Pole vaulting is good for the guy situation! They all think it's pretty cool, and they ask a lot about it."

When asked who should try pole vaulting, Mary's philosophy is: "You only live once, so anyone should. It's scary but fun!"

Not only is this golden girl of Section VI a track idol locally, she's a national superstar. She's long-jumped 19 feet, 1 3/4 inches -- an amazing accomplishment. She can pole vault up to 14 feet, 2 inches, when the world record is 16 feet 1 1/4 inches, set at the Athens Olympics Games.

Mary plans to attend the University of Notre Dame. When describing her long-term dreams, she says: "I want to try to perfect my vaulting technique and see where that takes me, and what heights I can go. If the Olympics come along and I make it, then great, but if not, that's OK, too."

Justine Januszkiewicz is a senior at Amherst Central.