Reaching for Star's record

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2003

Sometimes the moon is enough. This was the case last Saturday in Anchorage when Kenai High graduate Dallas Baldwin attempted to equal the lofty heights of 5 feet, 6 inches, at the Alaska School Activities Association's State Track and Field Championships in Anchorage.

The 20-year-old girls high jump state record, set by her Kenai Peninsula track and field forebear, Soldotna's Renae Pickarsky, was a goal Baldwin set for herself some time ago.

"When I got to high school, my goal was to break the state record," she said earlier in the year when she tied her own state-leading 5-4 mark.

And last year, she came to within an inch of that goal at the borough meet. But, ultimately, the goal remained just out of her reach.

Last weekend, after easily clearing all the lower heights in a single attempt at the season's culminating event, she had one more shot at history.

"She's been so close through the year," said jumping coach Sharon Thompson of Baldwin's attempts at the record. "And she almost had it last year at Homer."

Thompson has been working with Baldwin since Baldwin's seventh-grade year at Kenai Middle School, where the young athlete showed potential for higher learning.

"Her eighth grade year, she was showing that she had the spring," Thompson said of Baldwin. "But formwise and archwise? ... zero."

But after some initial guidance Thompson was a high jumper at Montana State University - Billings Baldwin got better.

"Her flexibility definitely improved," Thompson said.

So by the time Baldwin got to Kenai Central High, she was jumping 5 feet to the tune of fifth place in the state meet. She followed up with a second-place state finish her sophomore year with a 5-2 leap, and bounded to 5-4 for the state title in her junior year.

Baldwin attributed her steady improvement to attending high-jumping camps in Oregon and New Jersey, respectively, over the last two summers. There she had the opportunity to practice on softer surfaces than the gym floors she was used to. And there she was able to wear shoes with heel spikes that held her plant foot steady as she launched herself over the high bar.

Still, her marks from flat running shoes on hardwood surfaces amazed college recruiters from Black Hills State University and Central Missouri State University that courted Baldwin throughout her senior year, Thompson said. Baldwin eventually chose Black Hills State in Spearfish, S.D., where she received scholarship money from the Yellow Jackets.

So success in this event was nothing new to the 5-10 senior. She wanted to defend her title.

"I knew I wanted to win state," Baldwin said.

She knew she wanted the record, as well.

"If I could get 5-6, I was going to try for it."

And after securing the championship only needing to clear 5-3 Baldwin renewed her quest.

Saturday morning, after she was crowned victorious, and after meet officials raised the bar to 5-5, a silent Bartlett High gymnasium looked in upon her the same way the ancient Roman Colosseum faced in on so many gladiators.

Baldwin stood alone with destiny literally staring her in the face from 10 running paces away. Then she began her crescent-shaped approach.

1, 2, 3, 4 ... 10 steps.

Plant and push off ...

On the plant she twisted her back to the bar, and was airborne. Head, shoulders, back, butt ... all cleared the bar, but her thigh grazed the marker enough to start it wobbling.

And it fell.

Two more attempts would come up painfully short, once just barely chipping the bar with the back of her heel, and another time breezing it ever so slightly with her bottom.

After her final attempt, Baldwin stopped to look back at the jumping pit and the measure that had successfully eluded her just briefly. Then she turned away from the pit and went to rejoin her coaches and teammates.

"When I felt the bar fall, I was like, 'darn,'" Baldwin said immediately after the final attempt. "But I'm happy that I won."

And without so much as a show of emotional lapse, regret, remorse or disappointment, she moved on to her next priorities in life.

"I'm pretty confident I'll improve, because I'll be Outside where I can wear heel spikes," she said.

The saying goes, "If you shoot for the stars, you'll reach the moon."

Kenai's head track coach Liz Burck lauded Baldwin's leadership and Thompson said Baldwin was a hard worker. These are qualities she gained while attempting to emblazon her name on the annals of Alaska track and field history.

And when unable to realize her aspirations, she displayed the maturity to live with her own human imperfection and let go to strive for the next stage of her life.

Oh, and there's that college scholarship, too.

So although Baldwin may not have gained the equivalent of immortality in her quest, she picked up some important character traits that will serve her well throughout her life.

In the meantime, the Yellow Jacket school high jump record is 5-8. It's a good bet Baldwin has already started to notch her goals a little bit higher.

Marcus K. Garner is a reporter at the Peninsula Clarion. Comments and criticisms can be directed to clarion@alaska.net.



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