Connor Aamot popped a few watermelon Sour Patch candies into his mouth, took a deep breath and stared down the runway.
At the age of 19, he has already achieved a great deal. With a 2014 state championship pole vaulting title, Aamot is a freshman at Western with high aspirations to improve his craft.
Aamot’s pole vaulting career began when he was in middle school, but he didn’t become serious about the sport until his freshman year at Meridian High School. For Aamot, pole vaulting began as a family rivalry but turned into much more.
“My brother did it when he was in high school,” Aamot said. “He won state, got the school record and because we always had competition, I had to beat him.”
Aamot did in fact beat his brother, but it took all four years of high school to do so.
During his freshman year, Aamot was jumping around 8 feet. He was trained by a long-distance coach, which made learning how to improve harder at times.
By his sophomore year, Aamot had a personal record of 11 feet 6 inches. By his junior year he was jumping at 13 feet 1 inch. He was on the road to state, post-season had just begun and Aamot was preparing to take the state title.
While practicing at the Sportsplex in Bellingham, Aamot faced the day no pole-vaulter wants to ever go through. Mid-jump, he knew he wasn’t going to make it over. There was no going back as he tried to grab his pole but couldn’t. Aamot fell straight down into the metal box that normally catches the pole.
“Everyone heard the crack,” Aamot said . The crack they heard had come from Aamot’s leg, which he had just broken.
It ended his junior year season as a pole-vaulter and Aamot faced the tough realization that while he watched everyone else continue on to state, he would not be going with them.
His mother, Brenda Aamot, recalls the day he broke his leg.
“I’m OK!” she remembers Aamot saying as he laid on the couch unable to move. Like all concerned mothers, she knew he wasn’t OK, so she took her son to the hospital only to find out Aamot had broken his leg.
“I pushed myself beyond what I was ready for that day,” Aamot said in reference to his faulty jump.
Aamot didn’t let this setback keep him from achieving the goals he had set before himself, though. While he could no longer jump, he continued to work out to the point of exhaustion. His personal training left him not even having the energy to use his crutches afterwards.
“I came back into the next year stronger than ever, but even into my senior year, I had a mental boundary, I would freak out every time I went to jump,” Aamot said. “Up until districts I wasn’t doing very well because of that mental block, but by districts ,I finally got over it and I immediately started improving, and after just two meets I [beat my personal record] by 1 foot.”
Aamot had broken the school record and won state.
As Aamot’s name was called to step up to the podium and accept his medal, he could hear the screams of excitement from everyone around him. He had accomplished his goal and all he could think was, “this is pretty cool.”
Not only had he broken the school record with a 14-foot-jump, but he had beaten his brother Kyle’s record of 13 feet 6 inches. This was what Aamot was most excited about.
Going from high school to college-level pole vaulting has posed its challenges for Aamot. In high school he was at the top of his level, but now entering college he is faced with different challenges.
“It’s like the transition from middle school to high school,” he said. “You go from the top to the bottom and all of a sudden you have to work your butt off just to get to where everyone else already is.”
Aamot hadn’t planned on continuing with pole vaulting but when the track and field coach at Western contacted him, he knew he had a decision to make.
“I knew it was a huge time commitment but I decided it was something I had aspired to do and get better at, I enjoyed it all four years of high school so I knew it would be fun in college,” Aamot said.
As he continues his first track and field season at Western, there are a few habits he will most likely hold on to, with the consumption of watermelon Sour Patch Kids being one of them.
His love for the watermelon candy came after his high school coach fed him some candy to get pumped up for a jump. From then on, it became Aamot’s ritual before a jump.
“Kids would always look at me funny,” he said. “We’re at the state meet and these kids are all making fun of me because we’re at state, you’re supposed to be healthy and I’m sitting there chowing down on Sour Patches, and I start beating them all and they all say, ‘huh, can I have some?’”
As Aamot continues to succeed, he has a family who stands behind him, supporting him each step of the way. Whether it means attending his meets, buying him loads of food or videotaping his jumps, his parents Matt and Brenda try to be as supportive of their son as possible.
Being the parent of a serious athlete requires certain things of any supportive parent.
“It’s time consuming and expensive,” Brenda laughs.
“It’s a lot of fun, it makes you proud,” Matt adds.
“It’s really exciting to see them get better each time and reach their personal record and you know it’s exciting for them,” Brenda said.
As they watched Connor at state, Brenda described the moment as “a lot of screaming” at the top of her lungs.
“I was in disbelief actually because Connor had said he didn’t think he was going to win this, but he kept going and others were dropping out and I couldn’t believe it was happening,” Brenda said.
While Aamot will always have the 2014 title to look back on, he has set a goal to continually be better than he was.
“He has a goal and he is always determined to reach that goal, so if I used one word [for Connor], it would be determined,” Brenda said.
And determined he is.