Higgs Beach event benefits Key West High School track and field program

Elite pole vaulter Garrett Starkey defies gravity and uses physics (somehow) to propel himself over a 16-foot pole while practicing in Key West in October. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

“Look how high that thing is.”

“How the hell do they do that?” 

“I’d end up impaling myself in a flailing heap — without even leaving the ground.”

These and other observations are often heard at Key West’s annual Pole Vault in Paradise expo. (Yes, that last comment came from me during the 2020 event.)

The demonstration is free to watch and highlights the speed, strength, agility and coordination of about 80 elite pole vaulters, aged 15 to 67,  from 10 states, Mexico and Canada, while raising money for the Key West High School track and field programs.

Key West resident and pole vaulter Steve Hanes launched Pole Vault in Paradise more than three years ago as the signature event of the Key West Track and Field Club, with crucial help from Dave Perkins at Key West High School.

The event offers spectators a free, up-close look at the athleticism of elite competitors, all vying to beat their own personal bests — and the Key West island record for cash prizes. Everyone is invited to bring beach chairs and blankets while spending a day at the beach and watching truly impressive athletic feats. 

Pole Vault in Paradise has enabled the Key West Track & Field Club to donate $24,000 and over $10,000 in equipment to the Key West High School track team in its first two years, Hanes told the Keys Weekly. 

The event features two official runways and landing pits for a high-flying demonstration.

Elite athlete Garrett Starkey clears the pole during an October practice. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

“The athletes are always trying to beat their own personal bests or a state or world record,  which makes for a great spectator event that draws hundreds each year,” Hanes said. “And this year we’ve drawn even more elite athletes with the possibility of cash prizes.”

The runways are open all day Friday, Jan. 7 for the athletes to practice and spectators to watch. The main event starts with a pancake breakfast at 8 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 8 at Higgs Beach, between Ed Knight Pier and West Martello Tower. The first flights launch around 9 a.m. and will continue throughout the morning and afternoon as records are broken and personal bests are updated, Hanes said. Ten of the male vaulters have achieved personal bests over 18 feet high.

Food and beverages will be sold all day, while a DJ provides the soundtrack.

“Participant Anicka Newell, who lives in Texas and competes in Canada, competed in both the Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games and has jumped 15 feet 5 inches,” Hanes said. “And Billy Olson is a new resident of the Florida Keys who is expected to attend. He set the world record in 1986 as the first-ever vaulter to clear 19 feet indoors.”

All proceeds from the sale of merchandise and food and beverages, along with athlete registrations, benefit the KWHS track and field programs.

For more information or to make a donation, visit

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.