Gabrielle Hoffman never planned on being a pole vaulter. But a quick exchange at practice as a freshman at North Hall jumpstarted a passion that led to a pair of state championships.
Boys track and field head coach Kerry Kidd, who works with the Trojans’ pole vaulters, asked Hoffman what grade she was in. Upon learning the answer, he informed her she was doing pole vault the next day. Kidd was loking for a younger athlete who could vault for multiple seasons and also had no girl vaulters before Hoffman started.
Before then, Hoffman’s main events were hurdles and triple jump.
She recalls clearing 7 feet, 6 inches in her first pole vault meet and marveling at her competitors clearing 11 or 12 feet. Hoffman harbored a simple but powerful thought: “I’m going to get there some day.”
So began her experience with an event she practiced six days a week as a North Hall senior. Sticking with pole vault throughout her high school career was a natural decision.
“It was mainly the rush that you feel after coming over the bar and being able to land,” Hoffman said. “It’s a great feeling being able to fly through the air and clear these insane heights.”
She practiced every weekday at school and worked with Pole Vault Atlanta coach Hal Fairbanks on Sundays as a senior.
Hoffman took home the Class AAA state pole vault title as a junior in 2013 by clearing 10 feet in Albany. But during her senior year, she knew it wouldn’t be easy to win again with Cartersville’s Anna Hightower also putting up strong numbers during the season.
Hoffman felt pressure to repeat, and she worked to stay hydrated and healthy, not wanting her chances of another state crown to end up as a “maybe.”
“I really wanted to not let anybody down, especially myself,” Hoffman said.
By the time she was back in Albany, nobody was let down. Hoffman cleared 11 feet to outdistance second-place Hightower’s 10 feet, 6 inches, and collect another state championship.
For her efforts, Hoffman is The Times’ Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year.
“Going out, defending your title and winning that, it made her day and made her career,” North Hall girls track and field head coach Drew Rogers said.
As impressive as her repeat state title was, Hoffman also took seventh in the 100-meter hurdles (15.64) at state and was part of the Lady Trojans’ 400-meter relay (50.79) that placed 10th. North Hall’s girls took ninth in AAA with 26 points.
When Hoffman looked up on the board at state and saw her name among the eight finalists in the hurdles, “my heart skipped a beat,” she said.
Hoffman earlier earned Region 7-AAA championships in the pole vault (11-0) and triple jump (33-6.5) as the Lady Trojans secured the region title.
Rogers at times would encourage Hoffman not to worry about spending much time on her other events so she could excel in pole vault. He knew better with Hoffman, though.
“She’s very focused,” Rogers said. “She works at whatever she does. She does not like not being the best at anything. She didn’t want to be just a pole-vaulter. She wanted to be an all-around track athlete and help the team as much as she could.”
Hoffman plans to attend Georgia Tech in the fall and major in biochemistry. She also wants to be in the marching band. Hoffman said she plans to try to pole vault in college but added that her studies will be her main focus.
She is planning to study biochemistry with the same type of ambition that she approached the pole vault. Hoffman hopes to one day work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I’ve always loved science,” she said. “I want to help cure diseases.”