Patterson is working hard to achieve those goals, however, she already possesses the top prize for any high school athlete — a college scholarship.
Patterson signed to attend Jacksonville State University Wednesday at Woodland in front of family, friends and coaches as she will continue her pole vaulting career next spring.
“It was a small town like Cartersville and I really like the coach. He was basically a dad to the team,” Patterson said of why she chose Jacksonville State. “It’s small. It doesn’t seem like a Division I school when you get there because everybody is, basically, like a family there.”
Patterson began pole vaulting her freshman year and has taken to the sport, placing eighth and fourth at state in her sophomore and junior seasons, respectively. Patterson says her personal record is 10 feet, 7 inches.
“It’s still a fairly new event for the lady sports, so it’s good to have somebody who has been able to score a lot of points for us over the years because of her ability to score in something that not a lot of schools even have,” Woodland track coach David Holloway said.
“I was directly her pole vault coach last year, and she was outstanding when I got here and has gotten better as we went along. She was a great pole vaulter before I even got here. We have just worked on getting her to that next level where she wants to be,” Woodland swimming and track coach Matthew Landolt said. “When I heard I had some pole vaulters here, I was excited to see. When I came in she was a 9-6 coming in and we knew that 10 foot was that goal. Now we’re trying to get her to that 11-foot mark.”
Patterson is the school record holder in her event despite only participating in the sport for three years.
“The first week of practice, I did not want to go. I was so scared but I just kept saying, ‘I can do it. It’s only 6 feet. I can just step over that if I need to.’ And I just kept trying and trying and it just clicked, I guess,” she said. “I actually wanted to do it my freshman year in college and that’s why I stuck with it because I was having fun every day. I wanted to vault all day long.”
Patterson has a 12-year background in gymnastics, a common theme among pole vaulters.
“She has a cheerleading and gymnast background and that gives her upper body strength and flexibility, which are good foundations for doing the pole vault,” Holloway said of Patterson. “She’s gone to camps and gotten some additional week-long work in really pounding in the technique and stuff like that. She puts in the work she needs to get to the next level.”
Even while participating in cheerleading and swimming, Patterson has found time to work on her craft.
“She loves it. During our swim seasons, any time we have a day off, she’s over at the private club she vaults with just to get extra jumps in. She did it pretty much all winter long while we’re having meets,” Landolt said. “I’m like, ‘Sam, no pole vaulting this week; we have a meet.’ But her heart’s in it.”
When Patterson graduates, she will have left a legacy at Woodland. Not only is she Woodland’s record holder in the pole vault, but she has taken an active role in teaching younger vaulters.
“She’s an excellent teammate. She is one of the leaders in that area,” Holloway said. “She’s the expert, whether its boys or girls, she’s the one that takes over and helps them through. She probably knows more than our coaches now. If she ever decideds to, she would make an excellent coach some day.”
“I do take pride in helping. When I started, we didn’t really have a coach. He came maybe once a week. Freshman year, it was really hard for me to do it, and I went to the meets and I really didn’t know much about the sport,” Patterson said. “Last year, I started on a year-round team and I go to meets all over different states. It just showed me that [other Woodland pole vaulters] need someone to help them.”
Patterson hopes to translate her skill for working with athletes into a career. She plans to study exercise science at Jacksonville State and then bridge into physical therapy.
“When she was in gymnastics, she broke her growth plate on the uneven bars and that’s how she go into the physical training part,” Patterson’s father Bill Arndt said. “It just clicked. Sam enjoyed going to [physical therapy]. She was in there for almost a year and she enjoyed going in for her treatments. Physical therapy and sports medicine, that’s all she’s wanted to do for years.”
As for her pole vaulting goals, Patterson believes she can win a state championship this year and then go on to help Jacksonville State. But first, she wants to enjoy her senior season.
“I really like pole vaulting,” she said. “It’s not as stressful to me as gymnastics was. You just jump over a bar and land on a mat. I mean, you’re defying gravity.”