Pole Vault Stories
Welcome to our pole vault stories archive, below are real stories written by actual vaulters or people who witness a vaulting event. Feel free to contact us if you'd like to add your story to this archive.
Mitsi grasped the fourteen foot pole in her hands, holding onto it like it was a lifeline. This was her first competition, and she was beyond nervous. She could hear her teammates behind her: the low murmur of conversation, an occasional scuff of a shoe on the track surface. They were trying not to disturb her concentration, but she could feel their anticipation rising. They were as anxious and tense as she was - but they showed it more.
Her coach walked up behind her; she knew who it was by the sound of his step. Laying his hand on her shoulder, he radiated a calming presence. She took a deep breath.
"You'll be fine once you start your approach," he said, and she nodded without speaking.
In the distance, the crowd of parents and students milled in the grandstands, running up and down the stairs and crowding the rail at trackside. She could faintly hear their voices rise in hopeful enthusiasm. This meet was the first of the season, and excitement was high. The school should do well this year - she just hoped she could add to their competitive edge.
It had all come down to this: she was the first vaulter up today. All the practice, all the special equipment, all the drills and the sprints and training had all distilled into this one moment.
Muscles relaxed and loose from her warm-up exercises, she walked in a small circle, shaking out any last-minute kinks and flexing her hands around the smooth fiberglass pole.
The public-address speaker barked to life on the nearby light standard.
"Ok, folks," it blared. Mr. Redding, the athletic director, always did the announcing for the meets. "We're ready to start. Let's see, our first contestant is Mitsi Sweeny, freshman at Dunwiddie High. Ready, Mitsi?"
She nodded, although she wasn't sure he could see her that far away. A slight breeze stirred the air, blowing across her cheek with a cooling touch, and suddenly she was ready. She felt strong, confident, prepared.
Her coach walked with her to the center of the runway, where he watched her take her position.
"Ok, you're good. Start from right there." Despite their unending hours of practice, he was worried. She could hear it in his voice.
"I'll be fine," she said.
"Ok, David's in position," he said, looking down the runway. David was her brother, and was standing just off the track, right at the point where she would need to plant the fiberglass pole to begin her vault.
"Go away," she said, but gentled it with a smile. "I'm ready."
"Ok," he backed up, off the track and out of her way. "Don't forget, count your steps."
"I got it." She faced forward, and took a deep breath. She nodded once, to herself. She could do this.
Hefting the pole, she held it in the correct position, and exploded down the runway. She gained full speed within her first three steps, leg muscles reaching out in a smooth and efficient way, each stride jarring powerfully along the track. She ran with knees high, legs pumping, adrenaline racing, trying to remember all the instructions her coach had pounded into her head: hit the box at full speed, don't slow down, muscle your way through the takeoff.
Her shoes thudded on the track, as she powered down it. As she approached, she could hear David's voice: the calm amid the storm of noise from the crowd and her own heartbeat.
"Ok, ok, get ready, you're almost there," he said
From high above, atop the cross-beam standards, she could hear the alert monitor with its thin target beep, honing her in on her destination.
"Ok, now... plant!" David shouted, and she thrust the pole downward and flung herself into the sky.
Feet forward, body twisting in mid-air, she reached for the cross beam. She was flying, torn loose from earthly restraints, the sound of the crowd and David's voice merely background noise, unimportant. Now the warning beacon was below her, and she knew she'd made it, turning now, preparing for the landing, which came with a solid thump. She bounced once, and grunted. She was down, gravity had returned.
She rolled, sliding off the landing pad, and stood up, hands raised in exultation. She'd done it! Dimly she became aware of the screaming of the crowd, the spectators, her coach, her brother, her teammates, all yelling, crying, sharing in her celebration.
After a moment, the public address system came to life again. Mr. Redding cleared his throat.
"Folks, I don't know if you're all aware of what you just witnessed, but Mitsi Sweeney is legally blind."
How I became a pole-vaulter is a long story. But I'll make short of it.
Ever since I can recall, I have been scared of heights. When other kids my age were climbing trees or crossing canals filled with water, with long bamboo poles, I would seek refuge behind my mother's enormous frame, paralyzed with fear that I might also be dragged into their game.
"I don't understand your son," my 6'3'', Herculean father would lament to my Mom. "In fact, I sometimes find it hard to believe I produced this mouse. Look at the wimp, he starts shaking like a dry, autumn leaf, even while climbing a few steps."
Dad's words were harsh but they happened to be true. I was afraid of all tall things --- buildings, trees, stairs, vertical columns, hills or mountains. I was even afraid of taking the small flight of stairs to my bedroom. Every trip that I made was a nightmare. I had to pluck my breath in, count ten and go on in one rapid shot because I knew that if I paused even for a moment, or dared look down, I'd either fall or faint. The thought made me dizzy and cold.
The worst thing was that nobody understood my fear. Not even my kid sister Swetlana. If there was anybody in this whole world, I would have gladly laid down my life for, it was Swetlana. She kept all my secrets, defended all my actions, fought all my battles and had bailed me out on so many occasions that I eventually lost count of them.
But even Swetlana did not understand my fear. Although far younger to me in years, she once tried explaining to me that the world was not a flat pancake but rather like our grandma's skin full of creases and folds. Nonetheless, all analogies failed to correct my equilibrium and she learned to accept me as I was.
But not my Dad. For him, my irrational fears were a terrible disgrace. They were a severe blow to his macho image. For someone, who loved all kind of outdoor sports, this was a cruel joke played by nature. For him, who had nursed one fond hope from the moment he lay eyes on his infant son --- that one day, I would grow up to be a world champ, this was the worst irony.
He was most unprepared for the fact that far from excelling at any kind of sport, I would in fact, need psychiatric care to lead a normal, happy life. Not that Dad didn't try to help me. Sometimes, he would put me on his lap and explain that pole vaulting is not about heights. It's about distance. It's also about how much energy you and the pole can conserve to land farthest on the field. It is also about freedom and national pride. According to my Dad, pole-vaulting was a sport; Russians had an innate gift for.
We had to excel in it. But reading the fear growing big in my eyes, as I listened to his talk and tales of his own exploits, he could not delve too deep into the subject with me.
Once, I remember, Dad took me to watch a match. Before we left for the venue, Dad showed me a vaulting pole, taking pains to explain how it worked, the technique, the material from which it's crafted etc. He also demonstrated how the pole bends by almost the same degree as the weight of the vaulter, before straightening out to throw the vaulter far off on the field. I watched him sullenly and said nothing.
Then when we were seated at the pavilion and the match began, something got into me and I began to yelp like a crazed puppy. Everybody turned their heads in our direction. Irritated, my Dad brought me back and never suggested we go to a match again. As far as he was concerned that was the end of his dreams for me.
Then one day, while Swetlana and I were alone in the house, I thought I heard a loud scream. It sounded like Swetlana's. Alarmed, I dashed for the door and saw smoke bellowing out of her upstairs bedroom She was knocking madly at the door but it was jammed and she probably could not open it. Meanwhile, the room was up in flames.
I reached for the stairs and just as I was about to ascend, my old fears returned. Briefly, I felt paralyzed. Just then, I heard Swetlana's cry again and in one swift motion, I was beside her door, banging at it with all my might. It gave way and I swooped up my baby sister in my arms, tears welling into my eyes.
Later that evening, Dad refused to believe my Mother's account of the incident. Shaking his head violently he said, "Impossible. Not this boy." he said. "But, Dad, its true. Peter did save my life," piped in Swetlana, who was all bandages from the burns and put on the couch.
The truth, I realized, I had not just saved Swetlana. I had also saved myself. The fear never came to haunt me again and I grew up to be a pole-vaulter.
As you would all realize, some tales do have a happy ending.