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Pole Vaulting is Life Changing for Survey Deputy; Son’s Success Rekindles Interest

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District
Published Feb. 11, 2020
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John Mraz, deputy survey chief for the New York District, lifting himself to clear the uprights during the Jersey Jumps Beach Vault competition in 2019. Pole vaulting is a track and field event that uses a long flexible pole as an aid to jump over a bar. Mraz competes year-round in tournaments and coaches his children at school. (Photo: Courtesy John Mraz)

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John Mraz, a deputy survey chief in the Survey Section of the New York District, sprints down the runway during a pole-vault competition in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Pole vaulting is a track and field event that uses a long flexible pole as an aid to jump over a bar. Mraz has competed in many tournaments throughout the U.S. (Photo: Courtesy John Mraz)

When you haven’t played a sport for many years that you once excelled in, some people can still regain that prowess. Such is the case for New York District Deputy Survey Chief John Mraz, Survey Section, Operations Division, who set pole-vaulting records in high school 30 years ago.

Pole vaulting

Pole vaulting is a track and field event that uses a long flexible pole as an aid to jump over a bar.

Pole vaulting has a long history and is a state, national and Olympics medal event

The objective is for the pole vaulter to clear a crossbar supported by two uprights without knocking it down. Running full speed, a jumper drives the pole into the ground and lifts themselves over the bar.

Volunteer coach

Mraz’ son, Jason, began pole vaulting as a freshman at Edison High School in New Jersey in 2017. His participation sparked Mraz’ interest, and he volunteered to coach there. It was extra special for him as it’s the same high school he graduated from in 1990. Coming straight from his Army Corps job in work attire, he begins leading basic drills.

Prodded to return

Before long students began prodding him to jump again, but he wasn’t in condition. However, as his son began to excel, it was clear that Mraz’ record jump of 12.5 feet (fourth best in school history) might be overtaken.

A good bet?

So a bet was made: If his son broke the record in his freshmen year, Mraz would jump at Beach Vault, a major summer-time competition on the New Jersey shore in summer 2017. “When I graduated high school in 1990 no one jumped higher than me until my son,” said Mraz, adding, “Puts things in perspective of how big a leap he had to make as a freshman. That’s why I thought he wouldn’t do it and made the bet. It was a really big deal.”

In the last track meet of the season, Jason broke the record. Game on!  

30-day regimen

Honoring the bet, Mraz began a 30-day training regimen in preparation for his first jump, by shedding weight with a strict diet and exercising during his lunch hour with Chip Postiglione, his supervisor.  Practicing at a facility in northern New Jersey, the owner opened the facility late in the evening when no one was around (Mraz didn’t want an audience as he tried to regain his form.) After Mraz’ first competition, he enjoyed being on the runway so much  ̶  especially with his son  ̶  that he continued on. Shortly thereafter, his daughter, Isabella, now a sophomore, began jumping and it became a family affair. (He now coaches her as well.)

Success competing

His comeback has been a success: After starting nearly three years ago, he placed second and third at the New Jersey USA Track and Field Masters Championship in 2018 and 2019. In 2019 took he took first place at the United States Track and Field NY/NJ Masters Championships. In summer 2019 he finished first at the North East Pole Vault Club Championships and first at the Beach Vault, in Atlantic City, New Jersey

Year-round routine

Mraz pole vaults competitively year round as there’s both an outdoor and indoor season. He’s even traveled to Reno, Nevada, in the western part of the U.S. to take part in the world’s largest pole-vault competition with over 3,000 athletes.

Steady improvement

Mraz has made great strides the past three years: In 2017 he jumped 8.5 feet; by summer 2019, he was clearing 12 feet. One day after training, he encountered by chance Joseph Seebode, New York District’s Deputy District Engineer for Programs and Project Management who participates in competitive tennis at a nearby facility. During their conversation, the sport of pole vaulting came up.

 Challenges of sport

Mraz spoke about the physical and technical challenges of pole vaulting. He said a jumper must be fast to gain momentum, and core strength helps lift the body over the bar. While airborne, pole-vaulters lift their legs and hips swiftly above their head and then push back on the pole to lift themselves over the bar. Mraz noted: “It’s a big physics equation; building up as much energy as you can before leaving the ground and taking that energy to lift your body.”

Perspective

Mraz has shed 50 pounds since he began training. He acknowledged it’s been challenging to build strength while also following a diet, but it’s paid off: The lighter weight he is, the faster he runs, the more momentum he builds, and the less weight he has to lift over the bar. In fact, he’s actually jumping higher. Mraz said this is very uncommon as most pole-vaulters’ clearing height diminishes with age.   

This is a life changer for him, and attributed to his sustained persistence in sticking to a plan.