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Sleepy Hollow News

A Champion Pole Vaulter Keeps His Illness At Bay

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May 27, 2024

By Tom Pedulla–

When Aaron Bell told his parents, Beatriz and Jason, about his desire to compete on behalf of Sleepy Hollow High School in the pole vault, they expressed their concerns.

His doctor thought it was a bad idea and recommended against it.

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Bell was born with Hemophilia A, a bleeding disorder. Since pole vaulters frequently strike the bar they are attempting to clear, resulting in bruises, the sport appeared to be a risky proposition for someone prone to bleeding easily.

Bell was undaunted. He had tried vaulting as a sophomore and, despite initial results that were not promising, he was determined not to let anything keep him from learning how high he could go.

I’ve been living with hemophilia my entire life and, at times, hemophilia defined a lot of things I did,” he said. “I kind of came to the point where I said, ‘I can’t let this define what I do with my life. I’m going to do what I want to do. If I have to take precautions, I will.’ “

Other than transfusions his mother learned to give him at home, he does everything possible to not allow Hemophilia A to limit him. He has literally soared since making that decision.

The Sleepy Hollow senior emerged as the Section 1 Class B pole vaulting champion. He received All-League, All-County and All-Section honors. He holds the school indoor record at 12 feet, six inches. He set the outdoor mark for the Horsemen at an even 12 feet.

How far has he come? When he was a sophomore, his personal best indoors was six feet. He really worked to get where he is. He earned every little bit of what he’s done,” said Paul Gersfeld, his coach at Sleepy Hollow. “Nothing has been given to him.”

Hemophilia does not define Bell. His work ethic does. That allowed for his dramatic improvement as a vaulter. And it helped him to produce a 3.7 grade-point average and gain admission to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He plans to major in finance there. “I’m not the most gifted, smartest person on earth,” Bell said. “But I have a very good work ethic. If I have to study for hours, I will study for hours.”

His ambition to continue to raise the bar in pole vault led him to travel to the Hudson Valley Flying Circus two nights a week. He would complete his practices at Sleepy Hollow, then ride with Sonya Greaves, his neighbor and a coach at Valhalla High School, to continue to refine his skills at the Flying Circus in Warwick, N.Y. Bell said of Greaves, “She’s amazing. I don’t know where I would be without her.”

Bell is conveying everything he learned to underclassmen at Sleepy Hollow who are pole vaulters. He devoted a significant amount of time to helping junior Carlos Almonte and sophomore Christos Polycarpou. “He’s almost like an assistant coach in pole vault,” Gersfeld said.

Bell noted that he was helped by seniors Henry Poret and Rafael Greene when he first started to compete. “I want to make sure pole vault stays as a big sport at Sleepy Hollow,” he said.

He dedicated his efforts this spring to classmate Tucker Junge, a close friend and an excellent baseball player who died of cancer on April 22. As for his own medical condition, he came to terms with that long ago.

“If you were to say ‘Do you want hemophilia to be gone from your body right now?’ I would say, ‘No’ because hemophilia is what makes Aaron Aaron,” he said, completely comfortable in his own skin.

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