Rachel Proteau had no concept of proper form when she began high jumping at 10 years of age.
"I'm pretty sure I went over the bar sideways," she laughed. "I had no form at all. I tried all events, but I just had a natural ability for jumping and was pretty tall for my age group. I knew I needed some coaching to figure out my form."
Well, she's traveled light years since then and today not only holds the Oregon state record but also the No. 1 jump in the nation this spring at 6-feet, 1-inch. The national record is 6-4.
At this year's Class 5A state meet, the lanky senior from West Albany (Albany, Ore.)
cleared 5-5, 5-7, 5-9, a personal-best 5-11 and then she leaped a record 6-1 on her first attempt. It shattered a 39-year-old state record (6-0 3/4) which was held by Joni Huntley, who later won a bronze medal in the 1984 Olympics. Huntley also once held the national record as the first American female (any age) to break the six-foot barrier.
Huntley, who met Proteau a day after her record, told MaxPreps, "She's amazing. She's just a sweetie and I'm really proud of her. I hoped it (the record) would be broken. That's what records are for. I love the fact that she's very well rounded. For me jumping that high when I was that young gave me motivation to continue. I'll be ecstatic when she jumps 6-5 1/2."
An excellent athlete, Proteau also placed second in the state long jump at 17 feet, 6 inches.
"Ever since my sophomore year that was my goal — breaking the state record," she said. "I always knew I could do it, but doubts were creeping into it. I felt really good clearing 5-11 and didn't touch the bar at all. I completely surprised myself when I cleared it (6-1). A video showed that I kind of jumped up. I couldn't even process it. I couldn't stop smiling.
"I had a lot of room on that jump, which really excites me. It didn't feel like my best jump that I've had, technically."
Her coach since she was 10 years old, Kerri Lemerande, recalled, "She asked me if she should try to tie the record. I said, 'Absolutely not!' It was very exciting and the crowd was so involved. The announcer really helped with the crowd. I think she has a lot more in her. Her jump at the state (two inches over the bar) was 6-3. It was an amazing, beautiful jump. I think you'll watch her in the Olympics some year."
Lemerande has been behind her success from the beginning because Proteau's mother, Diane Nauman, asked her daughter, high jumper Kaila Lemerande, to help teach her the fundamentals.
Kerri Lemerande also was a talented high jumper in her day and was coached by Huntley at Oregon State University.
After literally starting from the ground floor, Lemerande said, "(Proteau) improved several inches each year. She was so willing and was just like a sponge."
In middle school, Proteau had an unusual problem — her long blonde hair kept knocking the bar off.
"It happened several times," she said. "At one point mom said, 'OK, this is a problem. Let me braid your hair.'"
She began making an impact as a West Albany freshman when she placed second in the state with a jump of 5-4.
However, her sophomore year put her on the big stage when she won her first of three state titles with a jump of 5-7. That same summer she won her age group during the Junior Olympics in Wichita, Kan. She just missed clearing 6-0 because her heel kicked off the bar. She qualified for the USA Junior Nationals in Eugene, Ore., where she placed second with a career-best leap of 5-10 3/4. Her summer ended with a fifth-place finish in the Junior Pan-American Games in Miramar, Fla.
Proteau's junior year was somewhat disappointing due to two injuries from playing volleyball. She missed a lot of practice and meet action, yet still won her second state title with a height of 5-7.
"I sprained both ankles at different times," she said. "I was out six weeks. I lost a lot of flexibility and explosiveness. That spring was really frustrating to me, because I had the ability to jump higher, but my body wasn't cooperating with me."
As she entered her senior year, Proteau continued to push herself.
"I've had to learn how to motivate and compete against myself," she said, due to the lack of great competition in the state tournament.
That motivation will continue to drive her this summer when she competes in the USA Junior Nationals in Des Moines, Iowa.
She has somewhat of a target on her back now that she holds the nation's No. 1 jump.
"That was my ultimate dream in high school — to be No. 1 in the U.S.," she said. "It feels awesome."
The West Albany star has a bright future and plenty of avenues to follow. She carries a perfect 4.0 GPA and is one of five valedictorians. She has a combination track/academic scholarship to Kansas State University where she plans to study bio-engineering.
She could coach some day.
Lemerande pointed out, "She's so bright and analytical. She's even helped some of the other kids. I've listened and she's right on."
Then there's an in-and-out modeling career since she was discovered in a Portland mall at the age of 14.
"She's very striking," Lemerande said of the 6-1 long-haired blonde.
However, three weeks in Manhattan, N.Y. this past summer rather soured her on modeling as a future occupation.
"I'm not a city person. Three weeks in downtown Manhattan was way too much for me," she laughed. "I had fun but I don't really care to repeat. I went to over 50 castings and booked just three jobs. I was told I was too tall and muscular. I'm not muscular (6-1, 145 pounds). At one point they told me my feet were too big. The only way I'd go back would be if they had a specific job."
If she had her druthers, the 18-year-old track star would pour everything into her favorite sport.
"You can go out and high jump and forget everything else. It's definitely an escape," she said. "As long as my body lets me, I want to continue high jumping."