By Eric Shultz
For The Daily Item
For a while, it seemed as if an abundance of hard work had just gone down the drain.
Selinsgrove's Jessica Gill was preparing for the District 4 Class AAA track and field championships meet last Thursday, set on trying to make it to the state championship meet.
"I had worked so hard for it the whole year. I even worked over the summer," said Gill, the daughter of Barb and Timothy Gill.
On one vault attempt, she let go of the pole and aborted from the try. The senior landed in the vaulting box on her back and leg, injuring herself enough to be scratched from her running events at Saturday's meet.
But even though Gill was in severe pain Saturday while warming up for the pole vault, she pulled off something that Seals coach Jim Taylor said in an email will remain with him forever. Gill pushed through the pain and cleared the bar at 10 feet to take the district title in the event.
The Seals, who won the team championship that day, would have finished three-quarters of a point short of gold had Gill not competed, Taylor said. That finish helped Selinsgrove advance to the state meet, which will be held Friday and Saturday at Shippensburg University.
Although Gill, the defending district champion pole vaulter, was able the best the competition, it was never guaranteed that she actually would be able to compete.
After going to the hospital Thursday, Gill said she found that her hip and the muscles around her ribs and backside were bruised. When she got home, Gill said she could not walk due to her leg swelling.
Gill, who plans on pole vaulting at Shippensburg next year, said she was told she couldn't run Saturday -- she had been a part of the 400- and 800-meter relay teams and also ran in the 400 meter dash -- but would be allowed to attempt to vault. So she tried getting through Friday on one crutch while icing down and did everything she could to be ready for the meet.
At first, Gill said she was confident that she would be ready to vault.
"The whole day in school, and the day that I got hurt, I'm telling everybody that 'I got this, I can do it,'" she said.
"I had complete faith in myself."
But that confidence was put to the test right away when she tried to get ready at the meet.
"I didn't start to doubt myself until I started to warm up and I felt how much pain I was actually in," Gill said.
The pain was overwhelming as Gill tried to start warming up Saturday. Gill said she could not even jog.
In her first attempt during the open pit warmup session, Gill said she took one step and got off the runway because of the pain, hoping she had more in her.
"It was painful to see her initial attempts at running down the runway and attempting the pole plant," Taylor said. "However, each time it got a little better until she knew she was as ready as she could be."
Even with the odds stacked against her, Gill finally gained enough speed to make it down the runway fast enough.
She cleared the bar at nine feet to start, then cleared nine feet, six inches before pulling off her title-winning vault of 10.
Gill said that the accomplishment came down to mind over matter. Gill pushed forward with the help of her coaches and some mental coaching, she said.
"I remember thinking in my head, 'Jess, this is it. This is your last chance,'" Gill said. "'This is your senior year, you have to do this.'"
After not practicing Monday, Gill said she is feeling better. The senior Seal is walking without crutches, and said she should be ready for the state meet.
Gill would not be heading to one final meet, though, if it was not for the extra effort that won her district gold.
"Even if Jess had not cleared a height, she was still a champion because of her effort and determination to succeed," Taylor said.