By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
Regan Gilbert is passionate about pole vaulting. But he freely admits that wasn't always the case.
In fact Gilbert was pegged as a lost cause after his first week of training with local renowned vaulting coach Jack Chapman before his freshman year at Harker Heights.
"When I started going to coach Jack, I didn't really want to go out there because pole vaulting wasn't a big deal to me then," Gilbert said. "But after the first week, (Chapman) told my dad he didn't think I had what it took to be a pole vaulter.
"So when my dad told me that, I guess I just wanted to prove him wrong, so I did."
That drive has translated to bigger and bigger heights, and this week it earned the Knights senior a partial track and field scholarship to pole vault at the University of Kansas, signing his letter of intent on Tuesday.
"I'm really excited to go to college in pole vault, because I would hate to have to stop after this year ... I'm just excited to see what college is all about," Gilbert said following a signing ceremony Thursday morning
at the Harker Heights field house.
The Jayhawks, who are coached by Tom Hays, have one of the nation's premier vaulting programs, featuring the defending NCAA champion pole vaulter Jordan Scott, who cleared 17-feet, 8.5-inches to win the NCAA title after clearing 18-8.75 feet at the Texas Relays last April.
It's a big step for the skinny kid that showed up to his first day to training at Texas Elite Pole Vaulting wearing jeans.
"He was pathetic," Chapman said of his initial reaction to Gilbert. "He was clumsy, he had no coordination, I told him he needed to get into dance class to get some agility, because he had no rhythm whatsoever. He just didn't have any of the skills. He wasn't strong, he wasn't fast. He had none of the attributes to be a vaulter. None."
Gilbert cleared 6-6 starting out in the seventh grade and improved his personal record by more than three feet over the first several months with Chapman. He advanced to the Region II meet as freshman after clearing 12 feet at the district meet.
But his sophomore year, Gilbert suffered a devastating set-back when his pole shattered on his first attempt at the District 12-5A meet and no-heighted on his final two attempts.
"Pole vaulting's a mental sport, so when a vaulter breaks his pole, you've got to get back on it the next one. So he's made a lot of great strides, worked even harder since he broke his pole," Chapman said.
Last year, Gilbert finally cleared the 16-foot mark that eluded him all season, but clipped the bar at 16-3 on the way down during a jump-off for silver and finished third at the Region II-5A meet, narrowly missing a trip to state.
"That's probably my biggest motivation for the indoor season, replaying that in my head because I know I could have had 16-3, I just bumped it off with my chest," Gilbert said. "All the time, I'm just trying to get better and make sure there's no way I can lose, because I don't want to stay home during state."
Goal-driven, Gilbert has two main goals this season: clearing a personal-best height of 17 feet and winning a state championship in the process.
"I think it's a pretty good possibility, I just have to continue working hard and jump my best every time," Gilbert said. "That's what I want the most - state. And then 17 feet."
Contact Alex Byington at email@example.com or (254) 501-7562.