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Oakland Mills track and field athlete Adeeb Pender breaks school pole vault record

Oakland Mills track and field has emerged as one of Maryland’s top public school programs in recent seasons. But in coach Chris Brewington’s eight-year tenure leading the boys, the Scorpions hadn’t had a male pole vaulter. That changed last season when Adeeb Pender joined the indoor track and field team.

A year later, through diligent work and practice, Pender finds himself in rarefied air alongside some of the program’s best. He broke a 32-year school record in the pole vault at last Thursday’s opening Howard County meet, clearing 12 feet, 7 inches.

“Honestly, it didn’t even feel real,” Pender said. “Knowing that I did all this work in a really short amount of time really impressed me. I was surprised with myself and how I did it.”

A former wrestler, Pender joined the Scorpions indoor track and field team last winter, influenced by some of his closest friends already on the team. However, joining a stacked team like Oakland Mills, there weren’t many areas for Pender to contribute.

That’s when Brewington suggested pole vaulting. He felt Pender’s corps strength from wrestling and accompanying hard-working mindset could be a good match for a challenging event.

“I think he was trying to find his place,” Brewington said. “When we talked about it and I explained why I love wrestlers to be pole vaulters, he said, ‘OK, sure.’ I think he just bought into that, ‘If I’m going to contribute and make a name for myself on this team, I’ve got to do something that no one else was willing to do.’ He got really good at it really quick and that’s a testament to him.”

Beyond the technical nuances of the sport, pole vaulting isn’t like every other track and field event in Howard County. Not every school has a pit and mat to safely accommodate pole vaulting, so athletes from all 13 schools travel to River Hill twice a week for practice. That crowded environment can make it challenging to maximize reps, which is critical for someone new to the sport like Pender.

However, former teammate Rosalie Rosenberg offered a potential solution. The then-senior, a county champion and regional and state runner-up, trained twice a week with coach Sam Shipley at Shipley’s Pole Vault in Frederick. She invited Pender to join her for practices and he immediately saw signs of growth.

“You could see that’s really where he went from saying, ‘Yeah, this pole vault thing is OK,’ to ‘OK, I can be really good at this whole thing,'” Brewington said. “When I first saw Coach Shipley at a meet and I asked him about Adeeb, his eyes lit up. He said, ‘He’s going to be really good; he just needs the time. He needs the reps and figure out what he’s doing, get him on the right poles.'”

That continual learning process didn’t come without adversity. Pender said, “Every new week, you feel like you forget something and then have to learn it again.” Those moments brought up small periods of doubt where Pender questioned if he wanted to continue.

However, Pender took inspiration from Shipley, a former wrestler and football player in his own right. Leading up to last week’s meet, Pender struggled in practice. Yet on meet day, everything clicked.

That unpredictability can be common in pole vaulting, one of the sport’s many challenges. In those moments, he leans on support from coaches, family and teammates. Pender also employs a goal-oriented mindset, which helps him navigate through that uncertainty.

“I think that shows my competitiveness,” Pender said. “It also shows that I’m goal-oriented and hard-working. Just to show that even if you don’t start out well if you continue to work hard, you can eventually achieve the goals that you have set. It’s just a difficult process sometimes to go through that stuff.”

In disbelief after setting the record, Pender proudly reflected on his perseverance throughout.

“Just how I got through the hard times where I wanted to quit and I didn’t really want to do it,” Pender said. “Just knowing that even if I’m going to feel like this at one point, I might not feel like that in the future. So, I’m just really glad I stuck with it and persevered through times where I thought, ‘Maybe this sport isn’t for me.'”

Pender’s journey is far from over. The Howard County championships are Jan. 29, followed by regionals and states in February. That offers Pender another opportunity to prove himself on a broader stage.

“He’s always been trying to prove himself,” Brewington said. “From the minute he came in, even to still now, Oakland Mills gets a lot of attention for a lot of things — pole vault is not one of them. Over the years, it hasn’t been somewhere where historically we’ve dominated. He is taking it upon himself to say, ‘No, we do pole vault, too.’ It makes Oakland Mills look good and well-rounded because now there are other kids who are saying, ‘Oh that looks like fun.'”