ITHACA, NY -- Back in 2017, I wrote a story entitled “Higher Ground,” in which I profiled Nick John, a high school pole vaulter attempting to make a comeback after a hip injury. I wrote that Nick – then a senior at Ithaca High – came from an athletic family that had provided me with plenty of material over the course of many years, and I asked him if his hip injury would potentially thwart his longtime dream of pole vaulting in college. At that time, Nick said (referencing his junior year), “Last year was a bust, so I haven’t really gotten many looks from college coaches, but I’ll keep working.”
Keep working he did, and when he vaulted 14'4” in high school, it earned him a spot at the Nationals at The Armory in Manhattan.
Fast forward to last week... a news story came across my radar that highlighted the results from the Nazareth Alumni Opener, held at the Golisano Training Center in Rochester. The story was released by the Sports Information Department at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and it stated that “The R.I.T. men were led by three individual winners and a first-place relay. Senior Matthew Funicelli won the weight throw (15.59m) while also finishing second in the shot put (14.90m). Freshman Ben Sheehan won the long jump (6.73m), while senior Nick John won the pole vault (4.40m).”
The step up onto the podium was just the latest of many for Nick, as he also won the Houghton December Classic earlier this month. The spring 2021 season was also a productive one, as he finished third at the Atlantic Region Track and Field Conference championship, and second at the Liberty League West Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
I talked to Nick after he won the Nazareth event last week, and I asked him if he had been able to get through his collegiate career without any additional injuries. He laughed and answered, “Well... I have had some injuries. My Achilles, my knee, my back...”
Asked about the indoor track and field season, Nick said, “We have two meets in December, and then we have the indoor season in the spring semester.”
We talked about the specialization of the event, and I pointed out that while a distance runner can lace up a pair of shoes and take off from his or her front porch, a pole vaulter cannot just do that.
Nick said, “When I'm in Ithaca, I still train with Matt Scheffler, who has been coaching me since I was a freshman in high school. We train at the High School in Lansing, where he is the coach.”
Next, I asked if pole vaulters are like, say, tennis players or softball players who have that special racquet, or bat that they take with them to competitions.
“Some coaches have their own poles,” Nick stated, “but I usually use a pole belonging to a school.”
A pole, he pointed out, “Can be between 10 and 16-feet long — depending on one's ability — and depending on how stiff and how much recoil a pole has, it can support athletes from under 100 to over 200 pounds.”
In the 2017 article, Nick's dad pointed out that colleges are always looking for athletes who appear to have potential for improvement, and I asked Nick how his college results stack up with his high school days. “My personal best has improved by about a foot since I have been in college,” he said, “and I have become a lot more consistent. That's just as important.”
Nick also said that his goal heading into his final season is “Nothing too specific — just to keep improving on my personal best and not get injured!”
Asked what he plans to do after getting his degree in applied mathematics in May, and whether he will be able to continue pole vaulting, Nick answered, “Depending on where you are, there are clubs that offer opportunities to keep pole vaulting after college, and I hope to find those opportunities.”
As for his plans regarding the rest of the opportunities — like jobs, or grad school — out there in the world, Nick laughed and added, “Oh, yeah... I hope to find them too.”
The smart money says he will do just that.