Adam Sarafian

A rising star: Sarafian hits new heights
Ocean Township vaulter beats illness, clears 17-4 1/2

Wednesday, May 19, 2004
For the Star-Ledger

Adam Sarafian wanted to try pole vaulting during his freshman year at Ocean
Township High School. His track coach and math teacher, Mark DeSomma, built
his interest in the event, and he looked forward to giving it a shot.

Instead, Sarafian spent the entire track season -- including his 15th
birthday on March 28 -- in and out of the hospital.

"I had a lot of pain in my stomach," said Sarafian, now a senior. "I was
always feeling pretty sick."

Sarafian spent the next nine months in pain and in and out of hospitals,
undergoing tests. He even had to use a feeding tube at times.

"No one knew what was wrong with him," said his mother, Susan. "It was a
very tough time."

Finally, in December 2001, Sarafian was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis
and got the illness under control with medicine, although he is still
required to take several pills every day.

"The pain and suffering was pretty bad," Sarafian said. "I lost a lot of
weight. I was just hoping to come back and have a normal life."

Sarafian has come back, but his life has been far from normal. Two years
after picking up a pole for the first time, Sarafian, combining his
gymnastics background with the expertise of a personal coach and a passion
for the event, has become the best pole vaulter in state history.

Sarafian, who stands 5-8 and weighs 138 pounds, cleared 17-4 1/2 last
Saturday at the Shore Conference Track and Field Championships at Brick High
School to smash the state outdoor record of 16-6 set by Bill Lange of
Bridgewater-Raritan East in 1980 at the Junior Olympics at Rutgers.

"I knew I had it in me to break the record, but I wasn't expecting to do it
by 10 1/2 inches," said Sarafian, whose previous best of 16-4 3/4 came in
March at the Florida Relays.

Lange, who still holds the state indoor record of 17-0, was excited when he
heard that his long-standing record had been broken.

"To have the record for nearly a quarter century is hard to believe," said
Lange, 41, a mortgage broker in Denver, N.C., who was known for pole
vaulting barefoot. "I'm a little surprised it lasted that long. I'm very
happy for Adam. It's an awesome accomplishment and I hope he continues to
keep going higher."

Sarafian's 17-4 1/2 is the best high school vault in the nation this season
and is tied for No. 20 all-time on the national outdoor list. The vault
would have been good enough to win collegiate titles in the Big East, Big
Ten, Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences this year. It also would have
placed him second in the Southeastern Conference, in which he will compete next
year for the University of Georgia.

"It's pretty incredible to think that I am going this high, but that's what
hard work will do," Sarafian said. "I'll try to keep getting higher and
hopefully get 18-0 before the end of the season."

Only five high school vaulters ever have cleared 18-0 or better. The
national record of 18-3 was set last year by Tommy Skipper of Sandy, Ore.

Personal coach Lance Atkins has worked with Sarafian for two years at his
Fiber Benders Pole Vaulting Camp in Reading, Pa., which he began in 1985.
Atkins has coached the past four NJSIAA Meet of Champions winners in the
pole vault.

Atkins said Sarafian, who will compete next at the Central Jersey, Group 3
meet Saturday at Monmouth Regional, can be the sixth to clear 18-0.

"When he moves his grip higher up the pole, he can go 18-0," Atkins said.
"Once he goes 18-0, the national record becomes very possible."

"It's a long shot right now," Sarafian said of getting the record, "but at
least it's a shot."

Sarafian has come a long way. He could clear only 11-0 as a sophomore and
improved to 15-0 last year.

"Lance ripped apart my jump and we started from scratch," Sarafian said.
"Being that I'm a short vaulter, I need everything on the ground to be
perfect to have a good vault. The biggest difference for me is my swing,
transferring speed from horizontal to vertical during takeoff. I'm really
hitting it well right now."

Sarafian cites his gymnastics background as a big reason for his success.
Sarafian's mother has run Aerials Gymnastics in Eatontown since Adam was a

"I practically grew up in that gym," Sarafian said. "I started doing flips
and other stuff in the air when I was a little kid."

"He started winning medals at state meets from the time he was 5 on the
rings and parallel bars," Susan Sarafian said. "Since he was little, he's
always been a natural in the air. When he was 12, he could bounce off a
trampoline on his back 19 feet into the air and touch the ceiling. It's like
he was born to be off the ground."

Although he no longer competes in gymnastics, Sarafian still spends two or
three days a week at Aerials working with Dave Kulha, the head gymnastics
coach, for two-hour sessions focusing on strength and conditioning. Sarafian
doesn't lift weights.

"It's all geared toward strengthening every aspect of Adam's pole vault,"
Kulha said. "No one works harder than he does."

Atkins said the gymnastics history is a big advantage.

"Adam has great air sense and spatial awareness that help him when he's off
the ground," said Atkins, who coached Lawrence Johnson, the silver medalist
in the pole vault at the 2000 Olympics. "But being 5-8 means he has to be
perfect on the ground and that's what we've really worked on. No one I've
worked with has more passion or is more fearless than Adam. He combines
everything you look for in a vaulter."

Sarafian's success has rejuvenated an event that hadn't seen a 16-0 vaulter
in New Jersey since 1992, when Bob Green of Haddon Heights cleared that

"It's pretty sick to see what he's doing," said Toms River North senior
Maged Fattah, who finished second to Sarafian at the Shore Conference meet
at 15-0. "Adam has given New Jersey pole vaulting a lot of recognition."

"It's amazing to see what he's doing," Hunterdon Central senior Mike Roberti
said. "He's made all of us work harder to improve and that has made the
event the strongest it's been in a long time."

Sarafian's life revolves around the pole vault. His 2001 Honda Civic is
covered with pole vault stickers and his room is covered with pole vault
paraphernalia, including broken poles and a piece of a hurdle he took from
Brick with "17-4 1/2" written on it.

"Pole vaulting is my life," Sarafian said. "It's what I love to do more than
anything. I dream about being in the Olympics, and I'll work as hard as I
have to to try to get there someday. But for now, I'm trying to move the bar
up and keep having fun."


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