|In her first season of high school competition, Concord-Carlisle senior Samantha Dweck captured both the Eastern Mass. and All-State titles in pole vaulting. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)|
On right track for college
Injury propelled gymnast to embrace new sport
As a child, Samantha Dweck envisioned a future in gymnastics, her talent and passion for the sport taking her through high school, college, and possibly beyond.
Over the next couple of weeks, the Concord-Carlisle senior hopes to receive acceptance letters from a number of colleges, welcoming her both as a student and an athlete. She will still compete at the collegiate level, but in track, not gymnastics.
"I never imagined I'd be doing track in college," said Dweck. "I always figured it would be gymnastics. I'd done it for eight years, it was my only focus, and then it ended unexpectedly, so I had to find something else to do, and I found track. I definitely didn't expect to take to track so easy."
She has found her calling in arguably the most challenging event in track and field, the pole vault. And after choosing the event on a whim, much like she did the sport itself, Dweck has propelled herself to the head of the class. Last spring, amazingly, in her inaugural high school season competing in the event, she captured both the Eastern Mass. and All-State titles.
Just a few weeks into the team's preseason training sessions, Dweck has to be considered a favorite to repeat as champion.
"We weren't hugely surprised at her success last year," said Concord-Carlisle coach Steve Lane . "She's a very good athlete so when she told us she wanted to take on the vault, we could see some very good things happening even before they did. We have a significantly better team this spring, and Sam's at the top of the list of standouts."
Nearly five years ago, preparing for her freshman year at C-C, Dweck was a Level 7 gymnast, anticipating the demands of competing for the high school program and her private club.
The week before her first day of high school, however, Dweck fell during a balance beam routine, suffering a broken hand while breaking her fall. Two surgeries and a lot of sleepless nights later - Dweck made the tough decision to find another sport.
"When my hand was in the cast, I had a lot of time to think," said Dweck. "At that point, I realized I'd lost a lot of time and it would be really, really tough to go back the way I wanted. So, it was the winter of my freshman year and I signed up for spring track because I liked to run and I knew I wanted to play a sport."
Dweck spent her freshman and sophomore seasons competing in a mixed-bag of events, testing herself in everything from the 100 meters and 300-meter hurdles, to the mile to the triple jump. Her open explorations yielded a unique connection to gymnastics.
"I was kind of just bouncing around trying to find my best event for two seasons and then realized the pole vault had some similarities to my old sport," said Dweck. "You have to have body awareness in the air, and strength during your inversion. Gymnastics helped me with my inversions a lot."
After receiving Lane's approval last spring, Dweck began working exclusively with Jeff Robbins, a private coach who has worked with pole vaulters since 1964, when he took over his first high-school track program in Ohio.
More than her physical makeup - Dweck is a lean, and toned, 5-foot-8 - Robbins attributed Dweck's success to her mental approach.
"Those that are willing to work over time and understand that it's a step-by-step progression are the ones who go far," said Robbins, who runs Airtime Athletics, based in Natick. "The student that wants to work hard, has a body that can run and move in the air. . . pole vault is almost like yoga in the air, Samantha has those things."
At last year's EMass meet, Dweck captured the Division 2 title, clearing 9 feet 6 inches. At the All-State meet, she set a personal best, vaulting 10 feet to win the state title and qualify for the indoor national championships, held last month in New York City.
Dweck's main purpose, heading into last month's nationals, was not to place higher in the standings, but to study and learn from veteran pole vaulters.
"My first impression of her was that she's inquisitive and has a willingness to set goals," said Robbins. "Pole vault is a metaphor for how you handle the next step of something that's demanding and needs patience. Is she getting that? Absolutely. At nationals, she found me and said, 'Tell me what they're doing, that I can't do yet.' Sam wants the knowledge, and what she does with it is what makes her so successful at the event."
In the classroom, Dweck is equally as successful. The four-year honor roll student has earned her place in the National Honor Society. Her older brother, Jacob, wrestled for the Patriots before graduating in 2006 to attend MIT.
His sister, Samantha, is quite happy how things have turned out.
"Nope, I still think there's a reason I got hurt and had to leave gymnastics," she said. "I look back now and see that it all worked itself out and I found something that I just love. I never would've thought about track, or pole vault, had I not got hurt. It's funny how it all makes sense when you look back." And now she and the Patriots are looking forward.
C-C placed fourth in the Dual County League a year ago. But with the return of Dweck, along with sophomore distance runner Caroline Kimball-Katz, Katie Jessee, who placed sixth in the mile at the indoor track finals, and junior Kathleen Dreher, a sprinter who also specializes in the long jump, the Patriots expect to take a leap forward.
Sapna Pathak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org