TROY — In gymnastics for 10 years, Claire Buck was used flipping, twisting and turning her body in midair, then landing without falling down.
So sprinting down a runway with a 12- to 12 1/2 foot pole, planting it, then soaring through the air while turning her body so she didn't knock over the crossbar and landing safely was just the natural progression for Buck, then a sophomore at Triad High School.
A pole vaulter was born.
"The pole vault was something I had always wanted to try,'' said Buck, who lives in Troy. "I had been in gymnastics for several years and because of that I thought I might be pretty good at the pole vault.
"During winter break last year, I went to a clinic on pole vaulting and then started pole vaulting for the high school team last spring.''
Buck has quickly taken to the sport. A year ago at the Class 2A State Track and Field Meet, Buck cleared a then career-best 11 feet, 3 inches to place fifth.
This spring and with the aid of former college vaulter and current Triad volunteer assistant coach Eric Postma, Buck has continued to improve. Second behind Lindsay Murray of Harrisburg at the Illinois Top Times Indoor Meet last month, Buck currently has the second best vault in the state at 12-6. That is the 22nd best vault in the nation so far during the 2014 season.
Murray has the best vault in the state at 13 feet.
Triad head coach Brian Weiss said he is impressed at how far Buck has come in the event in a little over a year. But Weiss knows its just the beginning for his athletic junior vaulter.
"Claire is right there at 13 feet. She just missed it at the Illinois Top Times Meet in Bloomington and then she barely missed again at the Triad Invitational a week ago,'' Weiss said. "I think she could clear 13-6 or 13-9 this year and she could pop a 14-foot vault by the end of May. We've still got about four weeks left this year. On a good day, she is certainly capable.''
Buck, who also competes for the Knights cross country team, began her track and field career specializing in the triple jump, but also ran on the 4x100-meter relay team and in the 100-meter dash.
Like all track athletes who switch events, Buck said it took time to learn what it takes to excel in the pole vault. Buck also had to deal with the fear factor of soaring through the air and coming to a safe and pain-free landing.
"I've never really gotten hurt vaulting. But yes, landing hard does hurt sometimes,'' Buck said. "The toughest part of learning to pole vault was turning when you go over the bar. It was kind of scary at first. But not too bad because of gymnastics.''
Buck's emergence as one of the state's top pole vaulters has been easier with the support of Weiss and the knowledge of Postma.
Postma competed for Bloom Township High School in the Chicago area, then was an NCAA Division I pole vaulter at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
"Eric has already made a name for himself as being one of the top vaulting coaches around. He was able to help get two girls to state last year in Claire and Lauren Kirshner and he's on the verge of getting two more to state again this year,'' Weiss said. "Claire's got a new pole and her strength and speed are better then they've ever been. Coach Postma keeps adjusting her technique in practice everyday so that she can be the best.''
While Postma's coaching has certainly been a big help in Buck's rapid development, Weiss said that Buck's attitude and work ethic is what separates her from the rest.
"I think a lot of Claire's success comes from her work ethic. She comes from a great family and she's the kind of athlete who will stay and work for hours until we (coaches) shut her down.'' Weiss said. "Plus Claire has tremendous speed. In our track and field program, we hit the weight room very hard. And Claire's body has really taken to the weight room training that we do.
"Her speed has really increased and combined with her coordination and her core strength and you've got the perfect recipe for an athlete in the pole vault.''
Buck has already gone through several poles this year. But so far, the added expense to the Knights athletic department has been worth it.
"It's a good thing when you have to buy a new pole because it means that they (the vaulters) need it to get to the next level.'' Weiss said. "I hope we have to pay for a few more poles because there is no doubt that she's going to keep going higher.''
Buck wants to keep improving and have a chance to win the state title next month in Charleston.
"I've been close to 13 feet on a few occasions. I feel like I will get there soon,'' Buck said. "The new poles have really helped me and I feel like I'm much stronger then ever before. Especially in the upper body.
"The goal is the state title and then I'd love a chance to pole vault in college. I'm not sure where I want to go, but I know I want to be a physical therapist.''
Buck is the daughter of Jordan and Barb Buck, of Troy.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or firstname.lastname@example.org