Scott Rathbun kept looking up.
Then a sophomore at Keene High, he began his pole vaulting career with the bar set at 8 feet.
He observed the vaulters around him raising the bar and wanted to go higher. So he did. It wasn’t interpersonal competition. Rather, it was a rebellion against the bar; a love-hate relationship with gravity.
Soon, he became fixated with flight. He learned to calculate his rundown and counted steps before takeoff. He developed awareness of how to control his body in the air. He grew to trust completely the 14-foot piece of fiberglass in his hands, strained by his will to fly a little higher.
He found joy and beauty there, soaring feet-first into the air, reaching an apex and kissing the sky before safely descending. It was a joy he never experienced in soccer; a beauty he never knew in wrestling.
In two weeks, the bar was at 10 feet, state-meet qualifying height, and he cleared it.
By the end of his sophomore year, Rathbun was jumping at 12 feet, 6 inches.
Still, he looked up.
“I wanted 13, then I wanted 14,” Rathbun said. “I wanted to know how high I could get by senior year.”
What transpired over Rathbun’s next two years culminated in the most decorated pole vaulting career ever at Keene High.
Rathbun won back-to-back Division I and Meet of Champions titles. He posted a personal best at the Meet of Champions with a leap of 15 feet, 2 inches at Merrimack High School in June.
He competed at the New England Championships three consecutive years. In his last go, at the University of New Hampshire, he finished second at 14-9.
In two years, Rathbun raised his bar more than seven feet.
“It was crazy to see the improvements,” said Rathbun, who received a scholarship to pole vault at Indiana Wesleyan, an NAIA school. “I saw, if I put in this work, I will see it translate, and it was really exciting to see how fast I went up.”
He eclipsed the school record, set in 1986 at 13-6 by Scott Brennan, as a junior. He broke it at Nashua North on a cold and rainy day, the worst conditions for vaulting. Conditions were so unfavorable that Rathbun passed on his pinnie and shorts for pants and a shirt. All the day’s events had concluded and Rathbun had already solidified first place. His entire team converged at the vault pit to watch him go for the record.
“They lined up on the runway,” Rathbun said. “That was pretty cool. I wanted that record for a long time.”
Rathbun dropped wrestling after his sophomore year to focus on vaulting. He began training at Patriot Pole Vaulting Club, an indoor facility in Westborough, Mass. His family created a car rack so they could transport poles.
He vaulted year-round. Spending five or six hours a week on the road driving to and from Massachusetts for practice, on top of his practices with the Blackbirds, where he worked with vault coach Deke Conklin.
He now also trains with the New England Pole Vault Club at Harvard.
“It takes a lot of body knowledge to do this,” said Keene High Track Coach David Goldsmith. “The speed of his development came from Scott’s self-motivated training, goals he had set up.”
This while also competing in the javelin, where he was fourth at the Meet of Champions with a heave of 160-2 feet and occasionally competing in the 4 x 100 relay.
“He’s always remained focused on the task at hand,” Goldsmith added. “There were never any chest bumps; he internalized his success. He always had a ready smile and a handshake at the end of the day, though, saying, ‘Thanks for appreciating what I work so hard to do,’ but it didn’t matter how many awards we kept giving him.”
Rathbun had his sights set on 15-8, the state record set by Pinkerton’s Jake Radzevuch in 2002. He leaves Keene High a half-foot shy of that mark, but with optimism that he has plenty of height still to gain.
“I’m proud of what I have done for sure,” Rathbun said. “But I don’t think I have reached that potential. I still have to keep pushing. There’s still more I can accomplish.”
He’s still looking up.