By David Willis
---- — LAWRENCE — Madison Arndt was in shock at the seemingly outrageous recommendation of her older sister, Mackenzie Arndt, as she prepared to attempt a Central Catholic record vault.
“I was freaking out!” said Madison. “I weigh 140 pounds, so I use a 140-pound pole. After I missed on my first vault, my sister told me to use a 160-pound pole. That’s a huge jump. I said, ‘That is a pole made for a guy (vaulter). I can’t use that! It will give me too much of a push. That isn’t going to work.’ I said I trusted her, and I did. But I was really doubting her.”
Moments later, after sailing over the bar at 11-3, both sisters could celebrate.
“When she came down she just looked at me with a big smile and said, ‘I hate you!” said Mackenzie with a laugh. “She knew I was right. What she accomplished was really amazing. I knew she could do it and I knew she would break my record.”
At the New England track meet last Saturday, Arndt cleared 11-3 in the pole vault. That’s the second best height in area history, and the Central Catholic school record, unseating the mark set by her sister Mackenzie, who was there instructing her sister as a volunteer coach for the Raiders.
“That was my goal for this year,” sad Madison, whose family lives in Merrimac. “I wanted to reach 11-3. When I did it, it was amazing. Mackenzie is really why I started pole vaulting, so to break her record was really an honor. And it was great to have her guiding me the whole way.”
The Central Catholic record was at 9-0 when Mackenzie arrived as a freshman for the 2008 season. She broke that mark a season later, and by the end of her junior year had set a new school mark of 11-1 and was named an Eagle-Tribune All-Star. But that was as high as she would reach as a Raider, losing her senior season to injury.
“I was vaulting for my club team and I cleared a bar at 12 feet,” she said. “I started celebrating in the air, brought my arms up and hit the bar and knocked it off. I ended up with nerve damage in my elbow. I needed surgery to move my funny bone to the top of my arm.”
Unable to compete, Mackenzie turned her attention to mentoring her then-freshman sister.
“She basically forced me to do pole vault,” joked Madison. “I watched her compete when I was young and I was just amazed by what she did. We were both gymnasts growing up, so she knew it would fit my skills. I wanted to try something different and she said, ‘Come on, try pole vault.’ It was really exciting. I vaulted 8 feet as a freshman, but it wasn’t until last year when I really started to feel like this could be a big part of my life.”
Last spring, Madison placed fourth at All-States with an area-best jump of 10-0, earning her Eagle-Tribune All-Star honors. After an offseason of club vaulting, her expectations were sky high heading into this season.
“I knew Madison was going to break my record this year,” said Mackenzie. “I had been saying it for years. I may have told her she had to do pole vaulting, but she fell in love with the sport just like I did.”
Despite battling nagging injuries, Madison delivered another standout spring, reaching 10-6 and leading the Raiders to a second in the pole vault relay at the EMass. Division 2 Relays.
Once the postseason meets arrived, she also picked up an extra edge when her sister began volunteering as a coach for the Raiders, helping regular vault coach Jimmy Nguyen. But it was not under the greatest circumstances, as Mackenzie’s junior season at Holy Cross had come to a halt due to injury.
“I have what’s called thoracic outlet syndrome,” said Mackenzie, who hopes to return to vaulting next season. “Basically, my arms go completely numb. I wasn’t allowed to go to the New England championships and I had qualified for NCAA Eastern Nationals. I was devastated.
“I felt, if I couldn’t finish my season the way I wanted, the next best thing was to work with my sister and help her have more success.”
Arndt placed second at the MVC Meet (10-6), won the EMass. Division 2 crown (10-6) and was third at All-States with an impressive 11-0. But she was not done yet.
“I had hit 11-0 so I was very happy,” she said. “I still would have been happy, but my goal was 11-3. I just went into New Englands thinking I would have fun and see what happens.”
With Nguyen working with Central vaulter Ray Belanger-Deloge, who cleared an area-best 13-0, Mackenzie worked closely with her sister.
“She was so mad at me the whole time,” said Mackenzie. “I kept changing the weight of her poles. I was also nervous because my decisions put her on those poles, and if something went wrong it was my fault.”
Madison agreed there was a bit of sibling friction.
“She told me to use a 13-foot pole, which was so scary for me,” she said. “But she gets me. She understands what I am going through because she was there, and she knows how I work. When I was getting ready to go for 11-3, she told me, ‘Trust me. I know this is going to work.’”
It certainly did, as she topped the height with room to spare, scoring the second best vault in Eagle-Tribune area history, behind just Lindsey Patterson of Timberlane (12-5 in 2009).
“I just went crazy,” said Mackenzie. “I ran over and hugged her. I knew she was going to break my record, and I know now she is going to shatter it.”
While she has not yet set a goal for her senior season, hopes to have plenty of vaulting in her future.
“I think it is really cool that we are leaving a legacy here,” said Mackenzie. “She deserves that record, and she will keep going. She wanted to vault in college, and I would love if she followed me to Holy Cross. Maybe we could be 1-2 all-time there too.”