When I was in high school I entered into the amazingly weird world of pole vaulting. My track coaches approached me one day and said, "you're tall and have broad shoulders (exactly what every insecure high school girl loves to hear) let's get you on the pole vault team." And so it began. Let me tell you though, this beginning was not easy. Let me share with you 13 confessions from a pole vaulter.
1. Starting out you're like a fish out of water.
People don't take to the skies naturally. So attempting to shoot yourself into the air on a 12 foot pole is not exactly second nature at first. When I first started I made it probably six inches off the ground before flopping awkwardly onto the mat. It was embarrassing.
2. You fall on your butt. A lot.
So this thing happens sometimes where you spring load your pole but instead of using that momentum to swing up, it shoots you back onto the track. This is the worst. You fall on your butt and the pole usually flies far away from you making everyone turn and gaze upon your sprawled out self.
3. You're first successful jump hooks you forever.
At my first meet I cleared 6 feet, 6 inches, which isn't stellar, but for me it was enough to make me fall in love. Clearing a bar, no matter how high, is a high of its own. You are forever chasing that free-falling feeling.
4. Pole vaulting doesn't get enough credit.
Many people aren't even sure what it is exactly. It is a growing sport, but people still don't understand the amount of effort, time and dedication it takes to become a truly successful pole vaulter. It takes speed, balance, agility, strength and an incredible amount of focus and calculation to make a successful jump.
5. You look insane on the runway.
This isn't the kind of runway for looking great. Personally, people said I looked like an ostrich when I took my runs. Truly, no one, not even the world champion, can make a jump without looking a little bit ridiculous. It's literally impossible but at the same time no one cares. You're too focused on making the perfect jump to worry about what's happening to your face.
6. There is so much to think about.
From finding your step, to locating your grip, to planting at the right time, to leaving the runway at the right spot, to swinging at the perfect moment, to curving your body at the right angle and everything else that goes on in between, every single jump takes intense calculations and planning. After every jump there are plenty of adjustments made. No pole vaulter relies on strength and speed alone.
7. You're probably going to break a pole at some point.
And it is not as cool as it sounds. When you break a pole while you're in the air, you're pretty much guaranteed something is going to hurt. Plus, each pole can cost anywhere between $200 and $700.
8. People will definitely tease you about working with poles.
You get it, I'm sure.
9. Even though track is a team collaboration, when you're pole vaulting you're competing against yourself.
Technically, at meets you're jumping against lots of other schools or teams. But in reality, you're trying to beat your own PR (personal record). Because of this, pole vaulters become like a big family. We celebrate when someone clears a bar and we comfort each other when we don't. We might be enemies on the track, but out in the field we're pals.
10. The bruises are constant.
There is never a day when you walk out of practice not completely beat up. From slicing your legs with your spikes, whacking yourself with the pole and smashing into the runway... everything hurts.
11. You get to use awesome training techniques.
From water vaulting to sand vaulting, as a pole vaulter you get really comfortable doing your thing in any environment. Plus, it's a whole lot of fun to hit the pool and pole vault at the same time. Two of my favorite things in one!
12. You take an ice bath pretty much every day.
And pretty much every day you hate your life.
13. When it's over, you miss it infinitely.
I had to stop jumping my senior year after a couple knee surgeries, and to this day I dream about pole vaulting. It's the kind of thing that once you've done it, you'll miss every minute you're not doing it. Yes, even the pain and embarrassment of a bad jump.
Pole vaulting is the kind of sport that people don't really understand but are fascinated to watch. It truly is amazing to see people like Jen Suhr and Renaud Lavillenie setting world records and soaring through the air. Next time you're at a track meet, I highly encourage you to go check out what's happening at the pit. You won't be disappointed.