KC Lightfoot woke up at 4:30 a.m. Monday in New York to catch a flight home. He arrived back in Lee’s Summit roughly eight hours later and spent a jet-lagged afternoon jogging around the track at Lee’s Summit High School.
Lightfoot wanted to be back in time for practice, so he could continue working toward one elusive, but in his mind very attainable, goal — clearing 18 feet in the pole vault.
“It’ll happen,” Lightfoot said. “It’ll happen sooner or later.”
Lightfoot is a state champion and among the nation’s elite high school pole vaulters. He’s signed beginning next year with Baylor and has accomplished plenty since taking up the sport in middle school.
But Lightfoot still doesn’t have an 18-foot clearance on his resume, and that will be the driving ambition of his senior year.
“He was definitely thinking we would get 18 feet indoors, and we were so close so many times,” said Anthony Lightfoot, KC’s father. “I think that’s kind of motivated him.”
Lightfoot came close last week in New York, where he concluded his indoor season. He cleared an indoor and outdoor personal-best 17 feet, 9 inches on March 10 to take second in the New Balance Indoor Nationals at The Armory.
The next day, he won the 17-18 boys’ pole vault at the USA Track and Field Hershey Youth Indoor Championships on Staten Island by clearing 5.15 meters, or just under 17 feet.
Lightfoot said he was sick the week before and had little practice time before heading to New York. Still, he thought he had an 18-foot pole vault in him.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of recovery time, but going in we were still hoping for a little bit better,” Lightfoot said.
Upping his personal record was nice consolation prize, and Lightfoot said it has made him all the more excited about the upcoming outdoor season. He ended the indoor season ranked No. 1 in Missouri and the clear favorite to defend the Class 5 title he won late at night during last year’s state meet in Jefferson City.
Lightfoot won that title with a 16-6 pole vault, well under his current best and the 17-8 1/2 outdoor personal record he recorded last June.
Clearing 18 feet would shatter the all-class state meet record of 17-0 set in 2015 by Park Hill’s Chris Nilsen, who holds the all-time Missouri high school best of 18-4 3/4 . That was also the national high school record until Mondo Duplantis of Lafayette, La., soared 19-4 1/4 last year.
Bud Yazel is in his first year coaching pole vaulters at Lee’s Summit, but he saw plenty of Lightfoot while coaching at Blue Springs South. Yazel, who retired from Blue Springs South after last season, has seen enough pole vaulters to know Lightfoot has the talent and dedication to succeed at the demanding event.
“I’ve always said there’s people who work and there’s people with ability,” Yazel said. “You don’t get both very often. He works hard and he’s got a lot of natural ability and that’s why he’s so successful.”
Anthony Lightfoot, a two-time state-champion vaulter himself at Pleasant Hill, started seeing that ability after his son’s seventh-grade year. A Google search led him to Just Vault in Excelsior Springs, where KC still trains today under coach Todd Cooper.
That first workout was an eye-opener for both father and son.
“It was just a little hour session, and he (Cooper) just kept asking me, ‘He’s never done this before?’” Anthony Lightfoot said. “Within three practices he had gone up like three feet. He cleared 13-6 his eighth grade year and it just kind of went from there.”
KC Lightfoot placed fourth at state as a freshman and tied for third as a sophomore. The state championship came next, when he outdueled friend and rival Kyle Rogers of Liberty just before midnight after a long weather delay.
Now, Lightfoot is gearing up for another outdoor season. He’s looking forward to Baylor and working with jumps coach Brandon Richards, whom he has known for a long time.
Most of all, he’s looking forward to falling backward into a jumping pit and seeing a bar resting 18 feet above him, which Lightfoot believes is bound to happen.
“Just got to get the right day, the right standards, right pole,” Lightfoot said. “If everything lines up, it will be fine.”