Jenna Calandro and Jake Feinstein are two very different yet, in many ways, similar athletes. Both are track and field standouts — Calandro a pole vaulter and Feinstein a distance runner. Calandro is starting her senior year at Newtown High School, and Feinstein is about to begin a new chapter in his student-athlete career at Providence College. Both have raked in numerous awards and honors, championships, and record-setting performances, and continue to go the extra mile and soar to new heights — literally in the case of Feinstein and Calandro, respectively — in track and field.
Not Always A Pole Vaulter
Calandro earned All South-West Conference second team accolades, was an All New England honoree after placing second in the New England Regional finals, and was runner-up in the State Open this past spring. She was also named to the All SWC Academic Team in her junior season.
Even more impressive is that she was not always a star in track and field. In fact, Calandro didn’t even start competing until her sophomore year at NHS. Calandro did gymnastics from 2005 through 2010 and participated on the NHS gymnastics team as a freshman. She left the sport as a level 8 gymnast and gave cheerleading a try before getting involved with the track team in the spring of her second year at Newtown High. She instantly fell in love with pole vaulting and decided to quit cheerleading to spend more time learning the field event. Once her junior year rolled around, Calandro ran cross country in the fall and did indoor track in the winter.
“Jenna is unique in the fact that she is just entering her senior year and is ahead of other girls in our state regarding her performance,” said Doug Russell, her track coach.
Russell added that Calandro is moving in the direction of success achieved by Emily Savage, a recent graduate of Weston High, who won the New Balance championships this year and has been consistently clearing 13-plus feet. “Jenna’s commitment and dedication to the sport is definitely paying off,” Russell said.
Clearly, Calandro has some natural talent, but it took some getting used to the pole and plenty of practice to become good. Former NHS standout Lauren O’Connell, who went to the University of Connecticut to pole vault, sparked Calandro’s interest.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing,” Calandro recalls of her first days practicing the event. “I didn’t get very far.”
Not for long. Now, in fact, she’s Newtown High’s record-holder in the event. She pole vaulted an all-time NHS best of 12-foot-4 this past spring.
“Breaking your own personal best and getting better or going up a foot is such a good feeling,” Calandro said of what she enjoys best about pole vaulting.
She also takes pride in doing something not many athletes do. “It’s just kind of a cool thing you say you can do,” Calandro said. “I think it’s really rewarding because you put so much into the event.
“It’s a really, really technical event,” added Calandro, noting that it requires running and using the entire body to have the proper technique to get way up over the bar.
Another thing that Calandro enjoys about pole vaulting is that she makes friends with opponents at meets because pole vaulters — being a part of a small group they comprise — have a bond, she explained.
She is in the early stages of college visits and recruiting, and still has her senior year — and a shot at state and New England titles — to focus on. “I really want to compete in college,” said Calandro, hoping to continue to follow in O’Connell’s footsteps — as well as those of Feinstein.
Feinstein Makes Run
At Collegiate Success
Feinstein ran cross country and competed in indoor and outdoor track during all four years of his Newtown High career. Throughout all of the seasons of his high school career, Feinstein took home nine first-team All SWC honors, five All-State selections, and four All-New England honors. Additionally, he is a two-time SWC cross country champion, a two-time champ in the mile and five-time champ in the two-mile run in the conference championships, and won a pair of Class LL two-mile titles. He’s the NHS record holder in the mile (4:17), two mile (9:12), and 5000 meter run (15:02).
“He is hands down the best distance runner, and maybe best track athlete, the school has seen in terms of accolades and anything else that can be used as a measure,” said Dave Foss, Feinstein’s cross country coach, who also guided Feinstein as part of the track coaching staff during Feinstein’s NHS career.
Foss, who ran cross country at NHS during successful seasons in the late 1980s and early 90s, has been a part of very competitive teams throughout the decades, and seen some ultrafast runners, but notes that Feinstein brings his talent to another level.
“His passion for the sport just was amazing and as he grew, he even brought the leadership to the table as well. I am lucky to have coached an athlete of his caliber and character,” Foss said.
Feinstein will run cross country and indoor and outdoor track at Providence College on an athletic scholarship. Feinstein received numerous phone calls from college coaches from July 1 after his junior year into the start of his senior year. He made officials visits to Providence, Northeastern University, the UConn, and Penn State.
“Choosing between the four was one of the toughest decisions I had to make, but I am fully confident that between the outstanding academics, a national caliber running program with wonderful coaches, and a beautiful campus in a nice city with a great social atmosphere, that Providence College is definitely the perfect place for me,” Feinstein said.
Prior to joining the high school cross country team, Feinstein ran an occasional 5K road race just for fun. Early success at Newtown High — he emerged as the top runner a few weeks into his career — led him to focus on running and give up playing basketball.
The distance standout’s favorite part about running is seeing his hard work pay off on paper, Feinstein says.
“There are certainly days where it’s harder than others to motivate myself to lace up my shoes, but watching my times continuously drop from freshman to senior year, along with numerous other guys on team, and seeing how my training and their training has paid off has really been the most exciting part of this journey, and has made me incredibly motivated to have a successful collegiate career,” he said.