Aaron Vondergathen was struggling to find an event to compete in during his first year of track and field with the Rochelle Township High School program his freshman season. That quickly changed when a friend recommended he take up pole vaulting, something most student-athletes don’t have the opportunity to attempt until they reach the high school level.
Vondergathen only vaulted in two meets as a freshman, and his personal record after one season was a measly 8 feet. But his performances improved significantly over time, and his efforts resulted in an outdoor personal-record vault of 12 feet during the 2019 IHSA 2A Sterling Sectional, where he placed third and was 6 inches shy of qualifying for the state championships.
Although the coronavirus pandemic has taken away Vondergathen’s senior season, the RTHS vaulting standout has committed to becoming a new member of the Flying Dragons Pole Vault Club in Normal. Vondergathen, who will be attending Illinois Valley Community College to study computer-aided drafting and design, said he learned about the club during his junior season.
“I decided to look into the Flying Dragons Pole Vault Club because I attended a vaulting camp the club hosted during the winter of my junior year and I really liked their facility,” Vondergathen said. “I look forward to improving as a vaulter and reaching new heights. What I enjoy most about pole vaulting is the feeling I have after beating an old personal record.”
Vondergathen vaulted his way into the varsity lineup his sophomore season, when he competed in eight meets for the Hubs including the 2018 IHSA 2A Genoa-Kingston Sectional, where he finished fifth with a clearance of 11 feet. The senior set his indoor personal record during Rochelle’s only track meet this season, clearing 12-4 ¾ against DeKalb and Belvidere.
“I first joined the track and field team my freshman year and what I enjoy most is how you’re always trying to beat our personal bests and get better in each of our events,” Vondergathen said. “I’ve improved most in understanding what I’m doing while vaulting. When I look back at my first two years, I was mainly throwing myself over the bar, but now I understand what my body is doing and how I can improve my form for the next vault I attempt.”