Kamiak\'s Sean Beighton among state\'s top pole vaulters

MUKILTEO - If things had worked out differently, Sean Beighton would still spend spring afternoons on the baseball diamond. Instead of hurtling his body more than 14 feet into the air day after day, he'd be trying to figure out how to hit a curveball.

But when Beighton was cut during baseball tryouts as a freshman at Kamiak High School, his life took a different course. He joined the Kamiak track and field team, discovered pole vaulting and turned an unexpected diversion into a beloved passion.

Now a senior, Beighton has morphed into one of the state's elite prep pole vaulters. After high school he plans to walk on at the University of Washington, where he'll train alongside some of the best in the country.

But for now he has his sights set on a coveted prize: A state championship. A two-time state meet participant, Beighton placed sixth in Class 4A last year and is ranked No. 1 in 4A this season with a top vault of 14 feet, 9 inches.

Today, he will go up against many of Washington's finest vaulters at the 20th Shoreline Invite at Shoreline Stadium. The event features seven competitors who have cleared 14-3.

"I think it's going to be a very interesting track meet," said Kamiak vault coach Bob Hannah, who believes Beighton can challenge the favorite, Sam Sampson of 3A Squalicum. Sampson is ranked No. 1 among all classifications with a season-best of 15-6.

Despite battling ankle and wrist injuries this season, Beighton has had several excellent performances. Last month, he won at the West Valley Ram Relays in Yakima. Earlier this month, he placed eighth at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational in California by clearing 14-7 and then won the Pasco Invite by going 2 inches higher.

Last weekend, Beighton was runner-up behind Sampson at the Eason Invite in Snohomish.

An incessant desire for perfection fuels Beighton.

"He has never been satisfied with (staying) at the same level," Hannah said. "He's always wanted to excel and to be the best."

When Beighton started, he didn't know how to hold the long, flexible vault pole, let alone soar into the air and maneuver his body over the bar. But by listening intently to his coaches, spending time at summer clinics and working on little things that add up to huge gains, Beighton constantly improved, Hannah said.

Early on, it was clear that vaulting would be more than simply a hobby for Beighton. It was like seeing someone swell with emotion after watching an unforgettable, inspiring movie, Hannah said. But for Beighton, instead of a film, the source of inspiration was vaulting.

"I wasn't that gymnastically inclined," Beighton recalled of his initial attempts, "but I just kind of went down the runway and went for it a few times."

It took him a while to overcome the fear of flight and fully trust a bendy fiberglass pole. "You don't know what's gonna happen at first. Everything about the vault is really unnatural," Beighton said.

His apprehension wasn't obvious to those around him, though. "He had no fear whatsoever. He just wanted to try it," Hannah said.

Beighton progressed rapidly thanks to training sessions at the UW with Huskies assistant coach Pat Licari, a former prep All-American and state champion from Sumner, and assistance from Becca Gillespy, who in 2000 won a state title at King's of Shoreline.

More recently, Beighton benefited greatly from taking gymnastics classes. It boosted his core strength and increased his mid-air body control. Said Beighton, "You have the confidence to go upside down. You know where you are."

Here's where the story begins to sound like a tall tale. Besides being a gifted vaulter, Beighton is also a world-class curler.

Yep, you read it correctly.

Beighton, whose father encouraged him to try the ice-based sport, started curling when he was 13. He competed last year on a team that won the Washington Junior Championships and earned the bronze medal at the Optimist International Under-18 Championships in Calgary, Alberta.

Could he have possibly picked two more different sports?

"It's pure concentration, team effort," Beighton said of curling, which involves throwing a stone - also known as a rock - and using a broom to sweep the ice in the rock's path. "Everyone has to be on the same page, the same level."

But vaulting, Beighton said, is the ultimate individual sport: "It's all you. You have no one to blame but yourself, really, after a competition."

Beighton plans to pursue both sports after high school. His ultimate goal: To qualify for the 2010 Winter Olympics in curling and the 2012 Summer Olympics in vaulting.

When it comes to vaulting, UW's Licari said Beighton has serious potential.

"I'm real excited about the prospect of having him be a part of our team," said Licari, citing Beighton's height, speed and dedication as key assets.

Those qualities just might carry Beighton to the top today at the Shoreline Invite and, more significantly, next month at the state championships.

"He knows he's put the time and the energy into the program and he can be a state champion, and that's what he wants to prove," Hannah said.