After transitioning from cross country to weightlifting, Belleview High School senior Tara Branum was simply looking to improve on her sixth place finish in the pole vault at state last season, but this simple goal took a new turn.
This past December she dislocated her left elbow and fractured her arm snowboarding in Winter Park. The doctor at the base of the slope placed her arm in a sling for 4 days. On Christmas Eve, she was taken to the hospital to have her left arm repositioned.
With track season on the horizon, the chances of Tara vaulting were quite slim. Doctors told her she would be not to be able to compete in the event. But, Tara refused to give up that easily. The Branum family leaned on God for guidance. Her church family and friends joined the Branums in prayer for the circumstance.
Tara prayed that the Lord would use this situation for his glory and in accordance to his plan. The prompt answer to her prayer to due one of the loves of her life is definitely not taken for granted. On February 13, Tara was given a green card to begin vaulting. "I think God answered the prayer sooner then I ever imagined. I came back really fast. I'm amazed at how strong and how fast everything came together. The motion in my left arm increased dramatically in a couple of days," added the joyful and busy teen.
This resilient teenager has tackled more obstacles than most to reach the State finals in the pole vault. Branum defines relentless perseverance in her approach to prove doubters wrong. Much of her life has an uphill battle, but Tara views these challenges as part of God's plan. Her remarkable faith, the power of prayer, and her relentless desire to soar to new heights were the critical components of her comeback story.
Even more astounding is that Branum vaults left handed despite being naturally right handed. She has had a loss of motion in her right hand since the age of five. This is befuddling to anyone who would ponder this thought for a considerable amount of time. What might be more shocking is her miraculous return to the pole vaulting forefront in a few months.
Branum has cleared 9-6 thus far this season, but she's nearly returning to her original form. "It was hard getting on various poles. I'm almost where I was last year. I'd like to get 10-6 this year, and I'm aiming for 11. I'm trying to be clean in my jumps. I'm taking all of my coaches' recommendations. I'm working on my technique," added Tara on her vaulting.
The Branum family is a tight track contingent. Dad was a vaulter at Emporia State, and a form perfectionist to boot. Mom is the head track coach. Tara is the current pole vault star and is tutoring her brother to tackle the trade as a freshman.
Belleview head coach Cynthia Branum has had to watch her daughter go through this trial and help her emotionally, but feels the situation tested and strengthen her and her daughter's faith. "I think the hardest thing was trying to keep her emotionally pumped about track. The massive and intestive pain she went through was just awful, but the doctors were unbelievable," added Tara's mom/coach.
The Branums seem to have found a center point to work together on in as a coach and her mother, which is one of the most challenging balancing acts in all of sports at the high school level. Tara agrees.
"We have a good relationship. Her being there is something that is a really big positive. She challenges me to do things, like getting on a bigger pole, accelerate down the runaway. Like a lot of my coaches doing I couldn't do it. This is where you need to be. I actually excelled. I worked off the negativity from other coaches. Learning to vault left handed," said Tara of their relationship.
While driving home from UF on her cell phone, Mom interrupts and adds to what her daughter says, just like any Mom would do. She's learning to watch her daughter grow up and meet adversity head on right before her eyes.
Tara doesn't take her blessing lightly. Her story is an opportunity for evangelism to those she comes in contact with. "It really helped me with my teammates, and rehab. I can share my story with others about overcoming huge obstacles. It's a way I can share my faith," says the senior who plans to study marketing or advertising at the University of Florida. Whether or not she will vault for the Gators is still up in the air.
While her future vaulting career may be in doubt, her faith is not. One of her favorite verses, Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengths me" means even more now. "It gave me the determination and courage, work through the tear and the disappointment of the pain of it all. God isn't going to give me that I can't handle," added Tara who is also active is on her church's praise team.
With her career coming to the final climax, Tara is gaining momentum as the season progresses. The final outcome isn't as important as what she's learned throught her battle back to competition any now.