Photo: Belmont sophomore and New England Champion Sarah Firth.
This year, Sarah Firth has been seeking new heights to climb … and to fall from as the Belmont High student has been turning heads as the one-time pole vaulting neophyte added not just inches to her best mark but by feet.
And at the biggest meet of the year, the sophomore defeated a slew of the region’s best pole vaulters to win the crown at the New England High School Track and Field Championship Meet in Saco, Maine, on Saturday, June 8.
Firth’s winning vault, 11 feet, 9 inches, was a 3-inch personal best from her 11’6″ effort that captured the MIAA All-State meet held a week earlier where she defeated 2017 All-State champion senior Haley Lightbody of Reading.
“This is the first time I have won either All-States or New Englands,” said Firth. “The help of all my coaches is really what made my win possible. Without their support, I wouldn’t have been able to relax and just go for it.”
A former gymnast who credits her bar training with giving her a familiarity with the turning and flipping nature of pole vaulting, it was Firth’s mother who suggested taking up the sport as a ninth grader.
Training at Harvard and at a club in Westborough, it took Firth time to master the skill of sprinting as fast as you can down a 30-meter runway, sticking a long, heavy fiberglass pole in a metal box which launches you high in the air as you attempt to twist and turn your body while upside down over a bar and then fall backwards from the height of a second-story window. At the end of her freshman year, Firth had vaulted a modest 8 feet.
It was during the indoor season this year that Firth said she finally began to understand the technique required to allow the pole to do the work and her improvement was eye-opening. She finished second with a 10’6″ in the MIAA State Division 2 championships, trailing only Lightbody. At All States, Firth improved her vault by a foot to defeat Lightbody by 6 inches.
At Saco, Firth, ranked the number 1 seed (her 11’6″ was the best of all the state championship marks from the week before), faced several champions and outstanding vaulters with higher personal bests; Austin Prep junior Emily Hickey (11’7”), Lightbody (11’6”), and Connecticut juniors Paige Martin (12’0”) and Elise Russell (11’6”).
Since a pole vault meet can take hours to complete, Firth was out on the track early Saturday along with 34 competitors. “My first few [practice] jumps were not like the greatest, but it was OK,” said Firth. But once she made her first vault at 9’9″, “everything felt right.”
The meet came down to Firth, Hickey
“[Third place] would still be good but my goal was to jump a personal best,” said Firth, who stayed relax between jumps talking to the other athletes “because we all know each other.”
“I knew that I could [make 11’9″] if everything fell into place, if I could get my run right and do it like I had in practice,” said Firth.
Despite feeling a little fatigued jumping in sunny warm weather, everything fell in place with Firth clearing the bar and came down a champion.
The one disappointment was Firth missed an invitation to the New Balance Outdoor Nationals by a mere three inches.
“Hopefully next year I can qualify for both Indoor and Outdoor Nationals,” she said.