CORTLAND - A.J. Miller isn't Joe Rogan, but the Lakeview High School senior hosts his own fear factor.
Miller motors his 5-foot-4, 145-pound frame down the runway with a weighted pole and harnesses every nerve in his body.
Timing is everything when he places the oversized, flexible pole into a steel box in front of a precarious bar held up by two steel supports.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Lakeview’s A.J. Miller competes in the boys pole vault during the Trumbull County Track and Field Meet on Tuesday at Lakeview High School. The meet continues on Thursday.
The pole then flexes and lifts Miller up and over the bar.
"It's the best feeling in the world, especially when you PR (personal record)," Miller said at the first day of the Trumbull County Track and Field Meet at Lakeview High School on Tuesday. "You know which vault is a good vault as soon as you plant and invert. You just know it's there and it's the best feeling."
Landing on the oversized blue mat is satisfying as well.
"As long as the bar is not falling down, I'm happy," Miller said. "Every time I've vaulted, I've never had a vault where I've not been a little scared to plant. It's scary. But once you hit the mat, I'm fine - nothing's broken, nothing's hurt."
Tuesday, he was just fine as he set a new meet record of 12 feet, 6 inches.
Miller, who is looking to break the school record of 13-6 set in the 1970s, said the ideal size of a pole vaulter is 6-0 and around 180 pounds.
"He's certainly an anomaly as far as a pole vault physique," Lakeview pole vault coach Tom Preisse said. "The patience he's shown over the last four years, he's definitely overcome those obstacles. We're looking to get him down to state this year and compete. There's no reason why he shouldn't be able to jump 14-0 by the end of the season."
Miller is looking to be the next Lakeview pole vaulter to make state. Cameron Beebe advanced in 2011.
Miller has been working hard to make his state aspirations come true in a sport that he'd like to see more people attempt. There were only four jumpers from Lakeview and Girard in Tuesday's competition. The girls pole vault will be contested Thursday.
"In the end, it's always up the school," Miller said. "I think it's a great sport to introduce to new kids because some kids may not be good at sprinting or distance. But in pole vault, if you have a good athlete, he can be a good pole vaulter. It just takes time. A lot of kids don't like to spend the time and dedicate themselves to practice every day. I'm here until 6 o'clock every day while my other track teammates are home resting or eating dinner."
Preisse is a certified pole vault coach. Schools must have an OHSAA certified coach to perform the event.
"Thankfully the state is now implementing testing for coaches that actually want to coach pole vault," he said. "We all have to be certified by taking an exam. I've been doing a lot of learning, research and things like that. I think the event is getting safer than it's ever been. That's great. For the most part, accidents are going to happen when you have coaches that are too anxious to do things too soon for their athletes.
"Really, it's a matter of time and patience to make sure that you're confident."
Nonetheless, it takes the right kind of person to perform the pole vault.
"It's very nice to find a kid that's strong, athletic, fast and everything like that," Preisse said. "The thing about a pole vaulter is they have to have their strange mix of crazy in there. They've got to be willing to take it to the limit and put a little risk factor into the events."
NOTES: McDonald's 4x800-meter relay placing first, along with Jai'Lyn Mosley and Tory Ross taking 1-2 in the discus, pushed the Blue Devils girls team to first place after the first day of the meet with 35 points. Badger, which got its points from Leah Blaney taking first in the long jump and teammate Jennilyn Krumpe taking second, trails McDonald with 18 points. Howland is in third with 16 points. ... Mosley set a new stadium and meet record of 145-4, breaking the old mark set by John F. Kennedy's Michelle Rossio in 2003 of 140-7. ... Lakeview leads the boys standings with 34.5 points. Maplewood's 4x800 relay won to lead the Rockets to second place with 19 points. Howland is third with 18, led by Tion Stubbs' meet and stadium record of 6-6.5 in the high jump. Hubbard's Matt Jones won the shot put. ... The meet continues Thursday, beginning at 4:30 with the remainder of the field and running events.