Three years ago, spring came, but it did not bring Mason Lord to a baseball field at Lambert High School like he had always thought it would. The previous fall, when the Longhorns began baseball activities as a precursor to tryouts, Lord found himself going through the two-a-day practices with disinterest. A quiet notion had been building in him for some time, but now he was sure: he didn’t want to play baseball anymore.
Lord just wasn’t certain what he would do with his spring until he went to track and field tryouts. He went intending to run middle distance events like he had in middle school. Instead, he was drawn to a small group gathered on the grass behind one of the football goalposts. Lambert pole vaulting coach Eric Negley was pushing himself over 10-foot high bars. A small group of students were going through seemingly outlandish drills.
“I was like, ‘What are those guys doing down there?’” Lord said.
Lord joined them and after a quick tutorial cleared a bar 8 feet 6 inches high on his first jump.
“I was immediately hooked,” Lord said. “I was like, ‘This is awesome.’ It’s the most overall adrenaline sport, I think.”
Lord has since gone from inquisitive novice to obsessed competitor. The Longhorns junior is the top boy pole vaulter in the county and coming off a season in which he finished second in Class AAAAAA at the GHSA Track & Field Championships when he cleared 13-6 for the first time in a varsity competition.
Lord has already cleared that mark twice this season. He eclipsed 13-7 on March 25 in a meet at South Forsyth. His goal is to make it through region this week, Sectionals next week and hit 15-9 at the state meet on May 14-16. The state record is 16-8, set by Gainesville High’s Paul Malquist in 2010.
“He’s like the proverbial teenager with new shoes,” Negley said. “He’s growing out of them every two weeks.”
When Lord left baseball three years ago, he stepped into a peculiar world within sports, and in particular in Georgia high school athletics.
As a baseball player, Lord could compete or practice nearly year-round. Especially practice; the number of swings he could take in the batting cage or ground balls he could field was almost limitless. All that practice developed the muscle memory required to reach elite levels of performance more quickly.
Practicing in the pole vault is much more restricted, particularly in Georgia where high schools don’t have an indoor season during the winter like other states. His practice facility goes away during football season. Some days, Lord gets in only 10 jumps. Practice gets even more limited during the high school track and field season when teams have meets twice a week.
“It comes down to what you’re doing off the runway,” Lord said.
Intensely driven, Lord makes meticulous plans most Sundays during the offseason for his workouts that week. It’s usually a combination of two-mile runs, sprints and low-weight, high-repetition strength training to build up his endurance and speed – an obvious outlier in his weight-training class filled with football players.
“The vault is fun. You want to be out here jumping every day,” Lord said, “but there are a lot of other things you’ve got to do besides that.”
Now, gripped in a passion for the sport, Lord is doing what he must to pole vault in college. This past summer he went on the USA Track & Field circuit and qualified for the Junior Olympics. He’ll do it again this summer, hoping to clear 16 feet by summer’s end.
But, for Lord, there’s no telling how far – or, how high – he could go in pole vaulting.
“It’s fun because you can go wherever. There is no limit,” Lord said. “The limit is what you limit yourself to.”