Lansing pole vaulter set for big postseason, senior year after defeating cancer
Less than two years ago, Lansing junior athlete Reece Baker was wrapping up her freshman year and preparing for what would be a 12th-place finish in the pole vault at the 5A state championships.
Since then, Baker was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in August 2019 and recovered in time to see her sophomore season of pole vaulting nixed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was really disappointed in the season getting canceled because I had been training all winter and was ready to perform to my best ability,” Baker said. “I trained hard at home and went to indoor practice when it had opened during the pandemic.”
It wasn’t all bad, however, as the time off allowed Baker to continue training so she was better prepared to compete again.
Despite those setbacks, Baker has added two feet to her pole vault in that time and staked her claim as the best women’s pole vaulter in school history, crediting her training and technique to her success while saying there’s still plenty of room to grow.
“I have made these improvements by persistent pole vaulting indoor and outdoor throughout the year,” she said, “as well as working on my sprinting technique. I can continue to improve my training techniques.”
After claiming the United Kansas Conference title with a 10 foot, 6-inch clearance that was three feet higher than any other competitor, she has her eyes on a regional crown Thursday and a shot at state later this month. Having already set the school record, Baker continues to raise the bar and doesn’t see an end in sight with the expectation that she will best her current mark as well as reach the medal stand at the upcoming postseason meets.
Her return to competition did not come easily though as she returned to the tennis court last season to compete for the Lions after her original diagnosis forced her to miss her sophomore season.
“Two weeks before the season had started we hired a private coach to slowly integrate me back onto the court,” she said. “I have to admit I was a bit nervous and the very first practice I was a little out of breath, but soon realized I could do it."
It wasn’t long before Baker began to feel closer to normal than she had in a long time.
“Then by the third or fourth practice, I felt like I had never had cancer,” she said. “I was blessed with coach Eddie Fenton for supporting me, encouraging me and never making me feel less conditioned than the other players.”
Baker said her first attempt at pole vaulting was rough, but she didn’t dwell and got back to her original marks.
“That was a struggle. I picked up the pole in October and was barely making 8 feet,” she said,
“Then my muscle memory kicked in and by December I was jumping 10 feet. I was blessed by great coaches that were supportive. Coach Jones has been instrumental in encouraging me to do my best.”
With all of the hype surrounding the upcoming postseason meets, it’s easy to forget Baker is only a junior and will have another season to train for even higher jumps.
“I have the expectation of reaching higher heights as well as improving my technique,” she said. “I would like to be one of the top jumpers in the state of Kansas my senior year.”
The good news is, she already ranks as one of the top 20 jumpers in the state in all classes and is one of just five underclassmen on the list, meaning she should enter next season toward the top. Until then, she will have regionals Thursday and the state meet on May 27 to raise her mark.
Baker said she plans to attend one of the five military academies and pole vault for their track and field program.