Soaring to new heights: Keranen breaks school record en route to pole vault win

Dollar Bay-Tamarack City jumper Nora Keranen poses after receiving the Copper Mountain Conference Most Valuable Jumper award for the second straight season. (Photo submitted)

DOLLAR BAY — While the entirety of Upper Peninsula high school track and field descended upon Kingsford Saturday, one young jumper had a career day en route to winning the Division 3 girls pole vault. Sophomore Nora Keranen of Dollar Bay-Tamarack City defeated her practice buddy Abi Codere of Lake Linden-Hubbell, which was just part of what made Keranen’s day special, setting a new personal best in the process.

Keranen had a goal in mind when she arrived in Kingsford of reaching 8-feet, which would have tied her for third in the competition. Interestingly, she cruised beyond that goal as the day went along, hitting 9-feet before she was done.

“All I wanted was just to get 8-feet, because I’ve been jumping 7-feet-6 since last year,” she said. “So, that was all I was really shooting for. I practiced a lot in the three days before, so I was hoping it would pay off. Then, I cleared 8-feet, and I was pretty excited. Then, I just kept going up and then when I got to 9-feet, I just couldn’t believe it.”

Hitting her personal goal, and then exceeding it, gave Keranen a smile she could not get rid of.

“It was really fun doing it too,” she said. “I’ve never been able to pole vault like that before, but once I was able to reach those heights, it was so much more fun.”

Dollar Bay-Tamarack City jumper Nora Keranen prepares to attempt a vault during a track meet this season. (Photo courtesy of Kassy Kallio)

Of course, having someone who believed in her ability was something that really helped Keranen push herself to keep trying to go higher. She met Steve Dunstan during the Dan Junttila Memorial meet at Houghton High School last week, and she credits him with helping her realize her goals.

“Steve Dunstan, and he was one of the officials, but he’s also been helping me with pole vault,” said Keranen. “He kept telling me, ‘I saw your last vault. You’ve got more in you. You can clear 9-feet-6.’

“So, I just kept going, because I trusted him, and I thought he was a good coach. I just felt better and better each jump.”

The school record at Dollar Bay prior to Saturday was 7-feet-7 inches, so, Keranen, who earned Copper Mountain Conference Jumper of the Year for the second time this season, set the goal of 8-feet in the hopes of breaking it during her freshman year. While it did not work out in her first year, she was pleased to be able to do it her sophomore year.

“I was told by my middle school coach that I would have the record freshman year, and then I never got it freshman year. So then, once I finally broke it, I just felt like that end was tied up,” she said. “So I just was having fun. I didn’t really care what happened, because I already had the record. I was already happy with what I’ve done, so I just wanted to keep having fun.”

Dollar Bay-Tamarack City jumper Nora Keranen jumps over the bar during a high jump event at a track meet this season. (Photo courtesy of Kassy Kallio)

While the sprinters and relay runners typically get a lot of attention when it comes to track and field, the field events are often populated with a small group of individuals who all know each other and they all often become the fans that jumpers perform in front of. Keranen knew Codere and Logan DesRochers from Baraga, so she was excited to see them at U.P. Finals. As the competition went along, Keranen said Codere was extremely supportive of her jumps.

“I told her, ‘I’m really trying to get eight today,’ and she said, ‘I know you can do it. You got this.’ Then, even after I beat her, I cleared 9-feet, and then she went and she didn’t clear it, she still came over and gave me a high-five and (said) ‘good competition, good job.’ We told each other ‘good job,'” Keranen said. “I feel very supported by my opponents. Even though we’re competing against each other, we can still get along and cheer each other on, and have fun.”

While Keranen’s accomplishment is impressive in nature, it actually is the product of a lot of hard work away from the main stage. Dollar Bay does not have a facility where she can train in pole vault, so the second-year jumper has had to find other ways to practice. In fact, she had to make connections at Lake Linden and at Houghton in order to hone her craft.

“Lake Linden’s pole vault coach invited me to go there and practice with them last year,” she said. “I went and practiced with them last year, and they helped me a lot. They helped me. They gave me poles to use at competitions, and they even let me take a pole to a competition they weren’t going to. So, they were very helpful in getting me on the right track.

“But everything changed when I was at the Houghton meet on Tuesday last week. Steve Dunstan saw me pole vaulting, and he saw how close I was to getting the school record. He said that I can go practice at Houghton with him, and I can use Houghton’s pole. So, for two days I went and I practiced with him, just us, and I learned so much in those two days. I went from 7-feet-6 to 9-feet in those two days that we practiced together.”

Keranen cannot thank Dunstan enough for the time he put in to help her advance her ability.

“It means a lot, because Steve always says that all he wants to do is just help people compete and have a shot at having fun and having success,” she said. “I think it’s really cool that people just want to help out other people and see other people succeed, because it wouldn’t be any fun if only the good schools were good, and then the schools without equipment wouldn’t be any good. It wouldn’t be fun if there’s no competition.”

As she focuses on getting ready for next season, Keranen plans to focus on all three of her events. She was unable to compete in the long jump at U.P. Finals this year after winning last season, due to an ankle injury, but she plans to get back into improving her performance with a goal of 16-feet in mind. She also wants to reach that 9-feet-6 mark in pole vault, as well as top 5-feet in the high jump.

“I’m just going to do my best to improve in all three of my events,” she said. “All I ask for each year is that I just get better at everything.

“I don’t really care how I place in things. I just want to do the best I can to be better, and contribute to my team.”


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