She takes her starting stance. The pole is gripped tightly in her hands as she sprints to the pit, where she plants the pole firmly on the ground and launches herself over the bar. When she hits the mat, she immediately runs over to her dad and hugs him tight, both of them shocked by the height she just cleared.
On April 4, 2021 at the Vault Magazine Invitational, Paige Sommers ‘21 unofficially broke the national U18 high school outdoor record by jumping a 14’ 8½’’ bar. Previously in February of 2020, Paige Sommers broke the California state record after clearing 14’ 6’’ at the Thousand Oaks Lancer Invitational.
“Once I cleared 14′ 8½ “, I was just in complete shock and after the meet, smiling for hours,” said Paige Sommers. “[Getting the national record by senior year] is a goal I’ve been wanting since freshman year … To get that, especially early on, [before the] summer meets, was really special and to have my family who’s my support system watching me and cheering me on was just a really special moment.”
Paige Sommers is trained primarily by her dad, John Sommers, who is the volunteer pole vault coach at WHS. Unlike other track–and–field members at WHS, Paige Sommers trains year–round; this year, she started training in September. She also trains three times a week with Oak Park High School sprint coach Josh Harrison with whom she does weight training, speed training and technical training for the run before her jumps. In addition to that, Paige Sommers pole vaults two times a week, her total weekly training clocking in at around ten hours per week.
“The thing with Paige is that she’s a very talented athlete, but it goes more than that,” said John Sommers. “You can have a lot of athletic ability, but you need to also put in the time and the training and the dedication. Paige is probably the most dedicated person I’ve ever known to tell you the truth. She is thinking about pole vault every day. She’s training for pole vault everyday.”
Although she participated in other track and field sports at a young age, Paige Sommers’ pole vaulting journey didn’t begin until the end of sixth grade. After she placed high at her first meet, she decided to take the sport more seriously and start training, aided by her dad’s coaching. Being a pole vaulter himself at Agoura and later at UCLA until 1996, he was also able to connect her to various people in the pole vault world who have helped her train.
To prepare for this meet, Paige Sommers focused on her speed and power. She was not as confident going into the meet when clearing lower level bars, but after clearing those set at 14 feet, she slowly became more sure of herself.
“As the meet was going, it was pretty exciting, but before that meet in particular, I had no expectations other than let’s just work on some things and try to get some good heights,” said John Sommers. “Afterwards, obviously it was just pure joy seeing her get that accomplishment that she worked so hard for.”
Given his past in pole vaulting, John Sommers understands the sacrifices his daughter made to accomplish this goal and recognizes that those sacrifices are what made this record so special. His role as Paige Sommers’ dad and coach makes the sport special for him and the coaching experience rewarding.
“14’ 8½’’, no girl in the history of pole vault in the United States in high school has ever jumped that,” said John Sommers. “You don’t just do that. You had to sacrifice [and] put in a lot. I know, being her coach [and] being her dad, all the time she spent thinking about the sport [and] training for the sport.”
In addition to physical training, the mental aspect of strategizing and setting goals also plays an important role in Paige Sommers’ success, as well as getting used to competing in meets.
“We talk about it, and we strategize, and we make goals every year. Our goal this year was to jump 14’ 8½’’,” said John Sommers. “When she did that, it was just thrilling. Your emotions are just like, ‘Oh my God! We did it!'”
Looking to the future, Paige Sommers hopes to reach even greater heights, some of her goals including winning bigger meets like the Atlantic Coast Conference with Duke University and breaking the U18 world record of 14’ 9’’ by jumping a height of 15 feet.
“I’d be the first high school 15–footer which is pretty cool,” said Paige Sommers. “I’m hoping to get to [Olympic] Trials this year for June and [in the] future get the Duke pole vault record and then make the Olympic team.”
Paige Sommers signed with Duke University in November of 2020 where she will continue her pole vault career. In an interview with MileSplit CA, Paige Sommers said she felt that “Duke’s the place for me,” and turned down 18 other schools’ offers.
“I’m just hoping that I can just continue to improve and hopefully win as many meets as I can as a freshman,” said Paige Sommers.