Mike Herauf was looking sharp.
He took off his jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his white button-down shirt. His silver tie was tucked neatly underneath a black vest, which matched his suit pants.
But instead of leather dress shoes to complete the look, Herauf opted for Nikes - gold and white with black laces.
As the sun beat down on him, Herauf picked up the vaulting pole he brought with him and began stretching.
It was June 13, 2016, and Herauf was set to take his senior pictures.
If yearbook photos are truly supposed to embody one's personality and values, Herauf chose an appropriate setting.
"A lot of people know obviously know I'm a pole vaulter - some people refer to me as 'The Pole Vaulting Guy,'" Herauf said, laughing as he recalled the scene. "That was just before going to a pole vaulting competition, so I wanted to get some training in, and my mom wanted to get some senior pictures. And me being a pole vaulter, I thought we could get some cool pictures. ... It was very difficult. I thought I was going to rip my pants every time down the runway. ... That was pretty funny, and we got some good pictures that day."
Pole vaulting has been a part of Herauf's life since he fell in love with it in seventh grade.
Several years later, he is now a senior at Dickinson High and widely regarded as the best Class A pole vaulter in the state. In the fall, he is off to the University of Minnesota to continue his track and field career as a decathlete.
In April of this year, Herauf cleared 15 feet, 2 inches, breaking Derik Brugger's 2004 school record of 15-1.5, and he has since vaulted up to 15-7, the second-highest in the state's Class A history behind Brock Larson of Fargo South, who vaulted 16-0 in 2011.
Herauf won last season's Class A pole vault title by clearing 14-9.5, beating Fargo North's Connor Fuglseth in a tiebreaker.
Herauf hopes to repeat as Class A's pole vault champion on Saturday, the second day of the North Dakota State Track and Field Meet in Bismarck.
"I'm not sure what the heights will be, if I'll do it, how I'll do it," he said. "But if that's the case, then that's what I've been shooting for my whole high school career. I've put a lot of time into it, and I'm hoping for the best."
Up in the air
The emotion felt while falling down is like no other. To know he has left the bar untouched is a feeling Herauf thrives on. "I'm getting goosebumps thinking about it," he said. "Sometimes I'll do a fist pump or I'll clap in the air or I'll scream on the way down, and seeing that bar still up there as you're coming down the opposite side, and you hear everybody cheering and screaming, it's the perfect moment."
Getting to that point - or even getting in the air at all - is the culmination of several other minute aspects of the event that make a world of difference.
"There's a saying in pole vault that 90 percent of what you do is on the runway and the approach," said John Wilson, one of Herauf's vault coaches at DHS. "Pole vault is a really unique event in that there's so many things you have to do right, so many mental and physical parts - from the runway, to the plant, to the takeoff, to the rock-back, to what we call getting inverted, to the turn, to the finish. There's just so much to do."
Herauf has always been an eager learner, however.
"Coaching a kid as talented as Mike and as driven as Mike, coaching him is pretty easy in a lot of ways because you don't have to do things to drive or motivate him that you have to do with other athletes," Wilson said.
Pole vault is not without its frustrations, but Jim Fahy, Dickinson's other vault coach, said Herauf has never been one to overreact to a missed attempt.
"He talks himself through it," Fahy said. "He's always looking where he's at. Mentally, he's always looking forward, and he never looks back. Does he have bad days? Yeah, they all do, but he's always looking forward because he knows what his potential is."
Herauf's training involves a lot of upper-body strength training and core exercises - he is also qualified for state in the javelin and the 300-meter hurdles, both of which he believes help make him a better vaulter as well.
He manages to stay in shape year-round by running cross country in the fall, playing hockey in the winter and playing baseball with the Dickinson Roughriders American Legion team in the summer.
Herauf was also a gymnast for a brief time as a child. That, coupled with what he calls a "daredevil" attitude, make him well-suited for an event that requires leaving the ground with limited control of where one lands.
He has improved from vaulting 9 feet as a seventh-grader to taking sixth in the state as a sophomore, and this season his height of 15-7 leads all qualified vaulters.
West Fargo Sheyenne senior Devin Schatz has reached 14-9, and Fuglseth, now a senior at Fargo North, has reached 14-6. Bismarck Century sophomore Brandon Schaffer is the only other vaulter in the field to reach 14-0.
"There's a lot of pressure. I'm really excited, and I think the nerves will be there all the time until it's over," Herauf said. "There's some really good competition, and I hope those guys jump really good too because having good competition at state is one of the best parts about it. You never really know what to expect."
The Class A boys pole vault competition is scheduled for 10 a.m. Central Time on Saturday. Just more than 24 hours later, Herauf will be delivering the lighthearted and humorous speech at Dickinson High's commencement ceremony in the school's gymnasium.
It will be a fitting end to a successful and sometimes goofy high school tenure.
"It will be a lot of things people can relate to. Most people know the personality that I have and how unorganized and how clumsy I am, and the things I do that don't make a lot of sense, and there are a lot of people who are that same way," Herauf said. "I can stand up there and make fun of myself for hours, and I'm glad I get the chance to hopefully bring some laughs on Sunday."
Once graduation is over, Herauf is unsure if he will play with the Roughriders again this summer. He may find a job or focus on his track and field training for when he arrives at the University of Minnesota.
For all of his accomplishments - athletic and otherwise - Fahy could think of nobody better to deliver a humorous goodbye to the high school years.
"I know that everybody looks up to him," Fahy said. "He's never, 'I'm too busy to do that.' He always wants to help those younger (teammates) learn. He's one of the best kids I've ever had, and I look forward to the success he's going to have in his future."