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Vaulting champion visualizes the victory

Gaither's Dara Altman, the state's top girl pole vaulter, credits mental preparation for her success.

By TERRY JONES
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 28, 2002


NORTHDALE -- The end of the runway can be a lonely place for a pole vaulter preparing to leap more than 11 feet into the air. Gaither High School pole vault state champion Dara Altman uses that time for mental preparation.

While balancing the long, thin pole on her shoulder, she quietly quotes her favorite scriptures and says a short prayer. Then she envisions her entire run, from the first step, to setting the pole into the grip, to leaping up and clearing the bar.

Altman, 18, a senior, has been training as a pole vaulter since her freshman year.

"There is no time to think once I start, because it is over so quickly, said the Carrollwood teen. "So all mental preparation has to be complete before the vault. I don't think about fear. There is really no time."

Having her body extended high in the air with no support is nothing new to Altman. She had plenty of experience in that position in five years training and competition in gymnastics.

"Knowing the position of your body in relation to the bar, the pit and the box is extremely important, but I learned to cope with that in gymnastics," she said. "I have missed the pit and hit the box before, but I have not been badly injured. I have picked up some painful bruises though, but nothing to keep me from making another run right after hitting the box."

Altman won the state championship last year with a jump of 11 feet, 6 inches. She has made that height several times this year and is undefeated in competition so far this season.

Her objective at the state meet this year is 12 feet. She says she has gone above the 12-foot mark several times this season, but in each case fell back onto the bar.

"No one has cleared her 11-6 height so far this season," Gaither girls track coach Ladd Baldwin said. "We have a new pole for her, which she needs to adjust to go forward at the top rather than straight down. I think she has a good chance to not only repeat as state champ, but clear the 12-foot mark."

The pole vault is not the only event Altman competes in to help the Cowboys win track meets. She also participates in the long jump, triple jump, 110 high hurdles and runs a leg in the 4x100-meter relay.

Baldwin says he will limit the events she competes in for the state run, which starts next week with districts. .

Academics are also very important to Altman. This year she has been carrying a 5.036 GPA and because she is succeeding in honors courses, she will have Florida Scholars financial grants available to her.

Altman, who was selected as Gaither's homecoming queen last fall, is also this year's recipient of the $2,500 David Logan Scholarship.

Although she has been offered athletic scholarships from several colleges, including Florida State and the University of South Florida, she hasn't decided yet where she will attend. She will go to Gainesville Monday and Tuesday for an official visit to the University of Florida campus.

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