Two of the top pole vaulters at Redondo Union are continuing a family tradition of excellence in the high-flying, multi-dimensional field event.
Sara and Tate Curran posted finishes in the top six on Saturday at the CIF-SS finals at Cerritos College in Norwalk. Their father, Anthony Curran, is a two-time state champion in the event, and has worked with athletes at UCLA for more than three decades. And they have two uncles who are also accomplished pole vaulters.
While they have been around the sport for a long time, Sara and Tate have only recently started competing in the pole vault. Sara, a senior who was a gymnast, gravitated toward swimming and water polo before getting into vaulting last season. Meanwhile Tate, a freshman, was a baseball and basketball player before switching to track and field this year.
“I didn’t really expect my kids to do it. They were definitely loving other sports,” Anthony Curran said. “I’ve never pushed my kids in any sport, but we just said you have to do that. That’s part of life, to have a sport, do well in school and have strong faith in God.”
Sara, who has scoliosis, had switched over to the pool because water sports were less of a strain on her back. Swimming eventually gave way to water polo, which was first a suggestion from her mother, Lisa, as something to do in the off season. Two years ago she was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome – the same rare neck and shoulder pain condition that sidelined the L.A. Dodgers’ Josh Beckett for nearly a year.
“The doctor actually told me to quit everything,” Sara said. “I said, ‘Absolutely no way.’ I’m a 15-year-old girl in high school, and I’m not going to quit. I’m an athlete, and that’s crazy.”
She did drop swimming, and was looking for something else to do when her water polo season ended.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself because I like to be at practice, I like to be working out,” Sara said. “So I decided I might as well try pole vaulting.”
In her second full season, Sara earned a spot in this weekend’s CIF-SS Masters meet by clearing 11-3 at the Southern Section finals on Saturday. She will be joined by freshman teammate Kaitlin Heri, who also posted an 11-3, and has a 12-1 personal best.
“She had all the components that you need to become a good pole vaulter, but I was still thinking that neither (Sara nor Tate) would ever do it,” Curran said. “Within a very short time, her first year, she ended up becoming No. 1 on the team and jumping 10-3 after only a few months of doing the sport. So I knew at that point that she was going to be pretty good at it.”
Curran said gymnastic training and ability are very important for vaulters.
Meanwhile, Tate had a personal-best 13-9 in Saturday’s finals, just a few months after deciding against going out for baseball.
“Track was one of the options, so I decided to try it,” he said. “Toward the beginning of the season, maybe two weeks in, I was kind of like, ‘I want to commit myself to this sport, and see how good I can get.’”
With three more seasons ahead of him, Tate’s pole vaulting coach at Redondo Union, David Dill, sees a lot of potential.
“For Tate, being a freshman, with the big boys, he’s going to learn a lot,” Dill said heading into the Southern Section final. “And that to me is a gift, and a blessing for him to be able to experience this, and what he takes home for next year will just make him blossom even more.”
Tate’s father is also excited at his son’s future in the sport.
“He’s unbelievable. When I was his age I think I jumped 11-6 when I was 14 years old,” Curran said. “I told him he’s ahead of me already, although I broke the national record at 14-9 as a freshman. I kind of feel like Tate still has room to go in there and do that.”
The family’s interest in pole vaulting actually goes back one more generation, to Sara and Tate’s grandfather, Bob Curran.
“Dad pole vaulted in the field and used to cut up grass and pile it up to pole vault with a bamboo pole into grass, just to goof around with his friends in the yard,” Curran said. “He did it to start off, and then I had five other brothers that did it.”
The brothers all went to Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, and the trio of Tim, Tom and Anthony were able to pole vault their way into the record books and four-year colleges. At one point Tim held the world record for 15-year-olds at 15-feet, and he was the California state champion in 1973, clearing 16-2¾, before heading for UCLA. Tom, who was third in the state meet in 1975, earned a scholarship to the University of Hawaii.
Anthony Curran also ended up at UCLA, following a career at Crespi that included state championships in 1977 and 1978. He set the national sophomore and junior records before clearing 17-4¼ as a senior to set the mark for 12th-graders. Once his days competing for the Bruins ended in 1982, he stayed on to coach in UCLA’s track and field program, at one point working with athletes in all four jumping sports. He is now a volunteer coach, still helping the pole vaulters while continuing to teach through his No Limit Sports club.
He said Sara and Tate, who have three younger sisters, have certainly picked up where the other family members left off.
“They are amazing ... I am blown away on how well they know the sport,” he said. “I guess growing up and seeing me coach the UCLA kids for all these years, and watching video and seeing me watch video of the kids in the evening, they figured it out. They know what’s right and they know what’s wrong, and it was just a matter of them trying to do it.”
Another common love for the Currans is surfing, and it, too, has some aspects that relate to pole vaulting.
“Depending upon how much you paddle, you gain strength to pole vault, to pull yourself up,” Tate said. “Running in track helps surfing.”
“They’re not quite as comparable as gymnastics with pole vaulting for sure, but it’s an extreme sport where you’ve got to commit,” Sara said. “Surfing is really just fun. We both just really enjoy that. It’s something we do with our dad, and a lot of our family surfs professionally. So it’s a fun outlet.”
Sara plans to attend El Camino College next year before transferring to a four-year school. And the pole vaulting bug has definitely taken hold.
“She is one of the toughest … she is the toughest kid in the family,” Curran said. “I am amazed by her toughness and her work ethic. She doesn’t ever want to stop when she’s training, she wants to just get better. So I am proud of both of them.”