All the Masters vaulters at Lone Star Pole Vault were talking about going to the Texas Senior Games in 2018.
I had been practicing for about six months by then and they said I should do it, so I figured, “What the hell?”
Bubba was competing and so I rode down there with him. In Masters pole vault, competitors can choose whichever starting height they want to start with for their first jump. Some might start at 6-feet and some might want to take their first jump at 8 feet or 9 feet. Young elite vaulters take their first jump at 17 or 18 feet, but that’s another story …
So at the Texas Senior Games, there are two groups: those who want an opening height under 9 feet, and those who want an opening height at 9 feet or higher. Pretty sure that’s what it was …
I was in the first group, of course.
Now, the idea for the various state Senior Games across the country is basically to qualify for the National Senior Games the following year. You either have to jump some minimum standard height for your age division, or finish in the top 3 or 4 overall. There were seven or eight guys jumping in my age group that year, so qualifying for nationals wasn’t in the cards for me.
So the meet begins.
Both men and women were jumping in the same groups, and there was a woman who just needed to clear a bar — any height — and she qualified for nationals, as there were no other females in her age group. So she asked for a bar at 4 feet or something, jumped over it, and she was done.
I don’t remember the exact opening height for me, but I will never forget that first jump.
I think the bar was set at around 5 feet, maybe 5-6. I was still pushing the pole then, and I probably ran from about four lefts (somewhere around 40 feet from the pit). I took off running and just about the time the end of my pole reached the box, I sort of blacked out. Everything went blank, and the tip of my pole completely missed the back of the box and hit part of the landing mat. When that happens, it’s not good.
I flopped awkwardly onto the left-hand side of the pit, but thankfully I didn’t hear any laughing behind me from the other vaulters or all the people sitting in chairs alongside the runway. Bubba was sitting in a fold-up chair and I picked myself up and walked over that way. He was smiling and I don’t remember anymore what he said, but it was no doubt something encouraging and I got ready to try again.
The next jump, I cleared 5-6 or whatever it was and felt a little better.
I think I was next up again when the bar went to 6-0, and my already sore left hamstring was screaming pretty good and I thought about calling it a day, but I figured, “Well, you’re here. Might as well go ahead and finish.” So I gave it three not-so-great attempts and was out. But I did it. First meet out of the way. Mission accomplished.
The next Sunday, it was back to work.
I also found out there was a way I might still qualify for Nationals …