---- — It’s a masochistic event, one that is in direct conflict with gravity, and usually ends in failure.
But for Cooperstown junior Lucy Ford, the high jump pit at Middletown High must have seemed like heaven Saturday afternoon.
Despite jumping on an injured left ankle, Ford broke her school record on the same day she became her school’s first female to win a title in the New York State Track and Field Championships.
Ford cleared 5-foot-5 to win the Division II state title in the high jump at Middletown, the host of what was supposed to be a two-day event but turned into an all-day Saturday competition as heavy rain wiped out Friday’s schedule.
On a day many area athletes struggled to compete against the state’s best, the 6-1 Ford stood tall.
“It’s still sinking in,” Ford said Sunday. “It’s really exciting and I’ve gotten a lot of congratulations.”
The up-and-down saga to Ford’s season took life during Cooperstown’s Don Howard Invitational.
During an impressive high jump competition at the May 4 meet, Ford cleared 5-4 ¼ to beat Oneonta High’s Brittney Herrick, who finished at 5-4, and Natalie Vanderlaan-Meyering, who made it over 5-1. All three competed this weekend.
But after Ford went over 5-4 ¼, she told coach Connie Herzig her left foot felt “funny.”
Turns out, Ford pulled the deltoid muscle in her left ankle and spent the next two weeks in a walking boot.
“There are always bumps in the road,” Cooperstown girls coach Connie Herzig said of Ford, who earned the area’s first state title since then-Cooperstown senior Alec Silvera won the D-II title in the 110-meter hurdles in 2011. “There are always things to overcome. Nothing is ever achieved without issues or problems along the way. She had to rise to the occasion and overcome them. The injury was one of those things.”
Still, Ford said the injury might have been a blessing in disguise since high jumping takes a heavy toll on an athlete’s legs.
“Having the state meet at the end of the season is tough for a lot of jumpers,” Ford said. “Being in the boot and resting for two weeks helped me a bunch. I had rested legs and that helped my jumping.”
But the competition was anything but easy for Ford. She jumps off of her left ankle and she said every time she went up, she felt pain. Ford also missed her first two attempts at 5-2.
“She had two good early jumps at 4-8 and 4-11 and then struggled at 5-2,” Herzig said.
Added Ford: “It was a big relief to get over 5-2 on my third try.”
Ford also missed her first attempt at 5-4.
When the competition moved to 5-5, two D-II girls were left — Ford and Middleburgh’s Amanda Roney. Had both failed to clear 5-5, Roney would have won the title on fewer misses.
Ford made the school-record height on her first try.
“I was absolutely ecstatic,” Herzig said. “I actually ran over to where she was coming from. I jumped on her. An official warned me sternly to get back in the coaches’ box. I thought I was going to get thrown out. She was beaming.”
“It was clearly her best jump of the day,” she continued.
Ford said she saved her celebration until Roney missed her final attempt at 5-5.
Herrick finished 12th in D-II at 4-11 and Vanderlaan-Meyering was another spot back at 4-8.
When Roney exited, it left four girls in the competition, with Ford being the last from D-II (school enrollments of 600 or fewer). Walt Whitman’s Jackie Crunden, East Islip’s Faith Perry and Burnt Hills’ Samantha Hjelmer also had shots at the overall state title.
Crunden was lone member of that quartet to clear 5-6. Ford finished fourth overall, losing to Perry and Mjelmer on misses. Herzig said Ford had one good attempt at 5-6 but that her legs had lost some of their spring by that time in the competition.
“The injury was definitely a big step back because I didn’t know if I’d come back,” Ford said. “The mental part was the toughest part. Getting over that was rough.”
Heading into her senior year, Ford said 5-8 will be her goal.
“I don’t put a ceiling on her,” Herzig said. “She’s the best high jumper I’ve ever worked with, that’s for sure. I hope she continues to refine her technique. If she continues to develop, goodness, I don’t know (how high she could jump).”