Interviews with Tomkinson, Toney and Ayers

1) What sports did you play before high school and what sports did you do in your freshman year? Any memorable achievements as a freshman?
The sports I played before high school were Soccer and middle school track. I did hurdles, high jump, and long jump. The long jump my dad wanted me to do because the take-off is very similar to the vault. Freshman year was no different. I played on the soccer team as a striker and did track and field. I do have an extremely memorable accomplishment freshmen year which was jumping 12-7 at the WCAL JV trials. This was big for me because one of my brothers and my dad both had PRs of 12-6. It was also the final meet of the season for me, so it was do or die. I have 3 brothers, two of them pole vaulted and one of them wrestled.

2) Your dad Steve won the state pole vault title in 1986 as an athlete at Menlo Atherton HS. He was also a talented wrestler who qualified for the state wrestling meet. Any good stories you can share about your dad about his high school experiences?
There are many great memories my dad has shared with me. One of them is about Steve Chappell, the guy who manufacturer pole vault poles for Spirit. Steve Chappell once gave my dad a pole to compete with for free. It feels weird to know someone who knew my dad when he was just growing up with the sport. Additionally, my dad competed against Brent Burns (Acalanes HS), who is the father of Tyler Burns (Oak Ridge HS). Tyler Burns and I are in the same grade and compete, so it is ironic that both father and son have competed head-to-head against each other. (Photo below courtesy of Scott Toney)
3) You also have two older brothers that also vaulted at St. Francis. What did you learn from each brother and did they encourage you to try the pole vault as well?
I think what I've gained from my brothers' vaulting was more determination than anything. I have always been competitive with my brothers, and when they are much older than you, it becomes extremely hard to win at anything because of the age gap. We would play video games together and have a no-mercy rule, where they would not let me win no matter how much I wanted it. This taught me motivation and to not give up; it has directly translated over to not only the vault but school as well. I jumped 16 '0`` at Reno in 2019 and then proceeded to only jump an inch and a half higher for the whole season. I was way over the bar every time on my PR attempts, but the standards weren't working with me that well; it was demoralizing. That's the thing about the vault, getting better is not a linear improvement. Without my brother's unrelenting ruthlessness when I was young, who knows what would have happened.

4) What were some of your highlights from your first three years in HS? Did you do any other sports outside of Track and Field?
I did do soccer freshman and sophomore year, however, I gave it up the junior year so I could go to the reno vault summit, which worked well for me. I was the leading goal scorer on the team sophomore year with 13 goals. As for highlights thus far, It would have to be jumping 17'4 at reno because everyone there is a pole vaulter. Also, Mondo Duplantis was watching me so that was cool. I would say that my main highlight has not happened yet; it will be winning the state meet. Fingers crossed that it's not canceled. The one thing I did not think I would lose to at the state meet was a virus.

5) This past January, you had a breakthrough performance at the Reno Pole Vault Summit. You vaulted 17-4 which surpassed your previous best of 16-1.5. Did you have a goal going into the meet and did you have an idea that you were ready to jump that well?
Yes, my goal going into the Vault summit was 17'4. I originally set my goal as 16'8 in August but readjusted it after I was taking some pretty good shots at 17' in practice in November. I knew if I had a good day, I would jump that bar. Last year at reno, My PR was 15-1, the lowest in the group, and I jumped 16-0 to win it. I had told the UPenn coach that 16 was my goal, so it gave me a lot of credibility with him. It is one thing to say you will PR by 11 inches, it's another thing to actually do it. Additionally, my brother, Marc Toney, has a PR is 17-10.5. It was getting him nervous because I was getting really close to his PR in the first meet of my senior year. Before Reno, He would poke fun that he was still so much better than me; not anymore. (Photo courtesy of Scott Toney/Video courtesy of Steve Toney)
6) During a typical week, how many times do you vault? What do you do on the days that you didn't vault? What else did you do that you feel help you in the pole vault?
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I vault. In the morning before school, I do an ab workout (40 minutes long). After school but before practice, I do high-bar work such as Bubbkas, windshield wipers, and swing ups. After practice, I go to lift. Usually, there is a meet on Wednesday, so I just move my lifting to either Tuesday or Thursday. Tuesday and Thursday I do pole runs or a running workout. I also have hurdles and high jump practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

7) Who are the coaches that have helped you get to where you are today? What did you learn from each of them?
I have had 3 main pole vaulting coaches throughout my life thus far. The first one is my dad. My dad is who started it all. I would get rollerblades on and he would push me into the street curb so that I could understand the feeling of bending the pole. The pole would then unbend and throw me on my roller blades backward. We would also go to a sandpit and practice bending the pole or breaking my arm in to rock back. Without him, I would probably not be pole vaulting. The second coach was my coach 7th through 9th grade. He was an NCAA champion with a PR of 5.70m. His name was Jason Hinkin and he also coached my brothers. Jason perfected my plant and taught me to still have fun while jumping. My final coach, who is my current coach, is Mike Marks. He helped develop my rock back. It was extremely beneficial to have someone like my dad and Jason, who were more plant-focused, to then have someone more rock back focused, like Mike. They all have their different styles, which I can then internalize.

8) Favorite TF Invitational? Favorite TF workout? Favorite free time activity? Favorite TF event after the Pole Vault? Favorite pump-up song? 
My favorite TF invitational is Arcadia. Not only have I been a multitude of times, but my grandma also lives very close to Arcadia High School. Each time we go, we get to see her. She was also a former bodybuilder.

My favorite TF workout is any lifting workout. I started lifting in September, so it's still fairly new to me. I have been doing ab workouts and running workouts for four years now, so lifting is still pretty new; I personally like hang power clean.

My favorite free time activity is playing video games with friends. After all the workouts I do, the last thing I want to do is be out somewhere, so being at home is nice.

My favorite event besides the pole vault is the hurdles. In middle school, I was not very fast, so I would often lose. I now compete against some of the same people I raced against in middle school, except this time I am winning.

My favorite pump-up song is Nero - Doomsday.

9) What have you been able to do over the past few weeks since the season was put on hold? 
Over the past few weeks, I have been continuing to train. Unfortunately, since the lockdown, I cannot go to the gym nor pole vault, and I have very little weights at home. Running, ab and high bar are all still in full effect.

10) You chose the University of Pennsylvania. What led to that decision and how many other schools were considered?
My brother was the first to contact the UPenn coach in October of my junior year. I actually had never heard of the school before then. I started to talk with some of my other friends and they would tease me because of how big it is. At least 10 other schools were considered, however, academics always came first. Unfortunately, even if you are world-class, there is not a lot of money in pole vaulting. I would love to go pro if I could make a good living from it, but that just isn't possible. I had narrowed my schools down to UC Berkeley and UPenn, however, UPenn's Wharton school was guaranteed, and Haas was not; that was the ultimate factor. (Photo below courtesy of St. Francis HS)

11) What would be your advice for a promising young vaulter just getting into the event?
I would tell a promising young vaulter to write their goals down each year in August and set it as a desktop screensaver. Seeing one's goals every day makes a big difference. It does not have to just be about achieving a height. It could also be about getting on a certain pole or jumping a meet record.

12) Anything else you would like to add.
What I think separates me from other vaulters is my diet. Two months before Reno, I cut out fruit because it has a lot of sugar. I was eating ground beef, vegetables, quinoa, and nuts almost every day. In my junior year, I had 3 cheat meals from August until June. This year, I've had 0, and plan on keeping my diet as strict as possible. I try to be as strong as I can possibly be while still being very light so that I can run faster. Talent can only take you so far, it is hard work that pushes you to another level. I am not the fastest athlete, I am not the most gifted athlete, but I try to be the hardest working. My goal is the 2024 Paris Olympics.