Blind Vaulter Builds on Promising Launch
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
May 24, 2019
When Bradly Rainwater’s family members learned he was born blind, they decided to not put any limits on him.
As it turned out, Bradly had the same mindset.
The Davison sophomore is a pole vaulter on the track & field team. It’s an event that he took up not just because his father and uncle were former all-state pole vaulters, but because it was one of the most difficult events in any sport.
“I have always gone after the hardest things,” Rainwater said. “I thought this would be another thing that I would see if I could do it.”
Rainwater, who also is a member of the marching band and wrestling teams at Davison, recently finished his first full season competing as a vaulter and has proven that he can do it, with a personal best of 8 feet, 6 inches. But he’s not satisfied with simply clearing a height in competition – he wants to go higher.
“In the end, I’d like to go to state and get a reasonable placing,” Rainwater said of his career goals. “That would be good for me. I’d enjoy that. For someone in a situation like mine, or a situation similar, you have to work twice as hard to get things where you want them to be. But I am dedicated to it.”
Davison pole vaulting coach Brad Rainwater, Bradly’s grandfather, is also dedicated to it, and is doing all he can to help his grandson reach his goals. Brad Rainwater has been coaching for four decades, but had to teach himself some new tricks when Bradly came along.
“It’s a learning process for us, as well,” Brad Rainwater said. “We started by putting our heads together, my sons and I, and I took it basically like I would coach anyone, but we had to be more hands-on. Basically, it’s step-by-step. It’s the same way when he wrestles; they have to literally do every movement like step, step, step, step. Everything on the vault is done by steps, so we start him with doing three steps, then four steps, then five steps. We’re thinking of ways to teach him to turn, so we use a lot of rings and high bar so he can get that feel.
“What it’s done for me is made me a better coach, because I have to break everything down. Now I’m a little more technical with them all.”
Recently, Bradly began using a track on the runway to help guide his pole to the box, which allows him to start his run farther back. He’s made steady improvement throughout the season, setting his personal best May 13 during a dual meet against Flint Carman-Ainsworth and matching it two days later at the Heritage Hawks Last Chance Invitational.
During practices with a bungee cord, he has cleared more than 10 feet. He’s also started imparting wisdom on other vaulters.
“If I have young vaulters, he teaches them the first three steps and a plant,” Brad Rainwater said. “If people are around (Bradly) and they didn’t know he was blind, because he’s actually doing the drills or showing kids how to do drills, they go, ‘He’s blind?’”
Bradly said the reaction from teammates and opponents alike has been great.
“They work with me some, like they’ll say, ‘You didn’t turn correctly,’ or ‘You didn’t do this correctly,’ which I appreciate, because criticism like that I can’t necessarily see on film,” he said. “Opponents, some of them come up to me and say thank you to me, and that I inspired them. It’s still hard for me to grasp, because I’m not as good as I should be, but I appreciate people saying that.”
While there’s no official number of blind individuals who have competed in the pole vault, it is rare.
“I know that he’s only one of maybe three others in the state (history), and the other three had some sight,” Brad Rainwater said. “We try not to limit him; we try not to put him in a box that he can or can’t do that. As far as I know, he’s one of the very few in the country that’s doing this. We love it, because we hope it opens doors for other kids that have desire to do other things.”
Bradly, however, said he hasn’t quite grappled with the fact that what he’s doing is special, as he feels he still needs to get better. That’s his focus now, and it’s reflective of someone who has played sports his entire life, from T-ball to soccer to basketball, and now wrestling and track.
He’s not a blind pole vaulter; he’s simply a pole vaulter. And when he’s done, he wants to be known as a great one.
“I’ve always had the attitude of why not,” he said. “Why not work extra hard to be as good as they are?”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Davison pole vaulter Bradly Rainwater lines up for an attempt this spring. (Middle) Rainwater works with his grandfather Brad Rainwater, the school’s longtime pole vaulting coach. (Photos and video provided by the Rainwater family.)
Preview: Lower Peninsula Boys Finals Filled with Standout Seniors
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
June 1, 2023
Seniors competing at this weekend’s Lower Peninsula Boys Track & Field Finals have won a combined 20 individual championships over the last three seasons, a feat even more impressive considering their freshman season in 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19.
But as is often the case in this sport, picking out individual favorites is a simpler task than reasoning out possible team champions – and that’s certainly true in at least three divisions this weekend.
All four LP Finals will again be contested at Grand Rapids-area schools, with pole vault and long jump beginning at 9 a.m., race semifinals and the 3,200 relay at 10 a.m. and the rest of the running finals starting at noon. Tickets cost $11 and are available digitally only via GoFan.
MHSAA.tv will live-stream all four meets beginning at 10 a.m., viewable with subscription.
Below is a glance at team contenders and individuals to watch in all four divisions:
LP Division 1 at Rockford
Team forecast: This meet has been won with 34 and 41 points over the last two seasons, and a few standouts could be the difference-makers Saturday. Ann Arbor Huron, led by Braxton Brann, has enough with him to make a run at a first Finals championship. Rockford, a co-champion in 2021, had three top-five seeded relays and speed in the sprints to be in the mix. Reigning champion Detroit U-D Jesuit and sprinter Jaiden Reed could make a strong push again.
Benne Anderson, Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills senior: He’s been the next of a stellar group of distance runners to come through Michigan, winning the LPD1 cross country title in the fall after taking the 3,200 title last spring. His Regional times were first in LPD1 in the 800 (1:52.98) and 3,200 (9:10.53) and second-fastest in the 1,600 (4:14.23).
Andrew Berryhill, Battle Creek Lakeview senior: Last season’s shot put champion and 11th-place finisher in discus posted the top LPD1 Regional throws in both at 58-6½ and 166-0, respectively.
Braxton Brann, Ann Arbor Huron senior: After finishing fourth in the 100 and second in the 200 at last season’s Finals, Brann enters this one coming off the fastest LPD1 Regional times in the 200 (21.65) and 110 hurdles (13.92) and fifth-fastest in the 100 (10.7).
Shamar Heard, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley junior: The reigning champion in the 100 and 200 is switching gears for this weekend entering with the fastest LPD1 Regional time in the 400 (48.46) and as part of two relays.
Nathan Levine, Canton junior: The reigning high jump champion at 6-8 jumped a winning 6-6 at his Regional and likely will contend with Muskegon Reeths-Puffer’s Liam McHugh, who posted a 6-8½ to also win a Regional title.
Kayenn Mabin, Kalamazoo Central senior: He had the second-fastest LPD1 Regional time in both the 110 (14.33) and 300 hurdles (39.21) and also is expected to run on two contending relays. He won the 110 and was fourth in the 300 last season.
Trent McFarland, Utica senior: The reigning 800 champion won last week with the third-fastest LPD1 Regional time overall of 1:53.91, about two seconds off his winning Finals time from 2022.
LP Division 2 at Ada Forest Hills Eastern
Team forecast: The last six LPD2 Finals have seen six schools win championships and three more finish runners-up. Berrien Springs has a chance to break that trend after claiming last year’s title, entering this weekend with the fastest 400 and 800 relays in all Division 2 Regionals, plus contenders in at least three individual events. Whitehall, third last year, is seeking its first Finals title since 1996 and combines a significant group of scorers in races, relays and field events. Forest Hills Eastern was last year’s runner-up and has representatives in nearly every race including all four relays, plus two field events. Vicksburg, Freeland and Corunna also have opportunities.
Dalton DeBeau, Frankenmuth senior: Last season’s discus champion and shot put seventh-place finisher won both at his Regional with throws that were third for shot put (53-9½) and sixth for discus (156-9) among all LPD2 Regional performances.
Stuart Gould, Howard City Tri County senior: His lone event at the 2022 Finals was a win in the 400, and he’ll be a little busier this time also contending in the 200 and running a relay. He finished second in the 400 (49.15) at his Regional to Whitehall junior Trannon Aylor – who finished second to Gould at last year’s Final.
Carter McCalister, Monroe Jefferson senior: He just missed scoring in the 3,200 last season, finishing ninth, but he should put up some points this time entering off the fastest LPD2 Regional times in both the 3,200 (9:20.47) and the 1,600 (4:17.33).
Aiden Sullivan, Ada Forest Hills Eastern senior: The reigning champion in the 800 is coming off a Regional win in 1:58.40, exactly two seconds off his Finals time of a team ago. He’ll also run the 1,600 and on two relays.
Michael Wright, Vicksburg senior: Only a single relay contributor at last year’s Finals, he’s set to offer much more with the fastest LPD2 Regional times in the 100 (10.82) and 200 (22.0) while running on two relays including a contender in the 800.
Division 3 at Kent City
Team forecast: The top seven teams last season finished within 10 points of each other, and a strong group of favorites could make this close at the top again. Sanford Meridian tied for sixth last season and enters with tons of scoring potential in sprints and jumps, including with the fastest 400 and 800 relays from all LPD3 Regionals. Benzie Central, third last spring, could be carried by distance stars Hunter Jones and Pol Molins. Last year’s ninth-place Chesaning has qualifiers all over the meet and contenders in hurdles and relays, and Hart – fifth last season – also is strong in distance, and throws.
Hunter Jones, Benzie Central senior: The graduating Benzie star and four-time cross country champion has won the 1,600 the last two seasons and the 800 last spring as well, and he ran the top LPD3 Regional times in the 800 (1:57.76), 1,600 (4:19.78) and 3,200 (9:24.89) – the latter two by notable margins – and was part of the fifth-fastest 3,200 relay.
Torren Mapes, Delton Kellogg junior: He competed in the 110 hurdles last season but didn’t make the final – but he’ll be in the hunt for multiple championships after running the second-fastest LPD3 Regional time in the 110 (15.34) and third-fastest in the 300 hurdles (41.13).
Kellen Kimes, Hart senior: Last season’s discus champ and shot put runner-up topped the LPD3 Regional performances in both with tosses of 181-9 and 57-11, respectively.
Brayden Riley, Sanford Meridian senior: He qualified in the 200 last season and didn’t make the final but was part of the winning 800 relay. He could pace a team title run entering with the fastest LPD3 Regional time in the 200 (22.25), fourth-fastest in the 100 (11.20) and as part of the two top sprint relays mentioned above.
Tryce Tokar, Ovid-Elsie sophomore: Last season’s pole vault champion as only a freshman posted the top LPD3 Regional vault (14-8¼) by more than eight inches.
Jerry Wiegers, North Muskegon junior: After finishing ninth in the 400 last season, Wiegers is lined up to score with the top 400 LPD3 Regional time (50.58) and second-fastest in the 200 (22.52).
Division 4 at Hudsonville
Team forecast: Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep is the reigning champion and has won three of the last four championships (not counting 2020, where the season was canceled due to COVID-19). The Irish have qualifiers in good position to score in five individual races, three relays and at least three field events. Flint Beecher has coverage in fewer events but big points potential in sprints, hurdles and relays led by speedy Jaylin Townsend. Reading has qualifiers in all but three events and a pair of relays that could lead a team title run.
Alex Affer, Peck senior: Last season’s long jump champ by more than three inches had the second-farthest LPD4 Regional jump this time (21-7¼), just a half-inch shorter than that of Detroit Frederick Douglass’s Anthany Buford, who finished second to Affer at last year’s Finals.
Tyler Bays, Reading senior: He’s back after winning the 800 and finishing third in the 1,600 last spring and returns with the third-best 800 (1:57.86), sixth-best 1,600 (4:32.95) and fourth-best 3,200 (10:00.98) times from all LPD4 Regionals.
Isiah Biers, Coleman senior: He won the pole vault last season by seven inches and enters with the fifth-best vault (12-9) from LPD4 Regionals.
Brady Feldpausch, Fowler sophomore: After running on a relay at last year’s Finals, Feldpausch will be busier entering with the top LPD4 Regional times in both the 110 (15.33) and 300 hurdles (40.84) and as part of two relays.
Liam Mann, Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep senior: The reigning champion in the 200 and runner-up in the 100 also was part of a winning relay last season, and he enters with the second-fastest LPD4 Regional times in both the 100 (11.13) and 200 (22.76) and slated to run on both sprint relays.
Lezawe Osterink, Wyoming Potter’s House Christian senior: He’ll look to add to his 1,600, 3,200 and 3,200 relay championships from a season ago, plus two cross country titles, entering this weekend with the top LPD4 Regional time in the 1,600 (4:22.73) and also running the 3,200 and on two relays.
Braden Prielipp, Marion junior: He won the high jump by seven inches last season, and his 6-3 at his Regional was the third-highest in all of LPD4 two weeks ago. He’ll also long jump and run the 400 and on a relay.
Jaylin Townsend, Flint Beecher senior: He’ll look to add to his two sprint and one relay championship from 2021 and third individual title won last season in the 100. He had the fastest LPD4 Regional times in the 100 (10.99) and 200 (22.23) and will run on two relays expected to contend as well.
PHOTO Potter’s House Christian’s Lezawe Osterink takes the baton during a relay at last season’s LPD4 Finals. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)