Benson County's John Fischer is setting the bar high in his final season as a Wildcat
On a mildly windy, but warm for April in North Dakota Wednesday at Langdon Area High School, two athletes made their way out of the field sports pit, just behind the football field grandstand, to head over to the track. While both of them began to stroll over, there was some hesitation from one of the boys.
"Wait, I wanted to see John's vault," one of the boys said.
The other one chuckled and looked back at the vault. "He can clear that with his eyes closed."
Sure enough, Benson County senior pole vaulter John Fischer took off, planted the pole, and vaulted with ease over the bar, which was well over 10 feet in the air. As the meet went on, the bar rose higher and higher. Those in front of and behind Fischer would eventually fade away, leading to Fischer being the last one to vault on the day, pushing the bar up to 13-feet-6-inches.
He had already cleared 13 feet, which was enough to take first place overall, almost three feet ahead of second place, and set a season record for the senior. However, he wanted to keep pushing himself. 13' 6" would be a personal best for Fischer and would be a foot off from his overall goal of 14' 6". As the sun began to set behind him, he began to dash forward with his pole extended outward. Then he stopped.
Carrington pole vault coach Pat Boehmer, who was acting as the Benson County pole vault coach for the day since its coach was unable to make the varsity meet, looked at Fischer and had asked what's wrong.
"I felt my knee buckle so I thought it would be a good idea not to jump," Fischer said.
Boehmer nodded and Fischer reset. He dashed forward again and stopped again. "That time it was my head," he said.
Eventually, Boehmer met Fischer at the end of the track to calm the senior's nerves. The pole vaulting community in North Dakota is a small, but a passionate one. Boehmer's Cardinals were competing against Fischer, but we're on the hill next to the runway cheering him on. Even beyond that, Boehmer had been coaching Fischer since junior high when he started vaulting.
"Pole vault coaching is kind of a small fraternity," Boehmer said. "When your coach pole vaulting, your working with everyone else kids. From the time he was little, I've been working with him and everyone else has been working with my kids. He's a good kid he listens well."
Fischer reset and sprinted forward, but he didn't stop this time. He planted the pole and flung himself up into the air arching right over the bar. As Fischer began to descend from the apex of his vault, it looked like he had just cleared 13' 6". However, as he came down, the fabric of his uniform would just graze the bar, applying just enough force to see the bar bounce out of place and follow Fischer to the mat below.
He punched his fist on the mat eventually rolling off to get his things together on the sidelines. There was some disappointment in just grazing the cusp of a 13' 6" clearance, but Fischer was satisfied with his ability to work up to that height on the day. After a rough start at 12' 6", Fischer was able to refocus to not only tie his career-best of 13' 0", but push for another milestone.
"I thought it was all about how we bounced back," Fischer said. "I had a couple misses at 12' 6" and I was able to clean my head and bounce back. I had the mental game again at 13, and I had cleared that before, so it was about getting your PR again. I got on my bigger pole, cleared my head, and got over it."
14' 6" continues to be the endgame for Fischer, along with his goals to break the Benson County program record and win the event at the state meet in May. With a close miss on Thursday. Fischer said that he knows what needs to be fine-tuned in order to clear 13' 6" and above. Mixed in with more work in the gym and hip movement, Fischer has zeroed in on his patience at the bar, believing that he could move a little slower to perfect his lift.
"I'm doing a lot of preparation in the weight room, specifically on the bars to keep my hips inverted and keep shooting upwards," Fischer said. "Being patient is my biggest problem, so I'm trying to keep that at a good level. When the pole bends, I like to shoot my feet at the bar, so I just got to be patient when my feet up in the air, go nicely up and then turn. I like to rush things, so just need to be a little bit patient and let the pole do the work."
Coming back to the runway, with a year lost and North Dakota elongating its winter, getting back into the swing of things has not just been an adjustment for Fischer, but vaulters all over the state. Benson County didn't want to take a day off after cold temperatures and snow sent the team indoors, so Paulson Supply, which is operated out of Leeds, donated a wooden raised runway for the vault time to continue practicing indoors.
Fischer said it was a little, a bit of an adjustment, but working similar runways at NDSU's camps made the adjustment a little easier for him. The ability to adjust from runway to runway and remain constant at the bar, not just for Fischer, but all vaulters in the area, is huge. Boehmer said that in addition to working in different environments, there's a major confidence factor in having a pole sling you more than 10 feet up into the air.
"In his case, he's 13 feet up in the air and hanging upsidedown. That takes a lot of confidence," Boehmer said. "You have to have a tremendous amount of belief that that pole is going to hold you and you're going to get through it. Not everybody can do that. To get upsidedown and turn at the top, there aren't a lot of kids that want to do that. Confidence is all of it."
Boehmer added that there has been a little more hesitation from vaulters to make their jumps this season after not competing since 2019. Even those who managed to qualify for state still were nervous to vault. The COVID-19 pandemic limited vaulters all over the state, including Fischer, but he had found ways to maintain his performance. During quarantine, he spent a lot of time in his home gym and jump at the first opportunity to vault again at a camp hosted by Kindred.
Now, only two meets into season, Fischer has not just qualified for state but has tied his personal best, which was set at the 2019 North Central Regional. While he is now within a little over a foot and a half of his final goal, Fischer remains determined to get where he wants to be, working off of his competitors to push him upwards.
"Determination and having other people push me is going to help me reach my goal," Fischer said. "I know the other competitors in the state are hungry too. You just gotta keep your hunger and keep working at it. There are some good guys too, so I just have to keep working to keep myself above."
Now with the state qualification under his belt, the pressure is off on that end, but Fischer continues to chase that the Benson County record and a 14' 6" vault. If weather permits, the senior has seven more meets to reach his goal before the postseason arrives, with one of those meets being the Howard Wood Relays in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, bringing in teams from all over North Dakota and South Dakota.
In having coaches surrounding him, knowing what Fischer needs to do in order to check off his last three boxes, Boehmer said that vaulting is a very delicate sport and that there are tons of things that can go right or wrong in any given vault.
"Somebody told me when I started coaching this sport that there are 157 things that can go wrong from start to finish, and it's just a matter of minimizing the little mistakes that become the big mistakes if you have the physical tools," Boehmer said.
On the vault, this is it for Fischer and he wants to go out with a bang. He said he has received offers from other schools, but after getting accepted into desired programs at North Dakota State, he's packing up his pole after this season. So it means a little more from him. The adrenaline rush continues to bring it back and he wants to go out on that high.
"It's been an awesome ride and not taking anything for granted," Fischer said. "Thanking coaches for all their help and having all those guys come up to you, means the world. It's just a great feeling."