Tvarkunas climbs to success on pole All-American: Glenelg athlete reaches lofty status after pole-vaulting 15 feet, 9 inches at indoor nationals.

March 31, 1996|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Sometimes a disappointment turns into a lucky break. It did for Glenelg's Pat Tvarkunas, who is one of the best pole vaulters in state high school history.

When he jumped 15 feet, nine inches at the USATF indoor nationals in Boston earlier this month, he reached a height no Marylander before him ever had. That achievement earned him All-America status from the Metropolitan Athletic Congress in New York.

"Boston was a great moment because my mother's relatives are from that area, so about 10 of them got a clap going for me. They hadn't realized I was pretty good and they were impressed. I was seeded only 10th, but it helps to jump against better competition. There was a great atmosphere. The runway was fast, and I used a bigger stick and held it higher."

The 5-foot-11, 155-pound senior has won two state indoor titles and one outdoor title. He holds the county outdoor record of 14-6 and the state indoor mark of 15-1. He was undefeated in indoor this season until Boston, including a meet-record 15-1 at the Dickinson College Invitational in January. He's ranked No. 7 nationally by Track and Field News magazine.

But this record-breaking career might never have started had he not been cut from the junior varsity basketball team his freshman season by coach Klaude Krannebitter.

"I thank Coach Klaude all the time now for cutting me," Tvarkunas said. "It was the best thing that ever happened to me."

At first he swallowed his disappointment by signing up for the indoor track team, where he discovered pole vaulting.

"Coach [Roger] Volrath gave me a choice of running eight 200s or getting on this stick," Tvarkunas recalled. "The pole looked like a lot more fun."

He jumped only nine feet that first season and was still uninspired, so he passed up outdoor track and played junior varsity baseball that spring.

But that summer he attended the Skyjumper's Vault Camp in Reading, Pa., run by former Olympic bronze medalist Jan Johnson. Then he was hooked.

His sophomore indoor season he jumped 11-6. His outdoor mark was only 11-0 because he separated his shoulder.

But his junior indoor season he improved to 12-6 and outdoor was 14-6, the county record.

"I hope to smash that [14-6] this season," Tvarkunas said. "My goal is five meters [16-4 3/4 ]."

For now, though, Tvarkunas is sidelined. He had his tonsils taken out March 20 and is recuperating.

"I'll probably miss the first couple of meets," he said. "But I'll be ready for the Penn Relays by the end of April. I really want to do well there."

Another major goal is the USATF Junior Nationals, an under-20 competition June 28-29 at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio.

The ride to the top hasn't been all smooth sailing for Tvarkunas. Besides a separated shoulder his sophomore year, he broke his leg last July at an AAU meet in Baltimore.

"I learned a hard lesson. I knew the equipment there at Poly was bad, but I kept jumping. I broke the tibia near my ankle and missed the whole summer."

He was in a cast for six weeks and spent four more on crutches.

"I like the challenge of pole vaulting," he said. "You can always go higher, and every jump is a little different. There are always small adjustments to make."

Pole vaulting requires speed, strength, agility and mental toughness.

"If you don't have the right mental focus, you won't do well. You can't be scared."

Tvarkunas is hoping to win a college scholarship for his jumping ability, preferably down South. He has a 3.76 GPA and scored 1310 on the Scholastic Assessment Test.

"I like the South," said Tvarkunas, who was born in North VTC Carolina but has spent 15 years of his life in Howard County.

North Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina State, South Carolina and Clemson are colleges he'd like to attend. He's being recruited, but hasn't made any official visits.

Tvarkunas may also have some high-jumping ability. In his first season he high-jumped 5-8 indoors, good for second place at the county meet.

"My goal outdoors is 6-0."

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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