Patrick Finley: Vaulter rises after friend's scary fall

2012-05-10T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T16:06:53Z Patrick Finley: Vaulter rises after friend's scary fallPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 10, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The story reads like a movie. So why not write it as one?

1. EXTERIOR - THE QUEEN CREEK INVITATIONAL, APRIL 21

His friend having been carried away in a helicopter, Sayre Stewart prepares to pole vault. Exhausted from an emotional day and worried about Johnny Lander, Stewart, 18, finds inspiration from his sister, Taylor.

TAYLOR: Sayre, this isn't about you anymore. You have to do it for Johnny.

The Canyon del Oro High School senior sprints down the runway to vault.

FADE OUT.

2. EXTERIOR - QUEEN CREEK INVITATIONAL, hours earlier

Zoom in on Johnny, the 17-year-old Canyon del Oro senior pole vaulter, as he attempts a practice vault. He plants his pole and elevates.

Before he can rise to the apex of his vault, he stalls about 11 1/2 feet in the air. He begins to fall backward.

JOHNNY (VOICE OVER): Not enough force. I came back down on the track. I remember almost hitting the track, and it all goes black.

Johnny lands on his feet, then his backside. His head whips down to the runway with a thud.

His eyes roll back into his head. He starts to seizure.

Trainers sprint to his aid. Vault coach Jim Luckow holds his hand and begins to pray. Coaches call 911.

He is strapped onto a gurney. Emergency workers call for a helicopter to carry him to a Phoenix-area hospital.

His Dorados teammates, including Sayre, gather 10 feet away, on the other side of a chain-link fence.

CROWD: John-ny! John-ny!

Johnny gives a thumb's up, drawing more cheers, and is airlifted.

Luckow asks Sayre, his star vaulter who's headed to Paradise Valley Community College on scholarship next year, if he thinks he can still jump that day.

SAYRE: I'm a little tired, but good.

3. INTERIOR - A HOSPITAL ROOM IN PHOENIX

Johnny's mom, Leslie, walks into his room after stopping to pick up his twin brother, a tennis player, on the way. It's around 4:45 p.m. She is amused to find Johnny's first question is about track and field.

JOHNNY: Mom, I can't go to the state meet, can I?

It's a serious question. Already on the track team, Johnny started pole vaulting before his junior year, after impressing coaches by winning a hand-stand contest.

He cleared 13 feet 3 inches - the qualifying height for the state meet - after jumping 11 feet only a year ago.

Doctors find no brain bleeding, diagnose him with a contusion and release him within an hour.

The family car stops at a Circle K in Phoenix before starting the drive home.

A coach calls with the most amazing news: Inspired by his friend, Sayre cleared 14-9 during the meet, shattering the school record by three inches.

Johnny is thrilled but sad he missed witnessing the record.

JOHNNY: Dang it! I was bummed I couldn't get to see it.

The next day, Johnny sends a message to Sayre, praising his buddy before providing a health update.

JOHNNY (TEXT): Good Job!

SAYRE (TEXT): Johnny, you're alive!

Both laugh.

POSTSCRIPT

Johnny is cleared to perform in the final track meet of his high school career, only after close observation by doctors and CDO officials.

He and Sayre, the state's No. 3 vaulter, will compete Saturday at the Division II state meet at Mesa Community College after it was postponed Wednesday because of weather.

"He's really helped me as a friend and also as a teammate and a competitor," Sayre said of his friend.

Johnny is happy to provide the inspiration.

"Whatever works," he said, smiling.

ROLL CREDITS

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