At age 11, Nico Weiler took his first trip down the pole vault runway, planting his pole and getting about two feet off the ground as he landed in a sand pit.
Within a year he was vaulting eight feet.
In the seven years since, the sport has taken Weiler farther than imagined. Weiler, a native of Stuttgart, Germany, came to Los Gatos as an exchange student and is in his second year at the school.
The defending state champion broke a 16-year-old record Saturday at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational, clearing 17 feet, 4 inches to improve his leading national mark by two inches.
"There was a huge crowd and excellent competition, the weather was good with a nice tail wind and the facilities were perfect," said Weiler, an the 18-year-old senior. "That kind of atmosphere definitely got me pumped up."
His performance in the vault and the classroom has college recruiters pumped up as well.
Weiler has been accepted to Harvard and has a scholarship offer from Brigham Young, which has one of the country's strongest vaulting programs. On Monday, he took a recruiting trip to UCLA, and he is also being courted by Stanford and Cal.
On Friday night, Weiler will be competing at the 29th Annual Central Coast Section Top 8 Track and Field Classic at Los Gatos High. Field events begin at 3 p.m., with track events starting at 4:30 p.m.
Vaulting runs in Weiler's family. His father, Roland, nearly cleared 16 feet, and his older brother Sascha has vaulted 15 feet. It was Sascha who helped Nico find his way to Los Gatos. Sascha was an exchange student at Los Gatos during his junior year in 2003-04 and became friends with classmate Chris Little, who won the CCS vaulting title that year and is now competing at BYU. Little took a trip to Europe that summer, traveling with the Weilers.
"A year and a half later, they asked us if we'd be willing to host Nico for his exchange year," said Jack Little, Chris' father. "He became part of the family right away. He hasn't given us one bit of trouble. He is fun to be around, a bright kid with a great sense of humor."
And a gift for the pole vault.
When he came to the United States, Weiler's best vault was 16-5. He blew that away at the CCS meet, setting a section record with a winning vault of 17-6 1/4. A week later, he won the state gold medal with a meet record vault of 17-2. He went on to win the World Youth Championships in July in the Czech Republic.
"He is light years ahead of any kid I have worked with," Los Gatos vault coach Brandon Vance said. "It's all about his drive on the runway. He puts every ounce of himself into his approach, I've never seen anyone go harder."
Weiler had a tough decision after his junior year when his exchange student time was up. He decided that college opportunities outweighed being home with his family in Germany. He applied for and was granted a student visa, which will last five years.
"I miss my family very much, but it was worth it for the opportunity I was given," said Weiler, who celebrated his 18th birthday on April 5 with a party at a sushi restaurant with friends.
Weiler, who maintains a 3.8 GPA, would like to became an international businessman. He is weighing his college choices, trying to decide if he should emphasize vaulting or academics.
For now, Weiler is concentrating on ending his season on a strong note.
"You might expect a big attitude from a kid with the talent that Nico has, but he is really humble," Vance said.
"This year has been hard because he wins a lot of meets on his first jump. The competition is beginning to heat up, and Nico is starting to feel a little pressure from that. That's going to give him some motivation."
Josh Cusick, St. Lawrence Academy
Sport: Track and field.
Accomplishment: A standout pole vaulter who finished sixth in the state meet last season, Cusick also competes in the decathlon. He finished fifth in last year's Junior Olympics. Saturday, he won the inaugural event at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational. Cusick, who has a personal best in the pole vault of 16 feet, won with a vault of 15-3. He scored 6,315 points and had a personal-best time of 4 minutes, 37.06 seconds in the 1,500 meters, and tied a personal best in the high jump at 5-10 1/2. He ran 11.89 in the 100 meters and 53.81 in the 400 meters. He long jumped 20-7 and threw the shot put 39-5 3/4. "Josh is an excellent athlete who has done a great job of finding the right people to help him in different events," Coach Scott Wenholz said. "He understands this takes a lot of time to improve; he is mentally tough and he works his butt off."