By Ashley Austin
scrunners.com contributing writer
Many people around the world are dedicated to a sport. Countless hours every week are sacrificed to honing specific skills, managing technique and creating an overall performance that is constantly better than the last.
But not many people spend time assisting others in bettering themselves for the sport, and very few people dedicate their time and energy into the development of others in order to watch them grow and achieve more than they dreamed.
Rusty Shealy is one of these people. For 11 years, Shealy has worked hard to promote the sport of pole vaulting, and even harder to encourage young adults to follow their passion of pole vaulting and improve themselves in the process. In just over a decade, Shealy has coached 52 South Carolina High School League state champions, eight national champions, and three USA World Team members.
Shealy began vaulting in the ninth grade at Brookland Cayce High School under head coach George Johnson.
“[Coach Johnson] was the first to congratulate me for my 7’0” vault,” Shealy said. “I walked on at [the University of South Carolina] in 1978 clearing 14’11”.”
Though he was practically self taught, Shealy showed an incredible aptitude for the sport. In 1998, Shealy offered to help three high school students with their vaulting skills as they prepared to vault for his Alma Matter. That year, the team finished eighth at the state meet.
That same summer in USATF Junior Olympics, two athletes whom Shealy mentored made it to the national meet in Seattle, Washington.
“It was an eye-opener,” said Shealy. “We saw two vaulters from the same school jumping 17’3” as high school juniors.”
After that, Shealy was on a search for answers.
“I wondered why they could do it there, yet no one had come close to vaulting that high in South Carolina. It wasn’t athletes. It was equipment and coaching, and I saw a tremendous amount of support from the top athletes’ parents as well.”
As Shealy returned to South Carolina, he decided to reinvent the way South Carolina looked at vaulting.
“I began anywhere I could,” Shealy said. “I spoke with anyone who had knowledge and would give me time, spent a lot of money going to camps, and acquired the equipment I needed to stay ahead of the athletes.”
As Shealy began to develop his equipment and knowledge for vaulting, his oldest son jumped on board.
“Chase ended up breaking my old high school record by two feet as a sophomore, jumping 15’7”,”said Shealy. “He went on to break the state meet record by 14” at 16’8” as a junior and established the overall state record during the Outback Azalea Meet in Summerville where he vaulted 17’1” as a senior.”
Shealy worked alongside several South Carolina high school coaches to improve the sport of vaulting as well as the athletes involved.
“It is a collaborative effort between coaches around the state and myself,” said Shealy. “The athletes need more than I can give them in a couple of hours per week.”
Thomas Reagan, vaulting coach at Wando High School, met Shealy when he first began coaching and has encouraged his athletes to seek Shealy for advice ever since.
“My first contact with [Shealy’s] clinics was when one of my vaulters Helen Kirkland started going,” said Reagan. “I saw immediate improvement in her as she ended up winning state her senior year. He also helped Joey O’Rourke and Zach Hart who both went on to win state championships.”
Reagan, along with many others, gives Shealy the credit for developing pole vaulting in South Carolina.
“[Shealy] is the main reason why pole vaulting has soared in South Carolina,” said Reagan. “His clinics are very well run and we are a much better vaulting team because of him.”
Along with helping develop high school athletes in the sport, Shealy accepted the position as pole vault coach at the University of South Carolina where he coached Class AAAA state champion and state record holder Cheryl Terrio.
“Cheryl was a pioneer by being among the first females in the state to pole vault,” said Shealy. “She was the first AAAA state champion and a state record holder, and I was able to coach her as an NCAA All-American while I was the coach at USC.”
Terrio attributes much of her success to Shealy.
“I started vaulting in 10th grade, so that is when I met Rusty,” Terrio said. “He has had a large impact on the sport of pole vaulting, especially for girls in South Carolina. When I started vaulting, it was only an exhibition sport for females, but Rusty did a lot to cause the sport to grow in the state. He has such a huge passion for the sport of pole vaulting and is quite an asset to younger students looking to grow in the sport.”
To Shealy, the most important part of his job comes when the athletes succeed.
“The difference that I seem to make in the lives of vaulters is what it is all about,” said Shealy. “When they start achieving levels they once only dreamed of, their confidence level goes up their entire lives and they feel like they can accomplish anything.”
Shealy realizes how far vaulting in South Carolina since he’s been coaching.
“Over the past decade, we have made tremendous progress and have literally vaulted ahead of most states,” he said. “The talent base has expanded greatly and we are also seeing it being done as a solo event with great entertainment value.”
Though Shealy has seen the pole vault grow in popularity, his love for the sport is what keeps him involved.
“As far as my long term future,” Shealy says, “I am not planning to go anywhere. I’m having way too much fun!”