From the Ground Up! By Dr. Kurt L. Wheeler
05/02/2016 02:55PM ● Published by Nancy Babin
Gallery: From The Ground Up [6 Images] Click any image to expand.
Tucked off of Highway 98, into the woods, and one block away from Choctawhatchee Bay lies the humble abode of the Dan Ryland Pole Vault facility. Driving onto the compound through the shade of fruit trees of citrus, fig, and banana, past the organic garden plots of edible greens, roots, and vegetables set amidst pole vault pits and Florida sun-bleached asphalt runways, the athletes and parents arrive. Barefooted and wearing a straw hat, Daniel Ryland emerges from around the corner of the chicken coop to greet his guests.
When arriving at the world-famous Dan Ryland Pole Vault camp, it’s difficult to not be initially underwhelmed. It is not because the facilities are subpar; they are not. It is simply that people are not expecting a plain metal building without heat or air conditioning. Garage bay doors open, allowing for a sun-drenched elevated wooden runway topped with green outdoor carpet to extend into the driveway. It is an eclectic place run by a renascence man.
It is here where Daniel, much like Albus Dumbledore of Harry Potter fame, turns athletes from lead into gold. Daniel churns out an amalgam of science and people skills to create the perfect alloy for the exact application. The physics of pole vault - mass, velocity, gravitational pull and height - are joined with the art of coaching the heart of the athlete. This is the recipe for magic that comes from Daniel. He oversees the journey and growth of each athlete. He is a master craftsman with the juxtaposition of organic farming, science, and the art of pole vaulting and coaching. This is his approach to sport.
Daniel is a world-renowned pole vaulter and coach. He honed his coaching skills at the world famous Bell Athletic Camp in Arkansas and coached at the prestigious IMG Academy. He holds a personal pole vault record of 19’2.25” and his resume includes 11 National Championships; 2x Olympic Trials qualifier in pole vault; 2x Junior National Champion, Decathlon; Junior World Championship competitor in the Decathlon, Team USA; Pan American Championship competitor in the Decathlon, Team USA; and Louisiana State high school 100meter sprint, 110 hurdles, and Pole Vault Champion. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Arkansas State University.
However, people who know Daniel would say that he is first and foremost a family man. He is married to Catherine Ryland and they have a daughter named Scout. When asked about the unique combination of organic farming and pole vaulting, Daniel replies, “The greatest people I’ve ever known have been farmers and pole vaulters. So what better environment for me to raise Scout in? There is no better environment.” Beyond that he is a man of friendship and a man of community who believes in servant leadership, putting others first by pouring his life into others. He has managed the Seaside Market and volunteered his services in many capacities.
The Dan Ryland Pole Vault camp is the place where young people from all over the world come to learn about how planting seeds, fertilizing, and developing solid root structure yield consistent fruit. The metaphor is obvious. Each discipline supports the other. Great plants don’t come about by accident - neither the organic nor the pole vault kind.
Daniel has influenced thousands of vaulters both locally and from around the world. Kobe Babin of Destin Middle School is currently ranked the #1 middle school vaulter in Florida and 2nd in the nation. Journey Washingtonhigh from Liza Jackson Middle School is ranked 2nd in the state of Florida and tied at 7th in the nation. Other success stories include Georgia AAAAA-7 State Champion Alexa Johnson and Georgia AAAAA-7 runner-up Kennedy Williams, both of whom are on pole vaulting scholarships. Johnson is at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and William is at Western Carolina. Carson Dingler (13’8.25”) and Kaley Riley (12’2”) are also nationally-ranked vaulters. Both have come to camp. Alexa Johnson was so committed to getting insight from Coach Ryland that she slept in a truck at a local primitive campsite and ate dinner from can by campfire light. People are willing to go to extreme measures to be there. It is not uncommon to hear vaulters talk about how they want to live at the camp during the summer and work for a place to stay in order to train and be immersed in that environment and culture of positive influence. Beginners to Olympic veterans have sought out Daniel for insight.
When the camp begins, Daniel takes his place on the catwalk observation deck. Barefooted and sporting a shaved head, he observes intently as a young man in the 8th grade traverses the elevated runway from outside, transitioning into the shadow of the former diesel garage, planting the 13-ft. pole into a metal box, driving off of the ground into an inversion, and sailing over the cross bar set at 12 ft., landing softly into the padded pit. Daniel leans over and whispers, “Watch this! This kid is going to be great…the real deal!”
Throughout the camp, classic rock, rap, country, and punk music can be heard wafting through the Ryland compound. Every day different students play their music over the sound system while they vault. Daniel seems unfazed and unaware of everything but each individual vaulter. He has the focus and concentration of an eagle perched to get its dinner from a nearby lake. He is purposeful and intent with each athlete and every vault. There are no wasted runs into the pit. Refrains of “how did that feel?” and “do you think you were under or out?” echo off the metal wall. He takes notes continuously to give specific feedback to each athlete. It is not uncommon for him to personally demonstrate the proper techniques. At times he will jump from his perch and land eight feet below into the landing zone of the pole vault pit. His brother, John Ryland, an incredible vault coach, comes alongside campers and does individual work to analyze and hone in on different aspects of vault. Daniel and John both are more than willing and able to grab a pole, run out to the elevated wooden runway, rock back onto the left heel, takes six strides, and erupt into an inverted position to demonstrate the move. Just as quickly as they swoop down they will ascend back to a perch, and practice continues. John’s assistance is an integral part of camp.
A coach’s perspective of a Ryland Pole Vault experience
“I had been sending my vaulting athletes to Daniel Ryland for a year before I ever got to experience it for myself as a coach,” says Coach Kurt Wheeler, Ed.D. “From the first people I ever sent to him, he was telling me that I needed to come and see what he did so that I would be fully aware of his techniques and camp experience.
“He is very laid back, welcoming, and encouraging. He accepts the vaulter exactly as they are but cares too much to let them stay like they are. It is a baptism of full immersion into the vaulting culture. Like other sports, the language in pole vault is different. Steps are not steps. Strides and steps are different. Expressions like out and under, roll it up, drive leg, trail leg, punch, etc. can take the novice by surprise.
“Daniel’s approach is genius in that he has an ability to get off the written page of physics and geometry and performance and reach deeper into the athlete. He addresses what needs to be corrected, while at the same time he affirms what the vaulter does correctly. He is not teaching out of a book, nor does he force-feed the athletes ‘The Ryland Method.’ Oddly enough, I would describe his coaching techniques as organic and fluid. Daniel reaches a deeper and different place in the athlete, a place where he instills confidence and trust. The athlete in turn generates more ‘buy-in’ which leads to more confidence to stand into new disciplines and techniques. It is amazing what someone will do when they know that someone with Daniel’s vaulting pedigree believes and invests in them. I see Daniel more as a mentor to not only the athletes but coaches as well.”
Leadership guru John Maxwell writes that a great leader “knows the way, shows the way and goes the way.” Daniel is that type of leader. Santa Rosa, the pole vault community, the Florida panhandle, the southeast, the US and the world is a better place because of Daniel and his commitment to people and the sport. The Santa Rosa, Seaside, Sandestin, and Ft Walton communities must be proud. No a/c, no heat. bare bones, no frills. When it comes to facilities, what you see is what you get. And what you get is one of the best pole vault coaches in the sport and experiences of a lifetime. In an age of glitz and glamour, Daniel runs counter to current culture which is refreshing.
So parents, if your athlete is looking to try a new sport or your pole vaulter needs to improve, give Daniel a call. The Dan Ryland Pole Vault camp could be the place for them, where Daniel can take them from ground lead to gold soaring on wings like that of an eagle.
Contact info. www.rylandpolevault.com
(870)897-6469 Daniel's Cell