Up, up and away

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 20, 2023

Sophomore Noelle Childs getting a feel for pole vaulting, hurdles for West Forsyth track and field team

By Jay Spivey
For the Clemmons Courier

One might not normally think that a person could easily transition from gymnastics to pole-vaulting, but sophomore Noelle Childs of West Forsyth has turned some heads on that front.
In fact, she’s not even the only girls pole-vaulter at West Forsyth who was previously involved in gymnastics. Childs and senior Haley Hanes have been involved with gymnastics and have been training in the pole vault at the Vault House in High Point.
“The beginning of my freshman year I went to Vault House with my teammate, Haley, and started pole-vaulting,” Childs said. “…All the skills kind of carry over and it’s easy to start pole-vaulting and progress through that.”
Childs has reached the point where she’s one of the best vaulters in the area. This past Saturday, Childs finished third with a vault of 9-feet, 7 inches, in the Scott Brent Invitational at Mount Tabor, just behind Hanes. who was runner-up with 10-7.
“For lack of a better word we’ve kind of had that connection or pipeline with those (pole vaulters),” Coach Nathan Newsome said. “So, when we got Haley, I said, ‘You know anybody else?,’ and she said, ‘We’ll I’ve got a friend I think might be able to get and might be a good candidate.'”
People still can’t grasp just how somebody launch themselves into the air with a flexible pole.
“It was definitely harder than I thought,” Childs said. “Watching Haley and Lindsay (Absher, another former West pole vaulter) it just looked so effortless. It was definitely weird. Even just running, holding the pole up takes so long to get used to. Gymnastics taught me so much, but that stuff, specific, we never had to run, hold on to anything.”
In fact, many of the girls who compete in the pole-vault in the Central Piedmont 4-A, the region, or the state, know each other.
“It’s very fun because there’s nothing out there like it,” Childs said. “The pole-vault community is very connected. It’s just very different.”
Holding the pole while running definitely adds a nuance to the specialty.
“In gymnastics all of the equipment was stationary,” Childs said. “The bar sticks when we do all of our skips. With pole-vaulting, you’re trying to get up and your object is moving, too. There’s just a lot going on.”
Even with all that goes into making a vault, Childs, who is 16, has progressed in just the year and a half she’s been doing it.
Newsome credits that to her being such a good athlete.
“I think that is developed from all those years of gymnastics,” he said. “Their coordination is top-level, and they’re naturally very strong. And the other thing those vaulters tend to have is they’re kind of fearless.”
That fearless streak in Childs is enveloped in her despite an injury last year as a freshman in an indoor meet.
“I damaged the growth plate, where your pelvic bone connects to your side,” she said. “Yeah, I did that pole-vaulting and I couldn’t do anything for three months.”
While recuperating from the injury and going through rehabilitation, Childs had the agony of not being able to stay active, something that was foreign to her.
“It was very frustrating because gymnastics season was about to start and I qualified for indoor states,” she said. “So, I was really excited about that, and then, I couldn’t do it.”
Childs returned to pole-vaulting last April, making it a full year since she returned.
“It was definitely hard because I had been doing nothing for a few months,” she said. “I really got back into it quicker than I thought.”
At 5-foot-5, Childs is on the low to just about average height for a girls pole-vaulter.
“For pole-vault, the taller you are, the better,” she said. “I just do the best I can. There’s not really much you can fix with that.”
Childs’ personal-best vault is 10-feet, 6 inches, so her physical height isn’t hindering her much.
“She’s not little-bitty, and she’s not really tall,” Newsome said. “I have shorter pole-vaulters, and shorter pole-vaulters can still vault well. They just have to be that much faster. It’s a physics equation. The taller you are, the slower you can be, so to speak.”
Newsome has an eye for talent, and he thought that Childs had the athleticism and skill set to compete in other events other than the pole-vault. So, he encouraged her to try 100-meter hurdles, the 300-meter hurdles, and she’s even competing in the 4×400-meter relay.
“The other thing about Noelle is she is always positive, always cooperative, and smiley and upbeat,” Newsome said. “So, every check in the plus column that you can imagine. And she’s a sophomore.”
Although Childs was open to competing in the hurdles there have been some bumps in the road, so to speak.
“Whenever they do hurdles, and I know it from doing it all these years, it’s not if they’re going to fall or trip, it’s when,” Newsome said. “And early on, she was going after the hurdles pretty good, and I mean she ate it pretty good one time — knees were bleeding, that type of a deal. And she popped up and kept on going and never said anything about it. A lot of them will become gun shy, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this,’ But she didn’t hesitate.”
The other thing she had to do was adjust to the added workload.
“It was definitely an adjustment because during indoor I only ever pole-vaulted, so it was one thing to focus on,” Childs said. “And now at meets there’s a bunch of events.”
Childs has already decided that she likes the 300 hurdles more than the 100 hurdles.
“The 100 hurdles, they’re a notch higher,” she said. “So, I don’t know how many inches higher, but they’re a bit higher. And you take three steps in between. There’s 10 of them. There’s more hurdles and they’re closer together.”
Even though Childs has just begun to run the hurdles and 4×400 relay, she’s already become quite accomplished. In the Scott Brent Invitational last Saturday, she finished sixth in the 100 hurdles, fourth in the 300 hurdles, and competed in the 4×400 relay.
“(Saturday), they were spaced out pretty perfectly throughout the schedule because pole-vault was the very first and the 4×4 was very last,” she said. “And the two hurdle events were kind of evenly spaced. I just tried to stay in the shade in between events and drink lots of water, and made sure I ate some snacks. And then warmed up a bit before the next event.”