It was three years ago when Perham track and field coaches tried to introduce the pole vault to Ashley Hokanson, then a freshman. She had been a gymnast and a diver, so the transition was pretty fitting.
Hokanson took one look at it was said nope.
"I was really scared," Hokanson said. "I looked at all the pictures of pole vaulters and they're upside down over the box and cement. What if the pole breaks? How does this happen? I was really scared."
Things have changed a bit in the three years since. Hokanson is headed to her final state meet as the top seed in the pole vault, looking to repeat as a state champion. She's headed to North Dakota State for pole vault. She even just got two ducklings and named them Spirit and Essx after pole brands.
And Saturday she will try for her second straight state title in the pole vault at the Minnesota Class 1A state track and field meet at Hamline University in St. Paul.
"I never would've thought any of this would happen," Hokanson said. "When I was doing gymnastics, I never wanted to do college gymnastics and that was the only sport I was doing. That was my whole life. As I got older and joined pole vault I thought maybe I could do this. It was something I felt I could do for awhile."
The initial fear wasn't easy to get over. It was a business trip her dad took to Florida that changed everything. He told her she should come with him and give this two-day pole vaulting camp a try. She had just quit gymnastics and Perham coaches tried her freshman year to get her into pole vault, but to no avail. She went with her dad, did the camp, cleared 8 feet on her first day and fell in love with it.
"It was like gymnastics," Hokanson said. "I was upside down and it was a lot of body awareness stuff, which I really like. I just loved it."
She did pole vault for Perham her sophomore year and has climbed ever since, finishing third at state as a sophomore, winning the state title as a junior and returning to the state meet seeded No. 1. She's seeded at 12 feet (based off the section meet), which is 9 inches better than any girl in Class 1A. She hit 12-6 in late April, which is the best vault among girls in Class 1A.
Perham pole vault coach Ryan Beachy has been coaching pole vault since 1998. He said Hokanson is the best pole vaulter he's coached.
"With the knowledge of the body with diving and gymnastics, it goes into the same type of stuff as pole vault," Beachy said. "Her upper body is so strong. In order to be good at anything, you have to personally take an interest in it. She researches, she works out, she goes down to camps. Being really at something requires more than showing up for practice."
Hokanson doesn't mess around. She's a big fan of the show American Ninja Warrior, where men and women compete in an obstacle course that tests strength and endurance. The hope is to advance to the nationals finals and achieve "total victory," which only two competitors have. The show began in 2009.
Hokanson and her dad built some parts of the obstacle course in her dad's shop.
"It's really good for your grip strength and shoulders and strength in your upper body," Hokanson said.
Saturday will be it for Hokanson's pole vaulting career at Perham. She'll put on her lucky white Nike socks, listen to her country playlist that she titled "Gold" and will try to bring another state title home from St. Paul.
"It's really sad, but I'm excited for next year," Hokanson said.
She's got a message for the freshman version of her who didn't want to try pole vault.
"I'd tell her just do it, just try it," Hokanson said. "I didn't think I could do it, but here I am."