Heading into Adidas Indoor Nationals last weekend in Virginia, things hadn’t been going Jackson Tuomey’s way for the first time in a long time as a pole vaulter.
The state-champion senior from Brunswick High had seen his incredible growth in the event stunted, somewhat at least, over the past six months. After clearing personal record after personal record for a long stretch in the event that took hold of him as a freshman, he hit a stagnant patch while practicing and competing at Vaultworx, where he trains — nearly year-round — in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
“I’d get a foot over 15-8 and knock [the bar] off with my chest,” he said. “I kept having great jumps but not having the results I wanted.”
What he wanted, really, was 16 feet. He’s wanted that height since August, when he made a significant leap in improvement — and then leveled off.
But at nationals on Sunday — in an example of the kind of focused, game competitor he has become — he was back on the climb. He pushed through his recent struggles and the prevalent nerves to do something that likely puts him alone in the annals of Maryland high school vaulting.
Against the best of the best from around the country, Tuomey charged down the runway, planted and soared over the bar.
“Finally,” he said, “everything was perfect and everything came together.”
Tuomey cleared a height of 16 feet, ¾ inches, eclipsing his previous PR by more than 3 inches and taking eighth place at the championship level of the event.
There are no official records kept for Maryland high school track and field beyond what is accomplished at MPSSAA state indoor and outdoor meets. Thomas Johnson’s Erick Artusio owns the state indoor pole vault record at 15-1 (2010). The outdoor track mark of 15-3 was set in 2011 by Stephen Decatur’s Bradley Hollowell. Regardless, longtime Brunswick track coach Lee Zumbach believes Tuomey’s newest height is at the tippy-top in the history of the state.
“It is the highest in the state of Maryland for a high schooler,” Zumbach said, “but I don’t know where it could be written down [as an official mark].”
For one, Zumbach will add it to Tuomey’s list of feats in the Brunswick High record book — even though Tuomey competed unattached at nationals, like most of his fellow competitors.
“It will be with an asterisk,” Zumbach said, “but he’ll always be there.”
Tuomey had a hard time believing he’d pulled it off Sunday at the Virginia Beach Sports Center. That’s because, weighed down by the rut he’d been in during his mini competitions among training partners at Vaultworx, he avoided elimination on his final attempt at all four heights he cleared Sunday — 14-4, 15-0, 15-6 and 16-¾. He was cutting it extremely close to having his four-hour road trip wasted on this prestigious stage.
Zumbach said Tuomey was probably “out of sync.” Maybe it was big-meet rust, which would be logical — given the lack of high-pressure competition over the past year due to COVID-19 restrictions that have hampered opportunities for youth track athletes. Tuomey hadn’t been in a meet of much magnitude since February 2020, when he won the Class 1A indoor state crown. His only “indoor” meet for Brunswick during the two-week winter season came outdoors, in 38-degree weather, with snow falling. He went 14-6 that day, when, instead of an adrenaline rush, he probably just felt ... cold.
But Sunday’s meet was a big deal, and Tuomey admitted a mental block was in his way at each height he faced.
Numerous times, though, Zumbach has seen Tuomey — who will vault on a partial scholarship at Division I St. Francis University — steel himself to pull off a big jump at the right time. To illustrate the young man’s confidence, Zumbach relayed a story from Tuomey’s freshman year, when this scrawny, rather unfocused kid asked the veteran coach to find out what the Brunswick boys pole vault record was because — Tuomey said with a little smile — he was going to break it.
Tuomey cleared his mind and tapped into that inner belief again at nationals. As he was about to set off for his final try at a new personal record, he took a moment to soak in the atmosphere, hoping to draw the inspiration he needed.
Then he grabbed the 15-foot, 7-inch pole he was using for the first time that day.
“I just looked around and thought, I’ve got my friends and family here, everybody hyping me up,” Tuomey said. “I got the pole I need, the run I need. It’s just the determination I need to make the bar.”
Next thing he knew, he was over it.
If all goes as planned, and FCPS spring sports happen on schedule in April, perhaps Tuomey will put up an even bigger number that won’t need an asterisk in the Brunswick record book.
“I can’t wait to see what he does in Outdoor Track this season,” said Brunswick vaulting coach Kevin Ropp in an email to the News-Post. “It truly is a shame that his performances won’t make it into the MPSSAA record books.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there won’t be a state competition in which Tuomey could potentially set a new official record, either. But even so, it’s almost certain that no Maryland high school vaulter has ever done better than Tuomey’s weekend jump.
A day after it, he was still getting used to such lofty talk.
“I mean, it’s pretty cool,” he said. “That hasn’t really set in yet.”
NOTE: Thomas Johnson senior Mack McKeever competed at Adidas nationals in the open boys mile run, finishing second with a time of 4 minutes, 21.81 seconds.