NORMAN — When Julia Hanks joined the track and field team, the first thing she tried was the hurdles in her search for an event to compete in.
It didn’t work out. The Norman High junior was, in her own words, not very good at them. Not fast enough to run the sprints, she was left without an event. That is, until new coach Wes Barnhart suggested she give the pole vault a try.
“I had never seen it before, but I thought I may as well try something new,” Hanks said. “After I tried it, the coaches told me I should probably stick with it over the hurdles.”
Not that it was easy. Far from it. The pole vault is a highly technical sport is which athletic ability matters but doesn’t go very far without the right training. And that training is often brutal, as Hanks found out after just a few weeks of practice.
Not even a month into her career as a pole vaulter, Hanks was ready to quit. Then a sophomore at Norman High, she enjoyed the sport but was ready to move on when the training regimen — which involves perfecting a running approach with a 13-foot pole in one’s hands, planting the pole and vaulting off the ground with just the right amount of speed and angle — began to take its toll.
A long conversation with her mom after a tough night of practice made all the difference. Still wary at the prospect, Hanks nevertheless decided that she would stick it out for the rest of the season and see what happened.
What happened surprised even Barnhart, who coached two athletes to the state pole vault title while he was at Edmond Santa Fe — Hanks began to improve; slowly at first and rapidly after the season ended.