Gabby Carson sat under a shaded chair, eating some fresh fruit and drinking coffee, waiting for a height that would be a challenge.
Liberty’s junior pole vaulter watched as other girls fought to clear heights she uses as a warm-up. When Carson finally stepped up for her first vault, she easily cleared a height of 10 feet, 6 inches. If that was her best jump, she would have tied for third.
But she wasn’t done. And it wasn’t long before she was the last one standing.
Carson had a record-setting vault of 12-7, then one-upped herself, breaking her personal record, school record and region record with a 12-11 vault Saturday during the Class 4A Sunrise Region track and field championships at Foothill.
It was her first region title.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Carson said. “It’s definitely a dream come true.”
Liberty pole vault coach Drew Hladek said Carson’s competition is on a national level, not a regional level, and it was clear no one in the region was in Carson’s league. Her jump at 12-7 went unopposed, as did a few of her jumps before that. She was the only competitor left after teammate Elizabeth Branigan’s best vault was 11-3.
Then the spotlight was on Carson alone.
“She has to realize she’s on a different level than the people that she’s competing here with,” Hladek said. “Even though she won, got first place, she wants to keep going. Keep going for a new height, keep going for a new (personal record) and keep pushing her limits.”
Her personal record coming into the day of 12-6 ranked her tied for 46th in the country, according to athletic.net. Her new best of 12-11 puts her alone in 24th, pending the results of any other meets across the country Saturday.
Unfortunately for Carson’s outlook at state, one of the people ahead of her is Reed’s Makayla Linebarger, whose personal best is 13-6 and ranks her tied for fourth. So naturally, 13-6 is the height to beat. Hladek said Carson has topped it in practice, but was unable to clear the 13-1 she set for herself Saturday.
But as Hladek said, don’t count Carson out.
“I’ve only been coaching one year and it’s a gift, it’s a blessing, it’s just given right into my hands that I have her as an athlete,” Hladek said. “Athletes like her don’t come around very often. I was talking my club coach and he said an athlete like her some along once every 25 years, and I completely believe it.”
The scary thing for anyone with dreams of winning titles in the pole vault, is that Carson is still improving. She vaulted a 10-3 her freshman year to place third in region, and hit 11-0 last year to finish second.
“The sky’s the limit,” Carson said. “I really have the best of the best surrounding me and helping me try to reach my dream goals.”
Carson’s vault helped the Patriots finish win their first region title with a team score of 120. Green Valley finished second with 117½ points, and Rancho came in third with 80 points.
Coronado’s 119 points was enough for a victory on the boys side. Liberty came in second with 114 points, and Las Vegas scored 99 to place third.