The 2019 National Senior Games were in June in Albuquerque.
I rented a car, strapped my poles to the side (by this time, I had acquired a pole bag and not one but two poles, all courtesy of … who else?), and I drove straight through to Albuquerque, arriving the day before the pole vault competition began. I checked in to the hotel, stashed my poles downstairs, and drove over to the University of New Mexico Track and Field and Sports Complex, to make sure I knew where to go. I met up later with my new friends, Cyndy and Jeff, and we had dinner at some Mexican place and then headed back to the hotel to rest up.
When I arrived at the stadium the next morning, it was an amazing sight. More than 13,000 senior athletes were registered for this thing — and I was one of them! After quitting sports when I was 15 due to being a knucklehead — one of my bigger regrets in life — here I was, an athlete again. Competing in a national competition.
It felt pretty damn good. Hell, it felt great.
I made my way over to the pole vault area and checked in, then got ready to warm up. I was so nervous, I put my knee brace on the wrong leg and didn’t realize it for about 15 minutes. A fellow Texas vaulter from College Station named Brad asked me how I was doing and I told him what had happened. He laughed and said, “Nothing to be nervous about. Have fun!”
I don’t know if it was the altitude there in Albuquerque or the nerves or both, but I could barely breathe and my stomach was tied in knots as I jogged up and down the track, stretched, did some vault drills, took some practice jumps. Eventually, I settled down.
When the time came to get started, guess who was up first?
As the officials worked to clear up some sort of confusion about something, I stood there on the runway, pole resting on my shoulder, and looked around the stadium. It was amazing.
Finally, they were ready.
I think my opening height was 6-6 or something and I cleared that easily. Kept jumping and kept clearing. Things were looking good, and then five jumps later, Cyndy came running up with a big smile on her face as I climbed off the mat and said, “Was that a P.R. (personal record)?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
I went over to one of the officials holding a clipboard and asked what height I had just cleared.
It was 8-feet, one-half inch.
Sure enough. A new P.R.
Good thing I didn’t know that before I jumped or I probably would have psyched myself out.
The bar went up another six inches, and after a few other guys made their attempts, it was my turn again. My friend, Don, who wound up with a gold medal after clearing 12 feet, was there and I asked him if I should back up a stride to 6 lefts. I think the most I’d ever run before was 5 lefts (left foot hitting the ground five times before take-off), but I was looking at an 8-6 jump. 8-6!
“Are you comfortable with 6 lefts?” Don asked.
“I think so.”
“OK, then,” he said.
Up to that point, I had been jumping great, but now I started thinking too much. Thinking too much instead of just doing. So I failed to clear three times and that was it for me. I could have and should have made that next bar, but I was still a happy camper. I wound up in 8th place.
A top 10 finish in the National Senior Games.