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Lance Arietta dedicated himself to being a champion pole vaulter. He parlayed a relentless work ethic, competitive streak, ample self-confidence and a showman’s flair to secure a berth in the pantheon of all-time greats in Rockland track & field. He won two New York State championships, set the indoor and outdoor State records, and added an Eastern States title to his gold-medal haul.

Eccentric Outlook Well-Suited to Pole Vaulting 

There’s something about contorting your body upside down in midair that tends to make pole vaulters different than the rest of us. Call them eccentrics or daredevils, but there’s no denying some of the best athletes in track & field wind up with a pole in their hands and a notion to soar into the clouds.

Is there any doubt Lance Arietta fit the mold of a classic pole vaulter? Here’s a guy who hitchhiked along the Palisades Parkway to West Point – in a blizzard, no less – with 15-foot poles on each shoulder, just to get in his daily practice session. He lived under the bleachers at the Abilene Christian track for six months, again to find some quality training. He ran brutal hills with Kenyan elites in Texas and Mexico to build leg strength and endurance for his specialty. He even walked on his hands up hills at Tappan Zee, with his brother Rudy holding his legs up, to strengthen his shoulders for vaulting.

“The only person crazy enough to do these things was me,” said Lance, a left-handed vaulter who personified the southpaw’s reputation for flakiness. He offered these comments in 2007, when he was inducted into the Rockland County Track & Field Hall of Fame. “You find different ways to train so it doesn’t get boring doing the same thing day after day. I went wherever I could go to jump and train.”

Catapulting to the Top

Life as a vaulter was anything but boring for Lance. What started as a way to one-up his brothers playing high jump in their Blauvelt back yard turned into an infatuation with vertical lift that thrust the Flying Dutchman to unprecedented heights. He won the New York State outdoor crown as a junior and the State indoor title as a senior. In 1976, he broke both the indoor and outdoor New York State records. His outdoor clearance of 15 feet 10 inches toppled the previous mark of 15-4 ¼ set in 1974 by Andy Pintus of Half Hollow Hills. His indoor record of 15-4 ¼ eclipsed the prior standard of 15-0 set in ’74 by Paul Flint of James I. O’Neill in Highland Falls. Lance’s marks were not eclipsed by a Rockland athlete for 17 years. He still ranks No. 2 all-time among Rockland vaulters indoors and out, behind only Ryan Dall of North Rockland, a national champion in 1993.

Lance was Eastern States outdoor gold medalist his senior year, finally getting the better of archrival Bill Hartley of Southern Regional (Manahawkin, N.J.), to whom Lance had finished second two straight years. “That was a beautiful moment,” said Lance, who vaulted 15-10 that day. He also placed second (to Hartley) at the Penn Relays, and qualified for the 1976 Golden West Invitational in Sacramento, Calif., where he tied for fifth with Billy Olson, who set the world indoor record at 19-5 ½ a decade later. The Golden West meet served as the de facto national scholastic championships before the advent of a national meet much later.

Back-Yard Beginnings, Rapid Progression

Lance came a long way from the 9-year-old who competed against his older brothers Rudy and Wayne in a crude high-jump setup of sticks for standards and crossbar. One day he impulsively grabbed a larger stick from nearby woods and “vaulted” over the stick crossbar, thus christening his pole vaulting career. “Whenever I went over and it didn’t fall off, it was a good feeling,” he remembered. By eighth grade he was clearing 10 feet with a metal pole, then came the fiberglass pole and improvement by quantum leaps – 13 feet as a sophomore, 14 feet as a junior, and 15-10 as a senior.

Lance pursued his specialty with a passion, watching a videotape of Olympic champion Bob Seagren “till it broke” and attending vaulting camps by Seagren and Steve Smith – the first U.S. vaulter to clear 18 feet – for two summers in Maryland. He also found guidance and support from Tim St. Lawrence, the former state record-holder from Suffern and coaching guru, and brother Rudy, who studied the event and imparted invaluable advice on technique.

Pole vaulters need to be fast and strong, and while Lance would not win many footraces, he was exceptionally strong at 5-foot-9 and 145 pounds. Walking up flights of stairs on your hands will get you strong in a hurry. When he went to college at the University of Texas at El Paso, gymnastics and trampoline work were integrated into his training routine, and the hills he ran in Texas and across the border in Mexico kept his legs strong when he wasn’t doing vaulting-specific training. “I never had an off-season,” he said.

Lance attended UTEP for a year, followed by one-year stints at Miami Dade Junior College in Florida and American River College in Sacramento. He returned to UTEP to train and compete but serious knee and back injuries ultimately derailed his vaulting career. He retired with a best of 17-feet, 1/4-inch, good enough to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials. Lance later took up competitive bodybuilding and won some local and regional honors.

Sadly, Lance passed away in 2017 at age 59. He had moved to Florida in 1989 with his partner, Carmen, residing in Coconut Creek. Lance had one son, Brandon, 29. Lance worked as a transportation coordinator for the Iron Mountain records management company, supervising a fleet of 20 drivers.

Lance is the second member of the Arietta family to earn enshrinement into the Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame. A cousin on his father’s side, Wil Arietta, who was a 1941 Nyack High School graduate, gained election in 1985.