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Now-junior pole vaulter Megan Hart runs up with her pole at the Penn Challenge on Mar. 18, 2023.

Credit: Samantha Turner

Junior pole vaulter Meghan Hart is coming off an exceptional 2023 outdoor season where she finished in third at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships. The Kennett Square, Pa. native also set an outdoor personal best in the pole vault at 3.85 meters en route to a first place finish at the Widener Invitational. 

Hart may be destroying the competition in her collegiate career, but her journey to star pole vaulter wasn’t exactly conventional. She had never attempted the sport before high school and had a quick turn-around to becoming a Division I athlete. Hart admitted that she was a gymnast all her life, but that over the course of her freshman year of high school she grew six inches, and that “gymnastics gets a lot harder when you’re taller.”

Her dad found a local pole vaulting club and they both decided that she should give it a shot. To her own surprise, Hart ended up falling in love with the sport and committed hours to training by translating over all of her gymnastics skills. The COVID-19 pandemic hit Hart during her junior year of high school, but before that, during her last indoor season, she jumped two feet higher than her previous record. This “opened a lot of doors for her” and became a huge stepping stone in her journey to eventually joining the Penn track and field program. 

Hart was described by Assistant Director of Track & Field Joe Klim as “extremely coachable.” Klim specializes in vertical jumps and has been a major asset to Hart and her vaulting teammates throughout their time at Penn. She is a great leader to her teammates, both by inspiring her teammates with her impressive statistics and by stepping up to take the mantle of responsibility when necessary. When Klim needs someone to rely on — to inspire the other girls, to complete a task, or anything else — she’s one of the few players he’s always confident about calling upon. 

Klim also told The Daily Pennsylvanian that he greatly appreciates Hart’s proclivity to ask clarifying questions. He said, “She’s going to be like, ‘I get it,’ or ‘I don’t get it. You have to explain it to me.'” Hart lamented her own “perfectionist” tendencies, but Klim emphasized that in a sport as precise and complicated as pole vaulting, it is crucial to have a player that will set her mind to making the appropriate corrections and focusing on the little cues — such as turning earlier or inverting her body all the way — that help her hone her performance down to the minute details.

Many people who are unfamiliar with pole vaulting don’t understand the intense mental difficulties of the sport. As Klim aptly puts it, “you definitely have to be a little bit nuts” to even step up to the mat. Being in the right headspace is critical, and he added that even professional pole vaulters will still get cold feet. When talking about his work with Hart, he admitted that out of context, the idea of using a 14-foot pole to run forward very fast and vault over a very high bar sounds incredibly daunting. It can take these athletes some time to overcome these initial “jitters” to become better and braver vaulters. 

“In pole vaulting, it’s really fun because it doesn’t matter what you look like going over the bar. The only rule is that you can’t fall. So, it can be the ugliest thing you’ve ever done, and it would still count,” Hart said. 

Coming from a gymnastics background, this stylistic freedom is a major and welcome shift for Hart.

Hart said that one of her favorite competitions was during her freshman year. While she herself did not perform her best, she appreciated that she was able to “really see the team come together.” On a more individual level, Hart spoke very proudly about her 13-foot, or 3.96 meter, personal best from her senior year of high school since it is considered “a huge milestone for female vaulters.” During this event, which coincidentally took place on her 18th birthday, Hart cleared the height on her last try. Accomplishing this feat as the last athlete left to perform in the competition, Hart created a memory that she will cherish forever.

Both Hart and Klim expressed their enthusiasm for the upcoming outdoor season. Hart has room to grow as she continues to set new personal records, and with the family-oriented atmosphere of her team, the path to success is clear.