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  Calvin pole vaulters way above the competition
  Mark DeWeerd has always had an affinity for pole vaulting.

"I have two brothers who are eight and nine years older than me," said DeWeerd. "They both did pole vault and I always went along to the meets to watch them."

After which, DeWeerd would go home and string a jump rope between two lawn chairs and using his dad's copper plumbing pipe as a pole do some "pole vaulting" of his own.

It's not surprising then that DeWeerd, a junior from Hudsonville, Mich., is Calvin's and the MIAA's leading pole vaulter.

"My high school coach told me that I could be an All-American in the pole vault," said DeWeerd, who graduated from Unity Christian High School. "I never thought it would be possible so quickly."

DeWeerd placed eighth, earning All-American status, as a sophomore last year. His personal best of 16 feet this year once again qualified him for the national meet.

One reason for DeWeerd's success is teammate Jason DeVries, also of Hudsonville, Mich. In fact, DeVries grew up just down the street from DeWeerd.

"We push each other," said DeVries, "but we also have each other to critique our vaults and help each other out."

DeVries, a sophomore, is used to finishing second to DeWeerd. "I was behind him all through high school until he left," he said.

But it was DeVries who broke DeWeerd's high school record before coming to Calvin.

And now it's this duo that regularly tops the MIAA. In fact, these two don't usually begin their vaulting until the rest of the vaulters are out of the competition.

In the MIAA Championship meet, DeWeerd and DeVries topped out at 15 feet and 14 feet 6 inches, respectively. The nearest competitor cleared 13 feet.

While coming in one-two in any MIAA event is quite an achievement, the fact that the feat was repeated by the women on Calvin's team makes it even more remarkable.

In the first year of competition for women in the pole vault, sophomore Rachel Veltkamp and freshman Anna Van Drie placed first and second in the women's competition in the MIAA.

Like their teammates, Veltkamp and Van Drie started when the rest of the competitors had ended.

Veltkamp won the meet with a vault of 10 feet 9 inches and Van Drie followed at 10 feet 6 inches. The nearest competitor finished at 8 feet 6 inches.

"I started pole vault when I was a senior in high school," said Veltkamp, a Grand Rapids Christian graduate. I thought it would be a one year thing because they didn't have women's pole vault in college. I went to state the first year and placed eighth."

Since then pole vault has been added at the college level and Veltkamp has added two feet to her vault through technique and training.

"It's been fun because you can see yourself improve so much," she said. "I know I have the potential to go higher. There are just so many things that have to come together all on the same vault, all at once."

Van Drie started pole vaulting as a junior at Grand Rapids Christian High School. "They were looking for strong, fast gymnasts to try pole vault," she said. "I was neither strong or fast, but I had been a gymnast so I decided to give it a try."

Van Drie finished fourth in the state meet as a senior. "I went from vaulting seven feet to 11 feet in one year," she said. "Pole vaulting is very challenging. It takes a lot of determination and a lot of work, but the thrill you get with it is worth it. Propelling yourself into the air and then just lying back is a great feeling."

It's that feeling that DeWeerd enjoys too. "To see yourself going over the crossbar and then just lying back is great. The only thing is it happens so quickly you don't get to enjoy it enough."

Besides the unexplainable feeling of flying, the vaulters also have another thing in common-working with Jim Gardiner, the Grand Rapids guru of the pole vault.

"I owe everything to Coach Gardiner," said Van Drie.

"I didn't just learn pole vault from him," added DeWeerd. "I learned about attitude towards life and competition and others."

Gardiner, a local high school coach, so loved the pole vault that he spent hours with any athlete who was interested in learning the sport. He regularly ran practices, clinics and camps at his home and attended practices of the Calvin pole vaulters on a volunteer basis to help with the sport.

Gardiner, who was confined to a wheelchair due to a diving accident at age 20, died unexpectedly just prior to the national championship meet.

In an interview with the Grand Rapids Press, DeWeerd said this of Gardiner, "He somehow got you to do more than you thought you could do. Even if you were having a bad day.he always had something good to say. His attitude evenry day taught me so much."

—By Lynn Bolt Rosendale


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