Baldwin Vaults to Great Heights at Valley
Travis Baldwin works hard at becoming a better pole vaulter, but never loses sight of the fact that it’s fun to launch himself over the bar while soaring through the air.
Travis, a junior captain on the Valley Regional boys’ indoor track team, is no stranger to hard work as he often helps out at his family-owned Baldwin Stables in Deep River. In the week preceding the Class S State Championship, Travis was not only working on his pole vault technique, but he also spent time unloading tons of hay at the stables. Something about that routine must have worked for Travis, who broke the school record in the pole vault by clearing 12 feet-6 inches to win the Class S title in the event on Feb. 14. Travis eclipsed his own personal record by a full foot on his first attempt at the meet.
“When I was jumping, I was thinking of every height as just another six inches,” says Travis on his strategy at states. “I was thinking because I didn’t jump at Shorelines, I have all this stored-up energy to propel myself over the bar in states.”
One week after the Class S meet, Travis placed eighth at the State Open Championship with a height of 12 feet. Warriors’ Head Coach Chris Allegretti knew that Travis had big plans for the postseason because of the all the work he put in throughout the campaign.
“He always works as hard as he can at practice, then he’ll go home and work on his own,” Allegretti says. “He came out this year with the mindset that he would do the best that he could possibly do. He always sets goals for himself and looks ahead at how to accomplish them. Even when he hit that 12-6 jump, he came off the mat so excited and looked at me and he said, ‘Well, I guess 13 is next.’”
Travis has a different routine than most other track and field athletes because of the specialized nature of the pole vault. So while he practices with Allegretti and his fellow members on the indoor track squad, Travis also works with coach Russ VerSteeg of Skyjumpers Connecticut to get more specific instruction on the event. Every week, Travis and his parents, Jack and Karen, drive 45 minutes to North Franklin, so he can train.
If anything is off during any phase of the attempt—whether it’s the run-up for the approach or pushing the pole clear in the fly-away—the bar can fall and that means the jump is invalid. To prevent that, VerSteeg works with Travis on the many intricacies of his technique. Right away, VerSteeg noticed that Travis is unflappable.
“I’ve never seen him lose his temper. He’ll never let the frustration get to him,” says VerSteeg. “When things go bad, he can laugh it off and still go out there and work hard.”
Because the pole vault is so much different than the other events, there is a smaller pool of athletes who participate. That helps pole vaulters build a rapport, even between rival teams, and Travis is always happy to talk shop with anyone. Travis takes what he learns with the Skyjumpers and communicates it to his fellow Valley vaulters.
“When you learn it from someone, you can learn a lot, but you learn even more trying to put that into your own words,” says Travis. “You can learn so much by trying to teach someone else.”
Coach Allegretti sees how Travis helps out his teammates and appreciates the knowledge that he brings to the Warriors, along with his enthusiasm.
“Travis is an all-around great kid, says Allegretti. “He’s a natural leader for our team, always helping to motivate and encourage other kids.”
As much as Travis enjoys helping others, he also realizes that pole vaulters often have to help themselves. It’s an event that requires self-awareness and discipline in order to determine when the help of a coach’s discerning eye is necessary.
“The pole vault happens so fast, it’s hard to realize what’s happening all the time,” Travis says. “If you don’t clear a height, you have to troubleshoot yourself, and you need to confer with the coaches to help you realize what may be going wrong.”
Apparently, Travis asks the right questions as he’s received several accolades during his high school career, including Most Valuable Player honors as a freshman and the Most Improved Player Award in his sophomore season. Travis believes that constant repetition prevents him from overthinking, and he knows that approach plays a huge part in his success.
“There isn’t a ton of thinking involved. It’s a lot of muscle memory, and you have to build that up, so you aren’t thinking about it all the time,” says Travis, who also ran on Valley’s 4x200 relay at states. “It’s like running or riding a bike. Once you learn it, you can always do it, but there are always ways that you can improve.”
Travis plans to keep refining his technique throughout his time at Valley in his quest to reach even greater heights. He also has plans to continue his pole vault career after high school.
“Right now, I’m just looking one step ahead towards outdoor to figure out how to improve and get to 13 feet. Further than that, I am looking toward colleges that have a track program,” says Travis. “It’ll be what’s best for my career that determines that. In the end, I want to get to the destination, but I’m going to take the most fun path to get there.”