Blind Vaulter Builds on Promising Launch

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

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.)

With 2nd Place in Final Race, Newberry Clinches 1st in Final Team Standings

By John Vrancic
Special for

June 2, 2024

KINGSFORD — The race for the Upper Peninsula Division 3 boys track & field championship came right down to the wire Saturday as Newberry edged St. Ignace 96-92 for top honors.

Third-place team finisher Lake Linden-Hubbell won the day’s final race, the 1,600-meter relay, in 3 minutes, 41.94 seconds, and Newberry hung on to edge St. Ignace by two steps for second place and its first title in eight years.

Newberry, which was runner-up to Munising last year, was clocked at 3:43.07 in the 1,600 relay on this sunny and mild late afternoon. The Saints finished nine hundredths of a second later.

“We knew we had to beat St. Ignace to win,” Newberry senior Kennedy Depew said after finishing the anchor leg. “This was my last race ever. I knew I had to give it my all. That’s also why I knew I had to scratch from the open 400. I would have been in four events. I think scratching from the 400 helped me save some energy. We weren’t satisfied with runner-up last year, which makes this year’s championship all the more satisfying.”

Classmate Gabe Luck provided Newberry with its lone individual first with a heave of 44 feet, 1¾ inches in shot put.

“We had a lot of injuries this year,” Newberry coach Drew Schultz said. “For all the obstacles we had, we wouldn’t have it any other way, having two of the best athletes decide it in the last race. I’m extremely proud of our guys. To win it that way is just insane. I’m proud of all our eastern-end kids.”

Chassell's Kalvin Kytta and Cedarville/DeTour's Ethan Snyder lead the pack of 1,600 runners. Depew also was runner-up in the 100-meter dash in 11.63 seconds.

Senior Jon Ingalls, who ran the last leg for the Saints, won the 110 hurdles (16.39) and 300s (42.89) and helped them place second in the 400 relay (45.94).

“Both hurdles were decent,” Ingalls said. “Those weren’t my best times, but it feels good to grind out a few more wins.”

Senior Owen Lester also provided the Saints with a victory in pole vault (12-6).

LL-H got firsts from senior Gabe Popko in discus at 153 feet, 4¼ inches, and classmate Matt Jokela in the 400 (51.09). Jokela also took third in the 100 (11.65).

“Real good hydration and confidence are keys,” Jokela said. “I think having confidence helps a little. I usually don’t go too hard out of the blocks. Then, I usually try to go as hard as I can in the last 200.”

Chassell junior Kalvin Kytta claimed three firsts, taking the 800 in a personal-best 2:03.62, 1,600 (4:39.58) and 3,200 (10:27.32).

“Three wins, I’m pretty happy with that,” he said. “The 800 went real well. Overall, I’m very happy with my performance today.”

Fourth-place Bessemer set UPD3 Finals records in the 400 relay (45.3) and 800 (1:34.64). Powers North Central previously set the record in the 400 (45.34) two years ago and Rock Mid Peninsula had held the 800 record since 2001 when it ran a 1:35.1.

“We shaved two seconds off in the 800 relay which feels good, and our handoffs in the 400 were good all year,” Bessemer senior Landon Peterson said. “Our school record in the 400 is 44.98, which is something we’ve done three times this year. Running on a rubber track gives you a much better grip, which helped us a lot today.”

Bessemer senior Tom Trudgeon became a four-event winner, also taking the 100 (11.46) and 200 (23.85).

Crystal Falls Forest Park freshman Vic Guiliani won high jump (6-0), and sophomore Michael Rexford went 19-9 in long jump, providing Escanaba Holy Name with its first U.P. Finals title since the school reopened in 2021.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Newberry runners celebrate taking second place in the 1,600 relay, allowing them to finish ahead of St. Ignace for the team title in Upper Peninsula Division 3. (Middle) Chassell's Kalvin Kytta and Cedarville/DeTour's Ethan Snyder lead the pack of 1,600 runners. (Click for more from Cara Kamps/