Heather Millford wondered if she'd ever be an elite pole vaulter again. Chris Bryant considered, if only briefly, giving up the sport entirely.
Both Anne Arundel County vaulters -- Millford a senior at Chesapeake and Bryant a senior at Old Mill -- thought their careers were forever changed when they suffered serious injuries over the last two years. Last weekend at the state championship meet, both completed spectacular comebacks by winning individual state titles.
Millford vaulted 9 feet 6 inches to win the girls' championship, and Bryant cleared 13 feet 6 inches to become the boys' champion.
Both vaulters once doubted their careers would ever reach such heights. Bryant broke his ankle in a meet during his sophomore year and has been recovering since. Millford injured her ankle this winter a few days after the indoor county championship and had to pass up the indoor region and state meets.
"A state championship gets a little bit sweeter when you're not sure you're ever going to get to that level, and that's definitely how it was for Chris," Old Mill Coach Janet Liimatta said. "When he got hurt, he was vaulting about 10 feet, and he never thought he'd get back to that. Now he's vaulting three feet higher."
Both athletes' comebacks, coaches said, could be attributed only to tireless work. Millford, long one of the state's best pole vaulters, spent the first half of the season in rehabilitation.
"It's going to take a while to come back from, but I'm going to do it," Millford said after her injury. "This is the kind of thing that just tests your devotion."
Said Liimatta: "There's nothing harder than recovering from an injury and getting back to full form. But to get back and become way better? That's pretty remarkable."