You could call pole vaulting the Dunford family business.
Mount Baker senior Nathan Dunford said he got the bug to give the sport a try with Bellingham Parks and Recreation pole vault coach Dick Henrie the summer before his freshman year because his father had competed in the event when he was in high school.
"My dad went 11-6 in high school," Dunford said in a phone interview. "He didn't have quite the coaching I've had. ... I wouldn't be where I am today without Coach Henrie and Coach (D.J.) Brown."
Dunford's younger sister, Katherine, a freshman at Mount Baker, also has taken up the sport and has already cleared 10 feet and qualified for the Class 1A State Tournament on Friday and Saturday, May 24-25, at Eastern Washington University in Cheney.
There she'll join her older brother, who hopes to add a second state title in the event.
"It's a family thing for them," said Brown, Mount Baker's pole vault coach, in a phone interview. "They're there at every practice - always encouraging each other and there for support. They're always smiling and always willing to help."
It's no wonder Dunford feels so comfortable way up in the air.
Dunford said he also loves climbing trees and climbing the rock wall at the Whatcom Family YMCA in Bellingham to get his fix for heights.
"I like the freedom that it gives you," Dunford said. "Just the feeling of being up there."
This weekend at state, Dunford hopes to reach even greater heights before wrapping up his high school career and heading to Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., to continue vaulting on the collegiate level.
"My goal is to jump 16-5 at state and take a jump at 17 feet," Dunford said. "At the beginning of the year, my goal was to jump 17 before I turned 18 so that I could say I jumped my age."
Time is running out for that goal, as Dunford's birthday is Thursday, May 30, and Friday's competition will mark his final opportunity.
Though Dunford enters as the third seed after finishing second at last week's tri-district meet with a leap of 14 feet, he has the highest mark in all classifications in the state this spring with the 16-1 he cleared at the 1A Northwest District Meet on May 10.
That's more than a foot higher than the 15-foot mark he cleared to claim last year's 2A state championship - a feat even Dunford admitted was "not something I expected after not making it to state the year before."
Despite being a returning state champion, Dunford said he hasn't felt any extra pressure this year from anyone else.
"He's such a nice guy, you can't paint a target on him," Brown said. "You want to jump with him, not against him."
But make no doubt about it, Dunford has raised the bar for himself.
He said he and Brown have focused heavily on his takeoff throughout this season in the hopes of helping him reach his lofty goals.
"We're trying to get him to be more strong off the ground," Brown said. "He's shown vast improvement over the last year. He's been able to move up to bigger poles and jump bigger bars, obviously."
Moving to bigger poles can be a disconcerting time for many vaulters, Brown said, but not for Dunford, who he said seems to look forward to the opportunity.
"He's a tough kid," Brown said. "Not everybody can do what he does. It's like he's loading a cannon and doing a handstand on top of it. You have got to be a little crazy to vault."
Crazy or just at home in the air - whatever you want to call it, Dunford definitely seems to have it.
"I've always been fairly confident in my ability," Dunford said. "You have to be confident when you run down the runway. If not, it's just not going to work."
In addition to confidence, Dunford brings an outstanding work ethic to the table, Brown said.
"He's out there having fun, but he's all business when he is out there," Brown said. "He wants to jump high bars. He wants your input. He takes the information you give him, and he puts it into action. He just has this outstanding work ethic and this drive to get better."
Of course getting better in his sport means that Dunford is going higher - something neither he, nor any of his family members, seems to mind.
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
CLASS 1A/1B STATE TRACK AND FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS
When: Friday and Saturday, May 24-25
Site: Eastern Washington University, Cheney
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.