Ryan Bracht’s relationship with his older brother Jesse eroded to such a low that they wouldn’t talk to each other for days.
Separated by three years in age, they battled both physically and vocally as alpha-male types who liked to be in control of situations. They are “strong-headed,” Jesse says, while brother Alex, the youngest of the three siblings, is more easygoing.
Their head-butting made for difficult times for each other, and their family as well.
“But he asked me to stand at his wedding as a groomsman,” Ryan said. “That was a moment that I won’t forget. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
It was a step forward for the brothers, but then things got complicated again.
Ryan, a Crescent Valley High School senior, won the pole vault at last week’s Mid-Willamette Conference track and field district meet to qualify for state for the second straight year. The pole vault competition at the two-day state meet — held at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham — is Friday, slated to begin at 2:30 p.m.
The wedding, where Jesse will marry Erin Foreman of Cottage Grove, is also Friday, set for 5 p.m. at Circle Church of Christ in Corvallis.
Jesse and Erin were engaged in July 2017 and a wedding date was set about a year ago. The 5A boys pole vault was held on a Saturday in 2018, so the Bracht family believed they could safely assume it would be on a Saturday again this year.
They learned the bad news a few weeks ago, when the tentative schedule for the state meet was released. Jann Bracht, Jesse, Ryan and Alex’s mom, sent a letter to the OSAA, the state’s governing body for high school athletics and activities, laying out the circumstances and asking if a change could be made in the schedule.
The OSAA responded, acknowledging the conflict but also explaining that the schedule can’t be adjusted for one athlete.
Knowing that his brother would likely have to choose between the meet and the wedding, Jesse made sure his brother understood it was Ryan’s choice and that there would be no hard feelings either way.
“He’s a great athlete, and I didn’t want him to feel the stress of it,” Jesse said. “Telling him that, he got pretty emotional, and he was like, ‘Well, I want to be there.’ But I’m like, ‘Yeah, man, but you’ve got a chance to place at state.’”
Ryan does. He enters the state meet tied for the fifth-best 5A mark of the season at a personal-best 13 feet, which he cleared three weeks ago. The top eight place in the meet.
But competing would also mean missing out on a significant time for his family.
“I knew deep down I can’t miss my brother’s wedding,” Ryan said. “That’s something that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. His high school sweetheart. You don’t miss that kind of thing.”
Jesse, a certified personal trainer, and Erin, a George Fox University student, met almost seven years ago at a church camp near Bend. They exchanged phone numbers, became friends and have been together ever since.
Jesse said having Ryan at the wedding is important to Erin as well because she has gotten to know Ryan these past few years.
Jann Bracht was sitting in the staff room at Cheldelin Middle School, where she works as a substitute teacher, and learned that the husband of Cheldelin teacher Theresa Parrott was a pilot.
Jann contacted Bob Parrott, a Crescent Valley staff member who is also on the Oregon State University Flying Club board of directors. He agreed to fly Ryan to Corvallis after he is done competing Friday for what she described as “a reasonable cost.”
CV athletic director Craig Ellingson will drive Ryan from the track to Troutdale Airport, about a 10-minute drive north. The flight from Troutdale to Corvallis Municipal Airport is roughly 35 minutes.
It wasn’t until about two weeks ago that Ryan learned he wouldn’t have to choose between his brother's wedding and the pole vault competition if he was able to qualify for state again.
“I cried a little bit. Definitely very emotional,” he said. “To have people go through so much trouble … not just my family, but friends reaching out, everybody trying to find ways to do both. To say I feel special is an understatement.”
Should Ryan claim a top-eight spot and place, there won’t be time to wait for the awards ceremony. Raiders pole vault coach Dave Gable will accept the medal for him.
There’s no time limit in the pole vault, and with 14 entries, the competition could go on for a while. But the family is willing to hold off the start of the wedding ceremony for a short time if Ryan is close to arriving.
Efforts will be made to get him there.
“It was my husband’s idea, and he just said it’s the only way he’s going to make it on Friday of Memorial Day weekend,” Jann Bracht said.
Ryan says it will be bittersweet to be at state without his family to watch him. But he’s happy to be able to compete. Jann says it will be especially tough for her, a mom who likes to be at every event to cheer on her children.
“I wish they could be there, and I know they do, too,” Ryan said. “So it’s one of those things. I’ll do my best for them and everything they’ve done for me. I’ll just be excited to tell them all about it.”
This track season has been a redemption tour of sorts for Ryan, who reached state last year but failed on three attempts at the opening height of 12-6, his PR at the time.
He knew that was a possibility but still says it was a “very disappointing time” after improving his personal best by a foot over the previous season.
“This year I’ve used it as fuel to train and make sure nothing like that happens again,” Ryan said.
A strong bond
The strife between the brothers and Friday’s schedule conflicts aren’t the biggest hurdle the Bracht family has overcome.
This past Monday marked the 13th anniversary of husband and father Eric being declared free of throat cancer. Eric is an engineer in Corvallis.
“In a good way and a bad way, we get our strong-headedness from our dad,” Jesse said. “But he’s always been the rock of our family.”
Eric was there to break up the two older brothers when wrestling would turn into what Jesse describes as “tougher wrestling.”
It got easier for both when Jesse moved out of the family home soon after graduating from Crescent Valley in 2016.
Their friendship grew stronger and grew even more so when Jesse asked Ryan to be a part of one of the biggest days of his life.
“I’m hoping we’ll be able to move on. We’ve both matured, and it’s gotten better over the years,” Ryan said. “There’s still times where it’s very rough, and I’m hoping that maybe through this and the future we’ll be able to continue to mend this relationship.”