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Setting the Bar: Redbank Valley Sophomore Claire Henry Striving for New Heights in Pole Vault

NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. (EYT/D9) — The first time Claire Henry had even thought about the pole vault was when the late Jon Lewis, who started Leap of Faith Gymnastics and coached track and field at Clarion Area, made an observation.

“He told me, ‘You have a pole vault run,’” Henry said.

A seventh-grader at the time and an avid gymnast, Henry was intrigued.

Lewis, whose daughter, Laken, was a standout in the event, began tutoring Henry in the basics of the pole vault. He gave Henry her first pole and supported her until his unexpected death in 2020 at the age of 60.

Now, when Henry sprints down the runway, pole in hand, she thinks of Lewis often and how influential he was in giving her a start in an event the Redbank Valley sophomore has grown to love.

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“I was really close with them,” Henry said. “I went to a few meets and watched Laken do 12 feet. Amazing. When he told me, ‘You can do that,” it was exciting.”

Henry isn’t at 12 feet yet, but she’s inching closer.

Last year, Henry’s best of the season was 9-3 and she cleared 9-0 to win the District 9 Class 2A crown as a freshman.

Her trip to Shippensburg for the PIAA Track and Field Championships was an eye-opener.

Henry was the bottom seed of the 18 competitors. The event started at 9-3 and she didn’t clear a height.

She wasn’t discouraged, though. She took it as a learning experience.

“The stage at states is a whole different experience,” Henry said. “It was really amazing to see. It was exciting to watch everyone else, but also kind of humbling. I remember watching a girl who did 10-6 and I said, ‘That’s my goal.’”

Henry also received some valuable pointers from her competition at the state meet.

Taylor Shriver of Waynesburg, who went 13-0 to earn the gold, helped Henry during warmups with some fine-tuning of her technique.

(Claire Henry makes a vault at a home meet last week/photo by Madison McFarland)

“Everyone was so friendly,” Henry said. “(Shriver) talked to me about some stuff that she does and that was cool to hear. And her poles were so fancy — she was telling me about those — so it was so neat.”

And helpful.

Henry went to work on some of those tips and she cleared 10-0 this season after a slow start, which was somewhat exasperated by the poor weather.

“I was getting nervous,” Henry said. “Then I got 9-6 three weeks ago and then 9-6 again, and then 10 in the last one.”

Now that 10-6 goal is clearly within her grasp.

“Well, my mom made a joke. She said I made 9-3 last year, so nine for ninth grade,” Henry said. “Ten for 10th grade this year. So 11 next year would be cool.”

And 12 for her senior year? Henry smiles.

“That would be the ultimate goal,” she said.

Redbank Valley assistant coach Kyle Hicks, who tutors the pole vaulters, said Henry is just scratching the surface on what she can do in the event.

“We’ve kind of just helped her build on what she learned from Coach Lewis,” Hicks said. “She’s very, very confident with who she is and she’s very laid back and relaxed. I admire that about her because she has the skills to cope and move on and forget a bad jump.

“The pole vault is very difficult,” he added. “It’s not only physical, but a lot of it is mental. Having confidence to trust the pole and trust the skills you have acquired is a big part of it. She definitely has the mental capacity. She’s an awesome athlete.”

When Henry started the pole vault, she wasn’t intimidated.

That’s often the toughest part about the event — getting over the mental bar.

“You look at the bar at eight feet and you think, ‘that looks easy,’” Henry said, laughing. “And then you go and realize, no, it’s not easy, and you say, ‘Well, at least I hit the pit.’ Then you do it a few more times and miss and it gets embarrassing. But you keep trying and once you get it, you feel like you’re flying.”

Henry hopes to fly to another district crown next Friday at Brookville.

Then, to states again where she hopes to clear a height — or even better, emerge with a medal dangling around her neck.

“That’d be very exciting,” Henry said, smile beaming. “I feel like I can do it.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.