Raising the Bar

 

As the top freshman pole vaulter in the nation, Adam Coulon has a lot of growing left to do.

But for now, he is satisfied with his achievements this season. The 15-year-old Tri-Valley freshman, currently ranked as the 25th best pole vaulter in the nation, has been breaking records all season long and just can't get enough.

Besides winning the IHSA Class 1A pole vaulting State Championship last weekend, he also set a new record for top height for a freshman in the nation with 16' 2” and holds the current freshman national indoor pole vault record with a height of 15' 6.5”.

Ever since Coulon tried his hand at pole vaulting in fifth grade, he hasn't been able to stop.

“It's addicting. You just can't stop once you start,” said Coulon. And with Coulon's phenomenal success, there's no reason to stop.

At 13 years old, Coulon broke the world record for his age group when he vaulted 14' 6”. Now this year, he is setting new heights and proudly wearing the title of top freshman in the nation. With three years left of Coulon's high school career, there's no telling what records he might break.

“It feels good [to break national records]. I just always have to make sure that I'm getting better and doing the right things,” said Coulon, who doesn't let on that he is an all-star athlete unless he's in the pole vaulting pit. “

With the help of former Bowling Green vaulter Tom Coulon, who also happens to be Adam's father, Adam has learned the technique from his self-taught dad who vaulted 16' 6” in college.

“We've had to research to make sure I understand we're working on the right things,” said Tom. “Right now I think we are. I feel really confident about that.”

With neither Tom or Adam knowing what the future holds, the pair focus on technique and vaulting for Adam's personal best.

“I'm focusing more on my personal best at this point. I'm not trying to win anything, just trying to jump my highest,” said Adam.

Adam's current personal best stands at 16' 2”, which he set in May at Tremont High School.

But even with all the success, Adam is still a shy and down-to-earth kid. And his modest exterior leaves everyone guessing about his future.

Adam likes to remember where he started on this wild journey and who helped him get there.

“The first time [pole vaulting] I barely made it into the pit,” said Coulon. He first started vaulting with the Bloomington Flying Dragons in Normal and has worked with Coach Mike Cockerham and his fellow vaulters since then. “They've been a lot of help. I wouldn't be where I am without them,” Coulon added.

Along with the club, Adam and his dad have gotten a lot of support from Tri-Valley, the community and friends around the nation.

Tri-Valley had gotten rid of their pole vaulting pit decades ago with the absence of vaulters to use it. But when Adam started his success and proved he was serious about it, there was no hesitation.

“The school could see that we were really going to see this through,” said Tom. “We started getting more junior high vaulters and support from families. We were serious and we were going to make this happen.”

The process began when the runway was built. With the help of the Flying Dragons, the pit came next. And with the help of Mike Elam, father of another Tri-Valley pole vaulter, a new top pad was added.

“This is probably the best facility in central Illinois,” added Tom.

So with a new, top-notch pit and a few pole vaulters to make good use of it, the Tri-Valley vaulters got to work.

One of the biggest supporters has been fellow teammate Ben Elam, who has been vaulting with Adam since the beginning. The pair has placed number one and two in meets for years and help each other out in meets and in training. Elam made it to State this year with Adam, just falling short of the final round with a height of 12' 6”.

“It's fun because you go to meets and you're not alone,” said Adam. “Some meets you go to and don't know anyone, so at least you have someone to talk to. And you can help each other out in practice by helping catch steps and stuff and giving tips.”

Elam has reached new heights of his own for years as well. “Ben's height would've been the fourth best ever in Illinois junior high history [last year], but he's jumping on the same team as Adam,” noted Tom.

The pole vaulting pair has helped get plenty more Tri-Valley students involved in pole vaulting, leading to a very successful program in high school and junior high. Earlier this month, Tri-Valley junior high vaulters Jenna Ring, Cassie Wilson and Jake Steiner brought home top five finishes in the IESA AA State meet. With pole vaulting running in the family, Adam's sister Samantha, a junior at Tri-Valley, didn't miss out on the success. This year she placed third in the Heart of Illinois Conference Meet and took fifth place at Sectionals. She was also one of the original five vaulters on the middle school team in 2010.

Adam's mom Kitty also gets in on the pole vaulting action but mostly behind the scenes. She helps run the concessions during meets, videotapes both Coulons' jumps to analyze and also “brings his spikes to practice when he forgets them.”

Adam sheds some light on the pole vaulting community and the friendships to be made. “A lot of the competition I have are friends. So it's not me trying to beat them, but them trying to jump their highest and me trying to jump my highest,” said Adam, who noted that a lot of the “good vaulters” in the state come from the Bloomington Flying Dragons and all train together at the club.

Adam also gives a lot of credit to his high school track coach Todd Schneider. “Schneider gets us in shape, and that's the reason I'm jumping good right now,” said Adam. “He's helped a lot.”

But a lot of credit goes to Adam's own work ethic as well. “He's got a lot of personal drive,” notes Tom. “I try to calm him down most of the time and make things kind of low-key. I want to take the pressure off. Adam is a freshman in a senior body. Technique-wise he's vaulting like a senior would be vaulting.”

When Adam isn't vaulting, he spends his time with friends and playing basketball. “It's a sport I like to do, and it's just so I'm not vaulting all year round and getting burnt out,” said Adam, who also get some cross-training out of his second sport.

But his mind is on pole vaulting most of the time, especially on the fall. “The fall down after you make it is my favorite part about the jump,” said Adam.

A high level of competition can come with pressures. But for now, he's not looking too far ahead.

“Right now I'm learning. Every bar that I make higher is an achievement. It's exciting and I have no idea what's going to happen next,” said Adam, who said he hasn't thought much past high school.

But what are his goals for high school?

“To just get better and get on bigger poles. Bigger jumps will come.”

Tom is looking a bit more down the road for his son and Elam. “I want them to do well in high school, but giving them the opportunity to vault in college is the ultimate goal. However they get that opportunity is whatever we have to do to get there.”

 

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