Going for the Gold


Ariana Ince is thinking about making a change.

For years, Ariana (or Ari as she is known to her friends) has been one of the most successful and celebrated pole vaulters in Texas. Ince won four consecutive state titles while pole vaulting at Gonales high school before going on to set a school record in the sport at Rice University.

Even with all of that success, Ince said Wedneday that she is considering switching the focus of her training to a new sport: javelin.

Still a newcomer to the sport, Ince began throwing the javelin for Rice during her junior season last year after asking her coaches if she could give it a try.

“I kind of mentioned a few times to my coach that I had played softball in high school and thought I might be good at throwing the javelin,” Ince said “He had me try it a few times, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. My technique was terrible, so nobody really paid any attention.”

That all changed after Ince made her coaches take notice of her arm strength in an unconventional way.

“The coach didn’t really notice my arm until one day, after practice, when we were walking by a chain-link fence and someone had left some apples there. I bet him that I could throw the apple through the fence, and he didn’t believe me,” Ince said. “I threw the apple at the fence, and it just exploded as it went through and splattered everywhere. There was this weird moment of silence as everyone looked at me. After that, they really started pushing me and helping me in javelin.”

Ari took little time working her way up the ranks in her new event, but the road was not an easy one.

“I was just going out there and throwing it. Everyone kept asking me why I wasn’t taking a big run up when I threw the javelin and I told them, I don’t know what I am doing,” she said. “Still, I did pretty well with how I was doing it. It would be like starting the 100-meter dash while standing up while everyone else is in blocks.”

By the end of her senior season this May, Ince had found a new confidence in her javelin skills and came away with a second-place finish at the Conference USA championships. Ince truly realized her potential in her new event at the NCAA preliminary track meet, where she finished 14th in the nation.

“I had no idea that I would be able to do so well in a sport that I had only been doing for a short time,” she said. “Then I got to thinking about how I had finished at the conference meet. I realized that the girl that beat me and the two right below me were from other countries. It dawned on me that I might have a future in this sport.”

Ince recently graduated from Rice with a degree in civil engineering, thus ending her college track career. She says that her training days are far from over, though, as she has now set her sights on a new goal: the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.

Ince says she plans to keep working hard next year while she pursues a graduate degree at the University of Houston.

“I am going to keep training for a year and try to qualify for the Olympic Trials,” she said “I haven’t decided if I am going to focus more on javelin or pole vault. I have been doing pole vault a lot longer, but there are not a lot of girls in the US who throw the javelin and I think I have a good shot there.”

While making the move from one sport to another may sound like a difficult task, it’s no big deal for Ince. She’s done it before. Pole vaulting was once the new sport that she has having to learn.

“You know, it’s actually a pretty funny story of how I got into pole vaulting,” she admitted. “One day, my mom was late picking me up from track practice and a few of my friends, who were all guys, were working on pole vaulting. I stood there watching and then, all of a sudden, one of my coaches popped up next to me and asked if I wanted to give it a try. I said ‘sure, I could do that’ and the next thing you know, I’m pole vaulting.”

The move sure worked out well for Ince, who spent two years learning how to pole vault in junior high before going on to win four consecutive Class 3A state titles in the sport while in high school.

A rare feat that few accomplish, Ince said that winning four state titles didn’t seem like that big of a deal at the time.

“At the time, I didn’t realize how incredible it really was ,” she said. “Only after I graduated from high school did I realize how big a deal it was to accomplish what I was able to do. In the moment, it didn’t really strike me as being strange or extraordinary.”

Ari credits her friends with helping her stay grounded despite all of her accomplishments as a track and field star.

“My coaches and my parents were very proud of me, but my friends helped keep me grounded while I was winning all of those state titles,” she said. “I would win and then we would talk about it for like a day. That was it. It would be a teasing point occasionally, but that was it. It would be a big deal for a day or two, then people would move on. I think I am better off because I was treated that way.”

Ince’s record-setting days were far from over when her high school career ended. As a freshman and a sophomore, she helped lead Rice to back-to-back Conference USA indoor track championships.

As a senior, Ince broke yet another record as she cleared a height of 13 feet, 5.25 inches to break the Rice record for an indoor meet. She went on to raise that mark to 13 feet, 5.75 inches before graduating.

When it comes to her success, Ince says that it is just a lot of hard work and a willingness to try new things that have helped her do so well.

Those who remember her days at Gonzales high school would have to agree with her as she is on the record as having played six sports for the Apaches, including volleyball, basketball, track, tennis, softball and, yes you are reading this correctly, football.

No matter what the future may hold for Ince, there is little doubt that she would be ready and willing to adapt to change. It’s that willingness to try new things that she says young athletes should remember if they want to succeed.

“Those who want to succeed in the field of sports should remember not to lock themselves into one sport or one event,” Ince said. “If I would have done that, I would never have tried javelin and I think that is where my future is.”