By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When Travis Fisher loaded up his gear and braved the bitter winter cold to head to the Bennett Center in Toms River for the NJSIAA Group I state indoor track and field championships Sunday, he had a dream in mind. He was going to win the pole vault gold medal.
“I felt really good,” Fisher said. “I felt like nothing was going to stop me. I was shooting to finish first or at least second.”
North Arlington head track and field coach John Zukatus had more reasonable goals.
“I thought he would medal, like finish in the top three or so,” Zukatus said.
However, when the bar in the competition was raised to 14 feet, the expectations changed a little.
“Travis never cleared 14 (feet) before,” Zukatus said.
“I never did 14, but I figured this was my chance,” Fisher said. “I felt really ready for it, going at it full speed.”
Sure enough, Fisher got enough steam and lift to clear the bar at 14 feet and that was enough for Fisher to secure the overall Group I gold medal, topping Andrew Accardi of Pompton Lakes by a match of jumps.
Incredibly, both Fisher and Accardi train together at Apex Vaulting in Fairfield.
Still, the victory gave Fisher a state gold medal _ the second gold medal for a North Arlington track and field athlete in as many years.
Last year, Danny Cordeiro, now playing soccer at NJIT, won the 800-meter run gold medal at the state meet.
Not bad for an indoor track program that didn’t even exist before last year. Two years of existence, two state gold medal winners.
Fittingly, it was due to the hard work of Fisher and his mother, as well as others, that pushed the North Arlington Board of Education to consider having indoor track as a varsity sport. Fisher went around collecting signatures on a petition two years ago and made a presentation to the Board of Education, calling for the implantation of indoor track as a sport.
“If it never happened, then Danny and I would never have the chance to win a state championship,” Fisher said. “It’s an amazing accomplishment. It’s such an awesome feeling.”
After Fisher cleared 14 feet, he had to sit around and wait to see if anyone else did.
“That was nerve wracking,” Fisher said. “I still had to compete while worrying about everyone else.” Fisher did try to clear 14-6, but missed on three attempts. Still, he cleared his career best, indoors and outdoors, by clearing 14 feet.
“I was shooting for it,” Fisher said. “That was my goal. I really thought I had a chance.”
Zukatus was more than pleased by Fisher’s performance.
“I think it’s more than remarkable that it was the first time he cleared 14 feet,” Zukatus said. “It came down to doing it today (Sunday) and he did it. It was huge and so exciting. I never thought he could pull it out. It’s the best thing ever, seeing him after he tried for so long. I couldn’t think of a kid who deserves this more, considering the work he puts it and tries to get better every meet.” It’s not easy for Fisher, who trains in conditioning with the rest of his North Arlington teammates three times a week, then heads to Apex Vaulting twice a week.
“He has to do a lot of it on his own,” said Zukatus, who obviously doesn’t have the luxury of having an indoor vaulting pit in North Arlington High School. “He keeps a busy schedule for himself.”
With the victory, Fisher now heads back to the Bennett Center this Saturday one last time, but this time, it’s the overall NJSIAA Meet of Champions. Fisher will hope to duplicate Cordeiro’s performance of a year ago and come home from the state’s premier indoor meet with a medal.
“I’m excited for it,” Fisher said. “Whatever happens, happens. But I feel like I’m right there.”
Fisher said that he came “pretty close” to clearing the bar at 14-6 Sunday, which would almost guarantee him a medal this weekend.
“I have a shot,” Fisher said.
Zukatus just loves Fisher’s overall approach.
“He doesn’t get caught up in himself,” Zukatus said. “Travis is always calm and cool. It’s not his style to be anything else.”
Zukatus hopes that Fisher’s gold medal-winning performance will open some eyes around the entire state.
“I would hope that it gives us more recognition,” Zukatus said. “I hope that people realize that we’re not just some little program who did a onetime thing last year. Now, we have another state champion.”
Two in two years is not a bad start.
“I think it says a lot for the kids,” Zukatus said. “They worked so hard to get to be with the best. Like Danny, Travis’ hard work has paid off.”
But in the case of Fisher, here’s a kid who wanted to have indoor track, did all the leg work to make sure the sport reached varsity status _ and now gets to reap the rewards as an overall Group I state champion.
“It is an awesome feeling,” Fisher said. “I know that there are some people who never thought it was possible.”
However, one of those people who never doubted it was eventually the most important one of all, namely Travis Fisher, who will be forever remembered now as a North Arlington state champion.