Anyone remotely familiar with the pole vault is sure to know the name. But even the most ardent of vaulting enthusiasts might be surprised to learn how far back this story begins.
Tory Worthen, a senior at Council Rock South High and top-ranked vaulter in the state, didn’t just decide to pick up a pole one day on a whim. No, her love affair with the sport began much earlier, as in, shortly after she learned to walk.
She was that girl. The coach’s kid. The one who would show up to practice on school breaks and days off, occupying herself in the jumping pits as if it were her own personal sand box. And while the long and triple jumps were interesting, it was always the pole vault that captured her fancy.
“I liked watching the long jump and triple jump and playing in the sand pit, but I really liked watching the pole vault,” said Worthen. “I told [my dad] I wanted to do it and I kept telling him.”
How could he resist? There’s a limit to how long every dad can say no the wishes of his baby girl. And eventually Ken Worthen relented. He fashioned a makeshift pole out of a broken cross bar, and the overachieving little girl did the rest.
Worthen heads to Penn State University this weekend for the indoor state championships in search of her first state crown. She arrives as the top seed in the event. Her resume impeccable.
Her personal best came last spring when she cleared 12-9.5 at the PIAA Championships at Shippensburg University. It took a PIAA record performance by Easton's Abby Schaffer 13-00.5 to keep Worthen off the top rung of the awards podium.
She has a penchant for peaking at the right time and elevating her game to succeed on the biggest stages. Her surprise second-place finish at the Penn Relays a year ago speaks to that. Then, there was the back-to-back All-American worthy efforts on consecutive days at the NSIC in New York and Nike Indoor National Championships in Maryland last March.
When Whitehall’s Brook Hamscher cleared 12-3 to win the pole vault at the Burdette Indoor Classic earlier this season, temporarily demoting Worthen to #2 in the state rankings, Worthen immediately responded by posting a DVGTCA record 12-6 at the association meet on Jan. 16.
She admits returning to the top of the rankings was added motivation, but mostly, she remains focused on the things that she can control.
“I just worry about myself; doing my best and making my best be the best,” she said.
She continues to post victories like a cub scout collecting merit badges. Her vault of 12 feet 6.5 inches at the PTFCA Indoor Track Carnival on Feb. 7 was not only a season best, but also a new meet record.
Needless to say, she is highly motivated and extremely competitive.
The results only tell part of the story, though. What most people don’t see is the work that goes into those accomplishments; such as the hours of lifting, and track work necessary to add the strength and speed to the innate gymnastic ability, an effective combination for someone bent on being the best.
There’s also the three hours she spends in the car once a week heading to and from her two-hour vaulting sessions at Vertical Assault, the Lehigh Valley based pole-vaulting factory responsible for producing many of the state’s recent medalists and champions.
“It’s time consuming, but it is something that is important to her, and the things that are important to her she works really hard at,” Ken Worthen said.
You don’t get to the top of your craft without sacrifice, and you don’t remain at the top of your class, like the Princeton-bound Worthen is at Rock South, without diligence and hard work. Worthen spends most of that drive time studying or doing homework by nightlight.
“It’s very stressful doing that,” Tory said. “You have to get a lot of work done in the car. It’s very tiring, but it’s worth it. I love the sport. It’s a lot of fun.”
Tory Worthen grew up around track and field. Her father, who has had a front row seat to his daughter’s impressive career as the girl’s head coach at Council Rock South for the past five seasons, like many mentors of the sport is a track lifer. Before his stint at Rock, he spent 26 seasons as the coach at Bensalem. Anyone who has ever coached knows how time consuming the sport can be. Luckily for coaches with young kids, the track doubles as an effective playpen.
Still, the patriarchal Worthen is anything but an overbearing stage dad. Gymnastics was her focus for much of her youth. He let the sport of track and field come to her. Sure, he has provided the opportunity, but he has also maintained his distance. At a recent meet while Tory was en route to breaking a record, dad was on an adjacent runway, busy officiating the triple jump.
He is knowledgeable and dedicated, winning a state championship in 1987 at Bensalem. But he put his ego aside and had his eyes opened wide when he took his daughter to Vertical Assault for the first time. South’s head track coach attributes much of what his daughter has accomplished to VA founder and resident vaulting guru Mike Lawyrk.
“I was just amazed the first time I went there,” Tory Worthen said, who mentions clearing 13 feet, winning a state title and returning to nationals among her goals. “I was like, ‘Wow these people are so good. I just wanted to get better so I worked on it and copied them so that I looked like I was doing good and then I started doing good, getting better.”
“She worked hard,” Ken Worthen said. “She was involved in a lot of things. We’ve never pushed her into anything. In fact, sometimes we have to hold her back.”
It seems like it would be impossible to hold her back anymore. In true vaulting fashion: the sky is the limit.