Track is a sport that offers plenty of opportunities for athletes with all kinds of skill sets.
The short distances, like the 50-meter dash or the 100-meter hurdles, favor the sprinters. Longer distances, like the 800- or 1600-meters are built for middle distance runners. Events like the triple jump, long jump and high jump focus on an explosive power while others, like the shot put and discus throw, rely on strength and technique.
Then there’s that event that requires strength, technique, explosive power and speed.
Enter Berklee Huffard.
The Rural Retreat senior has been on the school’s outdoor track, indoor track and cross country teams for all four years of her high school career.
As a freshman, Huffard competed in the 800 and 1600 meters on the track.
“I thought she was going to be a long-distance runner,” track coach Marty Hadaway said.
But she switched to shorter distances, focusing on the 100- and 300-meter hurdles in outdoor track and 55-meter hurdles in indoor track. Then, before the start of her junior year, she found a new event. The pole vault.
“She picked it up pretty well,” said Hadaway.
Indeed she did.
In her first season competing, Huffard cleared an 8-foot bar, besting her nearest opponent by half a foot to claim a state championship in outdoor track.
A little more than a week ago, the senior bettered her best and added more gold to her chest, winning the indoor track pole vault title with an 8-foot, 6-inch effort.
The leap helped lead a strong Indian contingent to a fifth-place finish as a team in the indoor track championship.
It’s a pretty impressive feat made even more impressive by the fact that Rural Retreat High School, like most small schools across the state, doesn’t normally offer pole vaulting as an event.
Huffard said she got interested in trying the discipline, where an athlete races down a runway, plants the pole, turns upside down and pushes themselves up and over a bar to fall down to a crash pad, after watching others compete during a meet.
“I thought it looked so cool,” she said.
Huffard credits her coach for helping her get into pole vaulting.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Marty’s help,” she said. “I think any other coach would have told me I was crazy.”
Before Huffard could leap into the record books, Hadaway had to get the bar cleared by the school board, giving Huffard the OK to compete. Then Hadaway had to learn more about the vault to help Huffard pick up the proper technique.
One of the biggest challenges is finding a place to practice. Huffard travels to a facility in High Point, North Carolina, as least twice a month to get in some work and occasionally drives over to the University of Virginia’s College at Wise to make use of its facilities. Aside from that, she’ll use her time at track meets to get in some extra reps.
Each season, Huffard rents an 11-foot pole designed for a person who weighs 120 pounds or less.
She said aside from a pole, of course, the key to a good vault is a strong core. She keeps her core strong with 200 crunches every day – or at least most days.
The work, she said, is worth it.
“When you clear the bar, and you push the pole back, and you start to fall, it’s awesome,” she said.
Huffard’s goal for the spring track season is to win another state title in the pole vault, maybe even setting a new record on the way. She also wants to do well in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles and help the 4x400 meter relay team better its eighth-place finish from last year. The team, with one new freshman runner, took sixth in the state indoor meet, which combined 1A and 2A schools. Only one 1A team, from Patrick Henry High School, finished ahead of the Rural Retreat contingent at the indoor meet.
“I’m really excited for our team this year,” she said.
After that, Huffard said she plans on attending Virginia Tech and getting a degree in industrial design.