Lansing athlete battles cancer to excel at pole vault

Less than two years ago, Lansing junior athlete Reece Baker finished her first year preparing for 12th place in the pole vault at the 5A State Championships.

Since then, Baker was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in August 2019, and she recovered in time to see her second season of pole vaulting suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was really disappointed with the cancellation of the season because I had trained all winter and was ready to perform at my best,” said Baker. “I trained hard at home and went indoor training when it opened during the pandemic.”

It wasn’t all bad, however, as Baker was able to continue training in his spare time to be better prepared for the re-competition.

Despite these setbacks, Baker put two feet into her pole vault during this time and asserted her claim to be the best female pole vaulter in school history. She attributed her training and technique to her success while also saying that there is still plenty of room to grow.

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“I’ve made these improvements through persistent indoor and outdoor pole vaulting throughout the year,” she said, “and working on my sprinting technique. I can continue to improve my training techniques. “

After winning the United Kansas Conference title by 10 feet and 6 inches, which was three feet taller than any other competitor, she has a regional crown in view on Thursday and a shot at the state later this month . Having already set the school record, Baker continues to raise the bar and sees no end in sight with the expectation that she will hit her current grade and hit the medal level at the upcoming postseason meetings.

Her return to competition wasn’t easy, however, as she returned to the tennis court last season to fight for the Lions after her initial diagnosis forced her to miss her sophomore season.

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“Two weeks before the start of the season we hired a private coach to slowly integrate me back into the field,” she said. “I have to admit that I was a little nervous and a little out of breath during the first session, but I soon realized I could do it.”

It wasn’t long before Baker felt closer to normal than he had in a long time.

Shown is Baker competing for the women's Lansing tennis team in 2020.

“By the third or fourth training session, I felt like I had never had cancer,” she said. “I was blessed with coach Eddie Fenton because he supported me, encouraged me and never felt less conditioned than the other players.”

Baker said her first attempt at pole vault was tough, but she didn’t linger and returned to her original markings.

“That was a fight. I picked up the bar in October and was barely 8 feet, ”she said.

“Then my muscle memory kicked in and in December I jumped 10 feet. I have been blessed by great coaches who have supported me. Coach Jones was instrumental in encouraging me to do my best. “

With all the hype surrounding the upcoming postseason, it’s easy to forget that Baker is just a junior and will have another season to train for even higher jumps.

“I have the expectation to reach higher altitudes and improve my technique,” she said. “I want to be one of the top jumpers in the state of Kansas in my senior year.”

The good news is that she is already in the state’s top 20 jumpers in all classes and is one of only five underclassmen on the list, which means she should move up next season. Until then, she will have regional teams on Thursday and the state will meet on May 27 to improve her brand.

Baker said she plans to attend one of the five military academies and pole vault for her track and field program.

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