By Valerie Shelton
The desire to fly is a common dream for many, but a few Clovis athletes have soared to new heights, participating in the exhilarating track and field sport of pole vaulting.
For four Clovis natives, it doesn’t get much better then launching over the bar in front of packed crowd of onlookers at the Clovis Farmer’s Market.
On Friday, July 24, elite pole vaulters Brad Beekman and Mallory Gilbert along with high school contestants Nick Wilcots and Shelby Noble, did just that competing as part of Team Clovis in the North American Pole Vaulting Championships.
This was the first year Beekman, a 2013 Clovis East graduate and Cal Poly student, was able to compete in the street vault and he said it is a completely different atmosphere then he’s used to.
“When we have track meets its usually quiet or you have some chanting going on like ‘go Brad’ but when you run down the runaway it’s quiet until after you do the vault and it’s ‘oh, yeah’ if you get it or ‘ahh’ if you miss,” Beekman said. “In this atmosphere it’s loud music, yelling and depending on the person, some people really love it and do really good and some people shy away from it. I’ve never done an event like this.”
Beekman has been pole vaulting since he was in the 8th grade and loved vaulting at Clovis East. He currently vaults at Cal Poly, where he is majoring in Ag Business. At a young age, Beekman was involved in several sports but ultimately chose to stick with pole vaulting after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“I did a ton of sports—football, baseball, wrestling—I did everything I could do but it was hard to manage it,” Beekman said. “Pole vault is an extreme thing and it’s fun but it was easier for me to manage because I could go do a jump and then I could leave and rest for a while before going and doing another jump.”
Like Beekman, recent Clovis West graduate Nick Wilcots will also be joining the vault team at Cal Poly in the fall. This is the second year Wilcots has competed in the Old Town Clovis street vault. He competed in 2014 and said his goal is to improve each time. The event, he said, brings people together.
“It’s during the farmer’s market so people can just come, grab some fruit and have a good time,” Wilcots said.
Beekman said its all about letting people in the community see what pole vaulting is all about.
“We’re trying to bring out as many people as we can and familiarize everyone with pole vaulting,” Beekman said. “You say pole vaulting to some people and they either don’t know what it is or they just think ‘oh, the thing with the stick,’ so we’re trying to promote pole vault awareness and let everyone have a good time.”
Incoming Clovis West senior Shelby Noble represented Team Clovis as the youngest member of the team. Like Beekman, this was also her first time competing in the street vault.
“I think this is a great experience and opportunity,” Noble said.
Rounding out Team Clovis was post-collegiate athlete Mallory Gilbert, a 2003 graduate of Clovis High School. Gilbert currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona, where she trains at the World Athletic Center. This was her second time competing in the Old Town Clovis street vault. She first competed on the Rising Stars Team in 2012.
“It’s fun to come back and be able to be one of the elites on the team,” Gilbert said. “It’s a really fun vault to vault at because unlike track meets where everyone is up in the stands, this one everyone is right around the pit and the noise level and energy level is extended so it just gives you more adrenaline and a better opportunity to rise high.”
Gilbert remembers being a spectator at the event when she was young.
“It’s been around for over 20 years now and I remember going to it as a kid and I think it’s always drawn a huge crowd and now that it has been going on this long it has the knowledge base so people plan for it and look forward to it,” Gilbert said.
Like most post-collegiate track and field athletes, Gilbert said her ultimate goal is to go to the Olympics, but she is taking everything one step at a time.
“I believe everyone who trains after college has that dream in mind of going to the Olympics even though the road ahead is tough and there is only that 0.5 percent of people who make the team but you have to dream big,” Gilbert said. “My next step in pursuing my dreams would definitely be to go to the U.S. trials. Our nation is one of the toughest trials to get into but I’d love to make it and from there be able to build on that.”
While none of Team Clovis’ competitors took home the top prize individually, as a group they earned fourth place among the eight teams, reaching 52 inches of height between the four of them.
In first place was Team Sacramento, with 58’4 inches, followed by Team Los Angeles with 57 inches, and Team Hanford with 55 inches. Other teams to compete were Team Provo (Utah), Team Reno (Nevada), Team Phoenix (Arizona) and Team Rising Stars, which consisted of athletes who didn’t make a city team, two of which were from the Clovis area—Buchanan’s Jenny Wilson and Fresno State’s Caroline Weaver.
Noble earned a second place nod among all the high school girls competing, earning 11’6 inches. The winner in the category was Brook Tjerrild of Clovis North, who competed with Team Hanford. Tjerrild reached 12 inches.
Wilcots came in sixth place in the high school boys’ category with a 12’6 vault. The top prize went to Jett Gordon of Team Los Angeles, with a vault of 16 inches.
In the elite women category, Gilbert came in fifth with 12 inches. The top spot went to Team Sacramento’s Brysun Stately, with 14’4 inches. Fresno State’s Caroline Weaver, who competed on the Rising Stars team, came in last place in the category with a 10’6 vault.
Among the elite men, first-time Clovis street vault competitor Brad Beekman, a Clovis East graduate now attending Cal Poly, vaulted to 16 inches, which while last place was only two inches away from top elite men’s vaulter Mike Arnold, who got 18 inches competing on Team Reno.
Business Organization of Old Town’s Carole Lester said the pole vault competition has been held in Old Town Clovis for the last 21 years now and is an event many residents and visitors look forward to each year.
“This is one of the most exciting events we have in Old Town Clovis and everyone talks about it,” Lester said.
Clovis Mayor Nathan Magsig said he is one of the many residents who loves to come out and cheer on Team Clovis and the other vaulters.
“I’ve been able to come out to this event for the last 15 years and I’m always impressed not only with the competitiveness but ultimately how much poise each athlete has,” Magsig said.