Emma King — the Oakdale High School senior with four state pole vaulting titles and the highest jump by a high school girl in Maryland history — carries an air of confidence when competing that fits her accomplishments, but beneath the surface, uncertainty looms.
“I don’t know if people see it,” King said. “I still get very nervous when I’m warming up.”
She copes by always following the same routine. She eats her mother’s salmon, green beans and brown rice the night before and wears her white head band during each meet.
Even while in Blacksburg for the Virginia Tech Invitational a month ago, King ate a salmon salad at a restaurant the night before the meet. Of course, that didn’t change her demeanor once she reached the runway.
“I’ve probably never been as nervous — ever,” King said. “That meet was very nerve-wracking, but my adrenaline was going, and I just felt I was just on.”
King had verbally committed to Clemson University in late January, though the school was not her first choice. She desired Virginia Tech, but the Hokies hadn’t offered a scholarship, and if she hadn’t accepted Clemson’s offer when she did, it might not have been available any longer.
But she knew, competing in Blacksburg, she had one last chance to impress the Virginia Tech coaches.
“Pressure, for me anyway, is a good thing,” King said. “I like putting the pressure on myself, because I feel like nerves show that you care. The meets that I’m less nervous at, I normally don’t perform as well. I like to turn those nerves into drive and just the power to jump.”
King cleared 12 feet and six inches to win the event, and she said she came as close as ever to topping 13 feet. The performance earned her a Virginia Tech offer, and though she said the move was out of character, she de-committed from Clemson to accept it.
Before leaving for Virginia Tech, King — The Gazette’s girls indoor track and field Athlete of the Year — isn’t done at Oakdale. In winning the Class 2A indoor state title with a vault of 12 feet and six inches earlier this month, she broke the state meet record for any classification, indoor or outdoor.
“As good as she is a vaulter,” Oakdale pole vaulting coach Chris Heinze said, “She’s a better person.”
Heinze even trusts King to babysit his children, ages 3 and 5.
“She gets down, and she rolls around with them, whatever,” Heinze said. “The kids come to practice once in a while. She plays with them at practice. They see her, and they run to her, and they give her a hug.”
Oakdale coach Chris Lewis, who coached King as a freshman at Gov. Thomas Johnson before both moved to newly opened Oakdale in 2011, called King “somebody I knew you could build a program around.”
Of course, her accomplishments in the field played a large role, but so did her personality. Lewis said King wrote a personalized note for each Oakdale athlete competing in the state meet and passed them out on the bus to the Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex. That would have included sophomore Jackie McNulty, who, along with Middletown sophomore Erin Smith, joined King in clearing 11 feet at the Class 2A West Region meet.
“I really hope I inspire them,” King said. “I think that Frederick County vaulting has just grown so much in the past couple years, and I really just hope that it keeps improving after I’ve left. And I hope I’ve made a mark on Frederick County vaulting.”