Temple City Vaulter Marston Battles Back to Reach New Heights : Track: After battling a tumor and mononucleosis, he returns to his sport and sets a school record.


With his senior year at Temple City High winding down, everything appears to be falling into place for pole vaulter Brian Marston.

For the first time since he was a freshman, Marston has been able to compete for a full season and he is starting to see the rewards.

Three weeks ago, the 18-year-old broke his own school record by vaulting 14-7 1/2 at the Rio Hondo League track final.

He has also advanced to the CIF Masters Meet Friday night at Cerritos College, where he hopes to qualify for the state track championships for the first time.


Marston can also look forward to next season, when he will continue his career as a pole vaulter at Cal State Northridge.

It’s a future filled with promise that he never could have envisioned only a couple of years ago.

For Marston, it was a nightmare that began innocently enough with a trip to the doctor for dental X-rays early in his sophomore year in 1987.

Only in viewing the X-rays, he said, did a doctor discover an unusual growth developing in his mouth.

“I went to get my teeth X-rayed and as far as the doctor could tell it looked like I was missing a tooth,” he said.

So he referred Marston to Dr. Leonard Churchman, a Pasadena dentist who performed a biopsy on the growth in December of 1987.

“They went and did the biopsy and the doctor said he’d never seen anything like that before,” Marston said.

It was Churchman who told Marston to see Dr. H. William Fister, an Arcadia-based facial tumor specialist who determined that a large malignant tumor had formed in Marston’s sinus cavity.

Fister recommended surgery to remove the tumor, and he operated on Marston in early March, 1988, at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.

“By the time I had the surgery, from the time it (the tumor) was first discovered, it had really grown,” Marston said. “They said that if it hadn’t been stopped it would’ve eventually grown into my left eye. It wasn’t life threatening but I probably would’ve lost an eye.”

The surgery was successful but it was not without its side affects. To reach the sinus cavity, the doctor had to remove half of Marston’s palate and upper jaw along with five teeth. In its place they inserted part a false jaw and teeth.

“When they first took the biopsy I didn’t know what to expect,” Marston said. “Even up to the major surgery, I didn’t really know they were going to take all of that out. I woke up from surgery and it was like, ‘Wow! They did all that?’ ”

After a one-week stay in the hospital, Marston was instructed by his doctor not to start pole vaulting again for a minimum of three to four weeks. But after another week at home, Marston was back vaulting again.

Said Marston: “I went back to practice that week and (my teammates) said, ‘Can you jump?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know.’ So I jumped and my mom was freaking out about it because I wasn’t supposed to jump for at least three weeks after the surgery.”

At the time, he said, he simply wanted to return to his normal lifestyle as soon as possible.

“I just wanted to get started with my life again,” Marston said. “I didn’t want to worry about it because if you let something like that bother you, you’re never going to get anywhere in life.”

About the only thing Marston found that he couldn’t do after the operation was play the trumpet, which he had done since he was in the fourth grade.

So Marston channeled his musical energy toward the drums. He then become the drum major in the marching band as a senior.

Since his surgery, Marston said there have been no signs of recurrence of the tumor.

“It was a tumor but it wasn’t cancerous,” he said. “They got it all when they went in there and I’ve had several CAT scans since then and they’ve all been (negative).”

But Marston’s physical problems were not over. It was midway through his junior season when he developed mononucleosis.

That forced him to miss two weeks of school. The week after he returned, Marston matched his season best in the pole vault of 13 feet, 6 inches. But he said he never returned to full strength, which was a key factor in why he went out at 12-0 in the pole vault at the Rio Hondo League final and didn’t qualify for the CIF preliminaries.

It didn’t help that he had lost 15 pounds as a result of the illness. The 5-foot-11 Marston normally weighs about 150 pounds.

“My legs were about as big around as my arms because I don’t usually lift weights during the season,” he said. “So I never really got the weight back.”

His coach at Temple City, Bill Martin, said it has been an inspiration to the rest of the team that Marston has made a smooth return to his event this season.

“For a lot of people who had the kind of problems that Brian had, it would have been very easy not to come back or to slack off,” he said. “But I think Brian has always been a believer in himself and he just wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Marston credits his success to being able to practice every day. He practices mostly with an off-campus coach, Brian Yokoyama--a former Temple City pole vaulter who works with several high school vaulters in his track club called Team Ultimate High.

“I go off with Brian Yokoyama and the guys from Upland (High School) and you wouldn’t believe how much it helps to have some place to do workouts at all the time,” he said. “In pole vaulting, being out even a week can hurt you.”

Although he has spent most of his career focusing on the pole vault, Marston didn’t start out that way. As a freshman, he ran cross-country along with a longtime friend, Phil Sutliff. When Sutliff went out for track, he persuaded Marston to try the pole vault.

“He was really into track and he wanted to pole vault,” Marston said. “So he said, ‘Come on, let’s try the pole vault.’ As it turned out, I ended up being very good at it and Phil didn’t.”

Marston said he started competing on the freshman-sophomore team, but was moved up to the varsity after three meets. He posted bests of 12-6 as a sophomore and 13-6 as a junior although he never advanced past the Rio Hondo League final.

But he was a little concerned after he vaulted a school-record 14-5 1/2 early in the season. That is, until the league final rolled around.

“I peaked real early in the season,” he said. “I made 14-5 in a preseason meet and I just went down after that. I wasn’t really making the heights that I should have. But then at the league final I went 14-7 1/2.”

It was a case of good fortune, he said, that he has qualified for the Masters Meet despite a below par effort of 13-6 at the CIF 2-A Division final last week.

“I was real lucky to make 13-6 at the CIF finals,” he said. “I made it on my first try, too. The (assistant) coach from Northridge (Tim Warner) came by afterward and said I snaked through--like I just got it.”

Martin said Marston has demonstrated marked improvement from last year to this season, but said he can get better.

“He has some technical things that he can improve at but, technically speaking, vaulting is one of the toughest events in track and field,” Martin said. “It might be the toughest.”

When he first started thinking about college, Marston said he figured that he would have to be content with attending Pasadena City College, a two-year community college.

“I hadn’t heard from anyone,” he said. “So I was just going to go to PCC and get some of my freshman work out of the way and then find a (four-year) school where I could pole vault at.”

That was until he received a call from Warner about attending Northridge.

“Coach Warner called me up and he asked me where I was going next year and said, ‘How’d you like to go here?’ So I went out there and saw what they did with their pole vaulters and I liked it.”

Marston did not receive a scholarship to Northridge but said he will be a bona fide member of the team in every other respect.

“It’s not a scholarship, but this way at least I’ll be able to get any pole that I need,” he said. “The poles cost from $200 to $250 and there’s no guarantee that they won’t break.”

Although he is looking forward to college, Marston hopes he still has at least two more high school meets remaining. Having already reached the Masters, Marston is approaching the meet in his typically optimistic manner.

“I think I can pull it off,” he said. “I tied with three people at 13-6, so I really only have to beat them and one of the people at 14-0. I think I have a good chance knowing that I have already cleared that height.”

While he realizes it will not be easy, Marston already has developed a track record at meeting difficult challenges.