Alisha Henry’s journey to pole vaulting
By Kyle LoJacono
There was a point when Wiregrass Ranch track and field athlete Alisha Henry thought she would be kicked off the Bulls’ team.
Now, the senior is the No. 2 ranked pole vaulter in Class 3A with the goal of becoming the seventh-year program’s first state champion.
Henry started doing track at John Long Middle in Wesley Chapel and continued while in high school. She did the high and long jumps, but wasn’t interested in doing other events.
“Coach (Don) Howard always tried to get me to run, but I refused,” Henry said. “I always wanted to be on the team, I just didn’t want to run. … He had me do cross country for two months, and I hated it. I broke my nose, and I used that as an excuse to get out of it.”
Henry decided to change her focus in February of her sophomore year, a move that ended the struggle to run and vaulted her into the conversion for district, regional and state titles.
“When we got a pole vault coach, coach Howard had me go over and try it. I did and liked it, and now I do it year-round,” Henry said.
That vault coach is Bob Leidel of Florida Pole Vault Academy in Tampa.
“Alisha was just natural,” Leidel said. “She jumped right into it, and I thought she had some training because she seemed really comfortable.”
In reality, Henry was terrified of the event.
“I’m still in the process of preparing myself for it,” Henry said with a laugh. “You just have to have positive thoughts. If you’re thinking about being way up in the air and how scary it is, then you back down. You don’t do things to your full potential. … You’re not going to go upside down if you’re not comfortable going upside down. It’s like trying a back flip for the first time. Most people aren’t going to go and just do it.”
Henry said the event requires upper body strength, speed and proper technique.
“I’ve been trying to get farther back in my vault,” Henry said. “I tend to come out of my vault too quickly, and I’m not holding it as far as I should. The turn isn’t easy either. … I’ve been doing a lot of strength training over the summer.”
Henry placed sixth at the 3A final last season by clearing 10 feet, 6 inches, but she was unsatisfied claiming her first state medal.
“I get really frustrated when I don’t jump the way I want to or the way I know I can,” Henry said. “Sometimes it’ll mess me up for my other attempts. … I’ve been trying to prepare myself mentally because that was my biggest flaw last year. I want to look back and see that I was positive in my thoughts so that I know that I gave it my all even if I don’t jump as high as I want to. I don’t want to get down on myself like I was last year, because that was not good.”
Henry’s personal record is 11-03, which is also the school record. She hopes to improve on that mark by at least nine inches before her senior year is done.
“I want 12 really badly,” Henry said.
Henry said she would like to compete at the University of South Florida, adding that the USF coaches told her clearing 12 would allow her to receive a full scholarship.
Howard said Henry is 100 percent a pole vaulter, but added that she has helped the squad in other ways.
“The beauty is she’s athletic enough that I can put her in the long jump at districts, and she scored for us and we barely won that last year,” Howard said. “Those points she scored in the long jump and in the pole vault were important for us. … You get the right athlete in the right situation and they’ll flourish, and that’s what’s happened with Alisha.”
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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