It's a masochistic event, one that usually ends in failure and one that is in direct conflict with gravity.
But for Cooperstown junior Lucy Ford, the high jump pit at Middletown High must have seemed like heaven Saturday afternoon.
Despite jumping on an injured left ankle, Ford broke her school record on the same day she became her school's first female to win a title in the New York State Track and Field Championships.
Ford cleared 5-foot-5 to win Division II state title in the high jump at Middletown, the host of what was supposed to be a two-day event but turned into an all-day Saturday competition as heavy rain wiped out Friday's schedule.
On a day many area athletes struggled to compete against the state's best, the 6-1 Ford stood tall.
“It's still sinking in,” Ford said Sunday. “It's really exciting and I've gotten a lot of congratulations.”
The up-and-down saga to Ford's season took life during Cooperstown's Don Howard Invitational.
During an impressive high jump competition at the May 4 meet, Ford cleared 5-4 ¼ to beat Oneonta High's Brittney Herrick, who finished at 5-4, and Natalie Vanderlaan-Meyering, who made it over 5-1. All three competed this weekend.
But after Ford went over 5-4 ¼, she told coach Connie Herzig her left foot felt “funny.”
Turns out, Ford pulled the deltoid muscle in her left ankle and spent the next two weeks in a walking boot.
“There are always bumps in the road,” Cooperstown girls coach Connie Herzig said of Ford, who earned the area's first state title since then-Cooperstown senior Alec Silvera won the D-II title in the 110-meter hurdles in 2011. “There are always things to overcome. Nothing is ever achieved without issues or problems along the way. She had to rise to the occasion and overcome them. The injury was one of those things.”
Still, Ford said the injury might have been a blessing in disguise.
High jumping takes a heavy toll on an athlete's legs.
“Having the state meet at the end of the season is tough for a lot of jumpers,” Ford said. “Being in the boot and resting for two weeks helped me a bunch. I had rested legs and that helped my jumping.”
But the competition was anything but easy for Ford. She jumps off of her left ankle and said every time she went up, she felt pain in the ankle. Ford also missed her first two attempts at 5-2.
“She had two good early jumps at 4-8 and 4-11 and then struggled at 5-2,” Herzig said.
Added Ford: “It was a big relief to get over 5-2 on my third try.”
Ford also missed her first attempt at 5-4.
When the competition moved to 5-5, two D-II girls were left — Ford and Middleburgh's Amanda Roney. Had both failed to clear 5-5, Roney would have won the title on fewer misses.
Ford made the school-record height on her first try.
“I was absolutely ecstatic,” Herzig said. “I actually ran over to where she was coming from. I jumped on her. An official warned me sternly to get back in the coaches' box. I thought I was going to get thrown out. She was beaming.”
“It was clearly her best jump of the day,” she continued.
Ford said she saved her celebration until Roney missed her final attempt at 5-5.
Herrick finished 12th in D-II at 4-11 and Vanderlaan-Meyering was another spot back at 4-8.
When Roney exited, it left four girls in the competition, with Ford being the last from D-II (school enrollments of 600 or fewer). Walt Whitman's Jackie Crunden, East Islip's Faith Perry and Burnt Hills' Samantha Hjelmer also had shots at the overall state title.
Crunden was lone member of that quartet to clear 5-6. Ford finished fourth overall. Herzig said Ford had one good attempt at 5-6 but that her legs had lost some of their spring by that time in the competition.
“The injury was definitely a big step back because I didn't know if I'd come back,” Ford said. “The mental part was the toughest part. Getting over that was rough.”
Heading into her senior year, Ford said, 5-8 will be her goal.
“I don't put a ceiling on her,” Herzig said. “She's the best high jumper I've ever worked with, that's for sure. I hope she continues to refine her technique. If she continues to develop, goodness, I don't know (how high she could jump).”
Another area junior whose ceiling appears to be headed north in a hurry is Downsville junior Antonio Gomes. The young man had never run track before this season but finished fourth in the D-II 200 in a school-record time of 22.59 seconds, breaking his record of 22.85 set at last week's Section Four State Qualifier.
“He ran really smooth,” Downsville coach Tim McNamara said. “He was seeded 10th but ended up winning his heat.”
Heading into the meet, McNamara said, setting a personal-record was the goal for Gomes, a football player on a combined Downsville-Roscoe squad this past fall.
“Running a 22.59 was really impressive,” McNamara said, adding the key to Gomes' performance was a good start.
“He had a really good corner this time,” the coach said. “He usually struggles in the first 100, but this time he was solid and then pulled away.”
Hudson's Darian Blanks won in 22.14.
Asked when he thought he might have something special in Gomes, McNamara said he found out during an early-season workout. The team was doing an interval workout, repeating 200-meter sprints. McNamara said he told the team no one could pass the coach until later in the workout.
“He was sitting with me and not really working that hard,” McNamara said. “I was hitting them in 30s (seconds). I said, 'You can go by me now.' He hit the last three in 24s and 25s and I said, 'OK, we have ourselves an athlete.'”
McNamara said he wouldn't be surprised if Gomes dropped by a second by next spring.
“He's very excited about (next season),” the coach said. “He's already talking about workouts for the summer.”
Unatego senior David VanAlstine also competed in the 200. He finished 15th in D-II in 23.74.
Bainbridge-Guilford/Afton sophomore Julia Knapp earned a medal in her third straight state meet. She placed fifth in the D-II 100 hurdles in a time of 15.14.
As an eighth-grader Knapp finished sixth among D-II public school competitors in the 400 hurdles. She did likewise last year, as well as finishing third in the D-II 100 hurdles.
A pair of OHS athletes just missed the awards podium in their events. Seniors Mitchel Couch and Jenn Jelic placed seventh among D-II athletes in the discus and 400 hurdles, respectively.
Couch's best throw covered 142-2 — 5 inches off of sixth place.
Jelic crossed in 1:07.69.
Both OHS standouts will compete for SUNY Delhi next season.
Sidney's 400 and 1,600 boys relay teams couldn't repeat their performances from last week's Section Four State Qualifier, when both teams set school records.
The Warriors' 400 relay squad of Aaron McCarroll, Ethan Green, Hunter Sowersby and Nate Magnussen placed 11th in D-II in 45.26. That team ran a 44.70 last Thursday.
Green and Sowersby joined Dean Howard and Austin McCarroll on a 1,600 relay squad that placed 10th in D-II in 3:28.86. Last week, that foursome finished in 3:26.14 to win an overall sectional title.
Gilbertsville-Mount Upton/Morris senior Eddie Ray Cotton finished 12th in the D-II 100 in 11.35. B-G/A junior Pedro Aparicio was 14th in the D-II shot put at 42-10.