Hunter Mallard is spending the month preparing for a shot at a national championship.
Already a state champion in Class AAAAA during the high school season, Gainesville’s rising junior pole vaulter will go up against the nation’s elite in the U.S. Track & Field National Junior Olympics for 15 and 16-year-olds, starting July 27 at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Fla.
“I feel hyped right now,” said Mallard, who works each afternoon on his craft at Gainesville High. “I want to go out there and win it.”
Mallard earned his spot at nationals with a meet-best mark of 14 feet, 7 inches during the Region Four Championships on Sunday at Mill Creek High in Hoschton, against vaulters from Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. The second-place finisher topped out at the region meet at 13 feet, 8 inches.
The Red Elephants’ state champion, who hit a personal-best mark of 15 feet as a sophomore at the Georgia Olympics, hit his winning mark at regionals with only two competitors in the running.
Mallard hit his initial marks of 13 feet, 1 inch and 14 feet, 1 inch with little difficulty. When Mallard made his first attempt at 15-feet, he noticed a callous opened on the inside of his right hand, near his palm.
“It didn’t really faze me, I just taped it up and kept going,” Mallard said.
In a way, Mallard said he likes when some form of adversity hits. It’s just another chance to show he’s got the mental fortitude to remain at the top.
During practice, he gets instruction in all aspects of the pole vault from his mother, Lara Mallard, who also teaches at Gainesville High and is an assistant track coach.
He’s constantly cycling her advice through his head to ‘get a foot higher than the bar,” Hunter said.
Mallard’s next major milestone, which he hopes to hit soon, is 16 feet in competition. He said in practice this summer he’s cleared 15 feet, 6 inches.
At nationals, he scheduled to compete against as many as 80 others, however, that number will be much smaller due to the logistics of traveling to where the meet is located. In 2014, Mallard hit 12 feet, 7 inches to tie for 16th place during the same meet, in Humble, Texas.
With so much experience under his belt, Mallard now thrives on the pressure of controlling his own destiny in the pole vault.
“I always cheer for my teammates, but I love to work by myself,” said Mallard.
Mallard said his family will leave early for the national meet, visiting his grandparents for a few days in Ormand, Fla., which is about an hour south of the University of North Florida.