By DARREN COOPER – RECORD COLUMNIST
KEARNY – Michelle Rozalski wants to clear 12 feet with the pole vault for several reasons, not the least of which is that she is sure her sister Catherine would likely follow her flying footsteps.
“Every time one of us jumps something, within a few meets, the [other] one will jump it,” said Michelle, a senior at Queen of Peace. “I kind of want Catherine to jump 13, so then maybe I will jump 13.”
Michelle then breaks into laughter, as 13 feet would be a serious jump. It’s possible, but not very likely. Of course, what are the odds of three sisters all being as good in an event as complicated as the pole vault?
Stephanie, now 21 and in law school at Villanova, was the first to try pole vaulting. She had done gymnastics her whole life, and was inspired by a story she saw on television during the Olympics to try vaulting. She was tall and strong, and learned quickly.
She pole-vaulted for the first time at a camp the summer before her senior year at Queen of Peace and went on to win the Non-Public B state title.
Michelle and Catherine, both at 5 feet 4, aren’t as tall as Stephanie (5-9), and Catherine is the strongest of the three, but they have picked up where their older sister left off. They just cleared 11 feet (naturally) within a few weeks of each other.
All three followed the same path. They all did gymnastics (Catherine still competes at Sunburst Gymnastics in Union and trains 20 hours a week), but slowly became full-year pole vaulters. At Queen of Peace, they are mini-celebrities. This winter Michelle and Catherine were the only two members of the indoor track team.
“I kind of wanted to do it because I started to do cheerleading instead of gymnastics, and then cheerleading wasn’t enough,” said Michelle, 18. “So I started to do pole vaulting and cheering.”
“I just followed the crowd,” said Catherine, a sophomore who’s 15.
Their gymnastics background helped them get started. The Rozalskis’ pole-vaulting coach, Branko Miric, said about 50 percent of the girls he works with have done gymnastics as well.
“A lot of people say that it’s a natural progression to pole vaulting. I think there are some similarities, but I think the biggest thing that helps a gymnast pole-vault is that they are physically fit,” said Miric. “You can’t be out of shape and do gymnastics.”
Pole vaulting is a complex sequence of movements that require enormous strength. It also requires precise mental focus.
“It’s frustrating and you want to give up, because you feel like you are never going to get it,” said Michelle. “Then it kind of clicks and you are like, ‘OK, I can do it.’ ”
According to Miric, Catherine and Michelle have different strengths. Catherine has no fear and her brute strength is legendary in the family.
“I think she just likes winning,” said Miric about Catherine. “Running up isn’t that easy for her, but she is so strong … sometimes she gets herself in positions, and I’m like, ‘How is she going to clear the bar?’ and she does.”
Michelle has a more refined technique then Catherine and is also a tough competitor. Her problem – and Michelle says this herself – is that sometimes she loses her focus.
“I think it’s going to be hard, but I definitely think Michelle can jump 12,” said Miric. “I don’t think it’s something that will happen a lot, but I think she can be a 12-foot jumper.”
The girls also have each other to lean on. They share advice.
“She will correct me if I do something wrong,” said Catherine. “She will say ‘Fix it, or it will look bad.’ ”
“We definitely push each other,” agreed Michelle. “We tell each other what to do and try to get better.”
Catherine still has two more years after this spring and said she can see herself pole vaulting in college, not doing gymnastics, but this spring is it for Michelle. She hasn’t picked a college yet, saying it’s Penn State, Seton Hall or Delaware and no one has talked to her about vaulting, but if she clears 12 feet, they might.
The truth of the matter is that the winner of the Non-Public B state title in the spring probably sleeps in the Rozalski house. The same might be true in 2014 and 2015. Those footsteps are flying.