Vandalia eighth grader Jackson Wimberly understands the power of small, incremental improvements. He picked up the pole vault for the first time in sixth grade. Still, Jackson set a school record after a year of small but steady improvements. As a seventh grader, he won gold at the state championship in East Peoria. Over a year, he added just shy of two-and-a-half feet to his jump, an improvement he strives to make again this fall as an eighth grader chasing a thirteen-foot jump.
Setting the Bar
As Jackson and I chat, he fills me in, saying that when he first learned to pole vault in sixth grade, he could barely clear eight feet. This past spring, he set a Vandalia School record (for the seventh grade), clearing ten-foot-four-inches during a home meet. He answered quickly and simply when asked how he improved by over two feet over a year. “I just kept working.”
Jackson shares that he wasn’t sure what events he wanted to participate in when he decided to join the track team in sixth grade. He gave the pole vault a chance, becoming intrigued after a conversation with his grandfather, to whom he is very close.
“When I first went into track, I had no clue I would do pole vault. But my grandpa said that when he was in school, he wanted to do pole vault but didn’t get to. His coaches didn’t let him because he was too short. The poles back then didn’t have much flex like the carbon fiber poles we use now. I did it because it looked interesting, and he didn’t get to do it. I figured he might like to watch me do it,” shares Jackson.
Taking things full circle, he adds that this enabled his grandfather to live vicariously through Jackson’s very special last season. “My grandpa was there when I got the school record. It was great,” says Jackson with pride.
Jackson admits that to be a strong pole vaulter, several aspects of fitness, including speed, strength, and timing, must come together. But without a strong work ethic, improvements aren’t possible. At five-foot-ten, Jackson is also playing receiver in football. While he shares that this is his first year playing football and he’s enjoying it, his primary goal is to improve as a pole vaulter. “The school record for eighth grade is twelve feet-nine inches, so I want to try and get thirteen feet this year.”
The youngest of three siblings, Jackson was born in Vandalia and has always considered it home. He enjoys school, especially social studies and history. He enjoys living in the area, saying.“Vandalia is a good place with lots of things to do. I’d like to stay in a country area. I’m not really a city person.”
While as an eighth grader, Jackson’s still contemplating what he wants to do with his life, he quickly shares that pole vaulting may help him get there. “If I keep getting better at pole vault, it would be pretty cool to go to college for that,” says Jackson. He adds, “I’m still unsure what I want to study, but I’d like to go to college and pole vault.” Regardless of what Jackson settles on, beyond his school years, it’s a sure bet that his solid grip on incremental improvement he learned from his pole vaulting will factor into his lifelong success.