Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

SPORTS: Pole vaulter gets a major break

PORT ANGELES — Tarah Erickson had just broken the Port Angeles High School school record in girls pole vault with a height of 11 feet, 3 inches in her first try during the finals at the state 2A track and field championships in late May.

A videotape her father — Port Angeles physician Peter Erickson — was taking of Tarah’s state experience tells the story best of what happens next.

In the video, Tarah Erickson runs down the pole vault track, sets the pole on the ground and begins her ascent like always.

Then the video image goes wild as it pans left, right, up at the sky and finally ends with a blank image of the ground as Tarah’s dad panics on the other side of the lens.

The packed stadium went silent as Erickson’s pole snapped in half with a bang, and she went flying into the pole vault pit.

She did a sort of back-flip into the pit because of her momentum, and Erickson ended up on her head, “with my hips above my head,” she said.

She was still holding the top of the pole.

“There wasn’t a sound in the stadium after the pole broke,” Port Angeles girls track coach Bill Tiderman added.

Erickson was lying in the pit in shock.

“I have never seen a pole break in half like that in real life,” Erickson said. “I was crying, and people were running up to me and asking me if I was bleeding, and if I had any broken bones.

“I was thinking, ‘Should I be bleeding? Broken bones?’ ”

“They were saying, ‘It’s OK, this won’t count as a miss.’ And I was thinking, ‘A miss? I don’t ever want to do it again.’ ”

Luckily, Erickson didn’t have any cuts or broken bones. But her psyche was bruised.

“She was a little shaken up,” Tiderman recalled.

And luckily, Erickson didn’t keep holding on to that feeling about never wanting to touch a pole again.

She had to borrow a pole at the track to complete her state performance, and that’s where this story turns into a modern-day fairy tale.

But not right away.

“It’s hard to vault with a pole you’re not familiar with,” Tiderman said.

“It’s a little bit tricky, and you’re not comfortable with it.”

And he could have added, it’s also hard to vault when you just had the stuffing scared out of you.

Erickson missed completely on her next try, and had only one try left, which would be her final vault in her outstanding prep career.

“After I missed, coach Tiderman took me to the side and told me about all the things I did wrong: I wasn’t running fast enough, I was hesitant lifting off the ground . . .,” she said.

And a list of other things that probably came from her sudden fear of vaulting.

But then Erickson was able to put the pole incident behind her, and everything clicked on her final try with the borrowed pole.

She soared 11-6, shattering the school record for the second time of the day and earning third place in state in the process.

The final day in the prep career of the 2012 All-Peninsula girls track MVP was a day she probably will never forget.

And her pole vaulting days may not be over quite yet.

She plans to take up a pole again if Division I Oregon State University starts a women’s pole vault program during her four-year stay at the Corvallis, Ore., school beginning this fall.

The university just started a women’s track and field program again after several years of not having a team.

“They don’t even have a pole vault coach yet,” Erickson said.

“If they added a pole vault program, I would love it.”

In the meantime, she plans to participate in intramural sports at Oregon State to quench that competitive spirit.

She said she may swim to continue another prep sport she competed in at a state level. Erickson placed in 2A state swimming on a couple of relay teams for the Roughriders.

The all-around athlete also has competed in club gymnastics part-time in the winter, which has been quality family time with her father, who is an instructor for Klahhane Gymnastics in Port Angeles.

Peter Erickson is a former standout college gymnast.

There isn’t much that Erickson can’t do, Tiderman said.

“Quite often, the pole vaulter is your best athlete,” he said.

At times Erickson ran in relays to help the track team, and she also competed in the triple jump.

“If I needed her to run in other events, she would,” Tiderman said. “She did a nice job [in triple jump] and she was a good sprinter.

“She was learning the form and what worked [in sprinting].”

There is no surprise that Erickson kept improving each year and finished in the top three at state, according to Tiderman.

“Tarah is the hard-working, dedicated kind of athlete you hope to get,” he said.

She always was one of the last athletes to leave the field at the end of practice, always sticking around to do extra work.

Erickson’s best vault as a freshman was 7-foot even, then she made 9-6 as a sophomore, breaking the sophomore record.

“She really came on her sophomore year,” Tiderman said.

Erickson then hit the 10-foot mark as a junior.

“Our goal was to break the 11-foot barrier this year,” Tiderman said.

“And she did that twice.”

The 11-foot barrier was important because that was the school record going into 2012, set by standout vaulter Dani Weatherbee in 2007.

Weatherbee still holds the freshman and junior class records, 8-0 and 10-6, respectively, while Erickson holds the sophomore (9-6) and senior (11-6) class records.

Erickson will be missed, Tiderman said.

“She has been great to work with the past four years,” he said. “She’s been fun to work with, and she is always positive.

“She’s a real quality kid all the way around.”

For Erickson, leaving for college will mean missing her teammates.

“The best part of track [and sports in general] is the people,” she said.

“Pole vault is fun but my favorite part is my friends on the teams. We have gotten really close.”

A standout student, Erickson will major in bioengineering at Oregon State.

That’s thanks to her science teachers.

“My teachers really inspired me,” she said.

“And it’s just really cool to see how stuff works.”

It’s a major that could open a lot of different doors for Erickson when she graduates.

She said she sees herself working for a top bioengineering firm or doing any number of things when she leaves college.

In the meantime, though, she plans to enjoy a new batch of friends she will get to know from sports and other activities during her time at Oregon State.

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