Case Western Reserve University pole vaulter Mark Kulinski runs down the lane— counting his steps in cycles of threes—with only a split second to decide to jump or bail out. He sticks the pole into the plant, bending the pole with his weight. The tension propels Kulinski up and over, as he acrobatically avoids the bar at all costs. He free falls to the mat, keeping an eye on the wavering bar the entire time. The result: A new school record of 16 feet, 1.75 inches.
Kulinski was able put all the technical aspects of pole vaulting together last month at the Jim Wuske Invitational at the University of Mount Union, where he broke a 25-year-old school record previously held by two-time NCAA Champion decathlete Kevin Luthy.
The jump also was high enough to qualify him for this weekend’s NCAA Indoor Championship, where he will begin the weekend tied with two other competitors for the No. 11 spot in the field. At this event, he hopes to jump almost a full foot higher (17 feet) and reach All-American status.
To accomplish such feats, Kulinski has been spending more time getting used to a new pole that would be used more toward the end of a meet, when the bar height is at its highest.
“Being efficient is probably the difference between an average day and challenging the guys at the top of the list,” he said.
The senior student-athlete is the lone Spartan representative to compete against the best in Division III track and field at JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem, N.C., March 13-14.
Heading into the competition, Kulinski is calm as can be.
“I don’t feel any different than usual,” Kulinski said. “I was happy to see that the men’s competition is in the afternoon because I’m not really a morning person with sports. I’d rather end a day with competition than start it.”
Kulinski’s record-breaking success in the event isn’t limited to the college ranks. At Venango Catholic High School in Oil City, Pa., he participated in football, basketball, and track and field, breaking the school record in the pole vault.
He credits his older brother for his start in pole vaulting and a bit of sibling rivalry for early motivation. In his senior year, Kulinski broke high school’s pole vault school record by 5 inches by jumping 14 feet, 3 inches.
Kulinski came to Case Western Reserve with plans to play football, but decided to pole vault as well. After a season as a Spartan quarterback, he stopped playing football to spend his time and energy pole vaulting.
The biology major spends an average of two hours practicing or strength training each day, while maintaining his studies.
“It is definitely a challenge to balance class work with practice and competitions, especially for labs requiring extra time away from class hours,” Kulinski said. “I’m usually pretty busy every day of the spring semester and, if I’m not, I’ll probably be catching up on sleep.”
Kulinski, like most CWRU student-athletes, sets his goals high in both the classroom and on the track—and he expects to be successful in both arenas.
After graduation in May, he plans to work toward a master’s degree in biology at CWRU and eventually go to dental school.
Read more about Kulinski in this week’s five questions—and see how he performed at the NCAA Indoor Championship by checking athletics.case.edu early next week.
1. What is your favorite city? Why?
My favorite city is Pittsburgh. My mom is from Pittsburgh and I have extended family that lives there, so that’s the most like home away from home.
2. In all of your education, who of your teachers had the greatest impact on you?
I can’t think of a particular teacher, but probably my science teachers throughout my years of education made an impression of me and helped increase my interest in science and biology.
3. When it comes to music, what artist is one of your “guilty pleasures”? Why?
I wouldn’t consider them a guilty pleasure, but when I want to listen to something a little different I pull out some of the oldies—Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Beatles. Some of the CCR songs even made it onto my warmup playlist for meets.
4. What one word would you use to describe yourself, and what one word would your friends use to describe you?
I would describe myself as “laidback” and my friends would describe me as “hardworking.”
5. What is your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
My favorite thing about Case Western Reserve is definitely the people. I’m glad to have been able to meet a lot of interesting people during my four years on campus.