It was that hanging upside down and twirling through the air for six years that set the tone for Jarod White.
That removed all fear and set in motion White’s new status. The Pine Island junior — a former hang-upside-down and sail-through-the-air gymnast — is one of the top pole vaulters in the state.
He credits that gymnastics background — a career that ended in the sixth grade — for much of it.
“I’ve been told that I have good body awareness, and I got that from gymnastics,” said the 5-foot-9, 160-pound White, who is also a standout running back in football. “Being a gymnast also made me strong and athletic. It made the transition to the pole vault all the easier.”
It also made him fearless, a necessity in the high-wire act of pole vaulting.
Clearing 10 feet and then free falling onto a cushioned mat carries no angst for White. That’s despite him having had his share of mishaps since taking up pole vaulting as a seventh-grader.
White has missed the mat entirely a few times, once landing on his back onto a matless surface. No major injuries have ever ensued, though, and White’s psyche has also remained intact.
Pine Island record holder
That mental toughness is one of the reasons why White is a Pine Island record holder and the favorite to win the Class A state title this season.
“The pole vault is intimidating when you first look at it,” White said, "but once you do it a few times, it’s like anything else. You get used to it. It’s cool being able to do something that nobody else thinks they can do. I like clearing the bar and then falling all the way down. That is really fun. When I land, I sometimes get really excited, pumping my arms.”
This season, White has had reason to pump those arms almost from the start. First, there was the thrill of having a season at all. COVID wiped out all spring sports a year ago, including track and field. Before competing in meets twice this spring, White’s last time vaulting at a high school meet was in June of 2019. That’s when he cleared 14 feet and finished fifth at the state meet at Hamline University.
Plainview-Elgin-Millville sensation Jacob Munsch easily won the meet that day with a vault of 15 feet. That was one inch shy of his Section 1A record.
Munsch has since graduated. That’s left White as the new pole vaulting king of Section 1A and likely all of Class A. White broke the Pine Island record of 14 feet as a freshman, clearing 14-6. One week ago, he did that one inch better, going 14-7 and later just missed at 15 feet.
Matt Northrop is the longtime head boys track and field coach at Pine Island where he’s built one of the strongest programs in the state. He’s not in charge of the pole vault, though. That falls to former Pine Island state girls champion Amanda Swintek (formerly Amanda Frame).
Swintek has been working with White since he joined the Pine Island team in seventh grade. Blessed with speed (fourth in the Section 1A meet in the 200 as a freshman), strength and body control, White immediately gravitated to the pole vault and Swintek immediately knew he was making the right move.
White had “it.”
“I could tell he was going to be good at it the very first time he picked up a pole,” Swintek said. “He is just a natural athlete. He’s also got that background in gymnastics, so he already had the body awareness and strength when he first showed up. Plus, he wanted to go after a challenge.”
Everything in place, White went on a quick and steady climb.
Now, he is sailing to heights never seen before at Pine Island. His intent is to keep going up and up.
His quick success this season has created optimism. But that he nailed 14-7 right away wasn’t a complete surprise. White has made a bunch of trips to St. Paul the last few years where he gets extra pole vault training.
Last year’s high school season being erased by COVID didn’t stop him from pursuing greatness.
The Pine Island junior says he’s never felt better.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot better in the last year,” he said. “But I hope to do a lot more.”