Pole vaulters dare to go to new heights

Missouri Southern mens pole vaulters Seager Wilson, freshman, left, Kyle Rutledge, senior, Matt Campbell, senior and Russell Ellis, sophomore relax after a practice in preparation for the MIAA conference meet.

Missouri Southern men’s pole vaulters Seager Wilson, freshman, left, Kyle Rutledge, senior, Matt Campbell, senior and Russell Ellis, sophomore relax after a practice in preparation for the MIAA conference meet.

Free falling after being thrown by a fiberglass pole isn’t everyone’s favorite leisure activity. But for four Southern men, it’s gained them prestige.

By claiming the top spots at both the conference and national levels, the Lions have a reputation to uphold.

Even though the team is experienced, it doesn’t mean its work comes easy.

“It’s a combination of a lot of events: you’ve got to run and jump and be strong enough to hold on,” said Russell Ellis, sophomore. “You have to be daring.”

He said pole vaulting is one of the most technical and difficult sports.

Senior Matt Campbell, who has been pole vaulting since the seventh grade, said what sets apart pole vault from other track and field events is the fact they risk injury and death every time they go up. They could land wrong on the mats or miss them completely, snap a pole or land in the box.

“You’re risking your life on a little bitty pole,” Ellis said.

Senior Kyle Rutledge, said he’s had some close calls with landing head first in the box. After an experience like that, he said it’s hard to get back on a pole.

“The hardest thing for a lot of pole vaulters is eliminating fear because you’re hanging upside down and free falling,” Rutledge said.

He said the first time someone goes up they get freaked out and if they break a pole it takes some people a month to come back and plant a pole to go up again.

Ellis summed up the situation when he said they put all their body weight on a fiberglass pole that is not much bigger around than a half-dollar coin.

“You’re relying on the pole not to snap and not to shoot you,” he said.

Campbell said this is why it is important for them to take care of their equipment.

Ellis said with all the pressure of things that can go wrong on a jump, they have to be mentally tough.

Another obstacle in becoming a better vaulter is “climbing poles.”

Campbell said they have to get used to new, bigger poles so they know what they’ll do when they go up.

In fact, Campbell said one of the things that makes a good pole vaulter is the courage to get on bigger sticks to reach greater heights.

Before they can get on a pole though, Rutledge said they have to have their timing and rhythm down.

“If you don’t have the timing, you’re not going to get on a pole,” he said. “If the rhythm on the run is not there then you don’t have the confidence to get on a pole.”

Rutledge said if this is the case, “you might as well pack it up and go home.”

In addition to the technical aspects of the sport, there are also the natural elements to consider when competing outdoors.

Rutledge said if they “no-height,” it’s often because they let the elements control them.

“If you’ve got the right pole and the right mind-set you can jump anything,” he said.

At the same time, even though fear is a factor, the men know they can’t let it dominate their performance.

“It’s like golf,” Rutledge said. “You can’t get worked up about it.”

Campbell said it’s important to be confident when one goes to jump.

“It’s a very dangerous sport if you come in timid,” Rutledge said.

He said if a vaulter comes in timid they might lean back in the box and slow down when they need to speed up, and they might be seriously injured.

“You got to come in confident to get in the box,” he said.

He also said one can’t jump tired.

“You have to be fresh and energized,” he said. “If you’re tired, it gets dangerous.”

Freshman Seager Wilson said vaulting is a day-to-day thing.

“You’ve got to feel 100 percent everyday,” Wilson said.

Rutledge stressed that keeping the drive to go out and do well everyday is important even though he said a vaulter is frustrated 50 percent of the time.

“Pole vaulting is such a head thing, You have more bad days than good days, and it’s frustrating,” Ellis said.

However, he said they have to keep building every week to get better.

“You can’t be satisfied,” Ellis said.

Because it is an individual sport, it takes daily disciplining and challenging one’s self to improve.

“There’s no such thing as feeling comfortable in pole vault,” Ellis said. “As soon as it’s comfortable you should be doing something else.”

Wilson said this is a good thing and a bad thing.

“It sucks because you can never have the perfect jump,” Wilson said.

While the team has had success in the past, the vaulters don’t take it for granted.

“What makes us good is we push each other and help each other out,” Ellis said.

The men hope to continue their success at the MIAA conference meet at Emporia State University Saturday.

After that, the Lions will host a Last Chance meet to qualify for nationals May 10. Campbell’s automatic qualifying mark of 17-00.75 earned him a ticket to the national meet in Emporia. Campbell also holds the University record at 17-02.75.

Campbell, the 2005 NCAA Division II outdoor champion and 2006 indoor national champion, hopes to do well at nationals before “hanging up his spikes.”

While he enjoys competing in the event, he says he is ready to move on and start a new chapter in life. Rutledge completed his NCAA eligibility in the 2006 indoor season as runner-up in the Division II national championship to teammate Campbell. However, his highest mark came this outdoor season when he competed unattached at Kansas University and cleared 17-06.50.

Meanwhile, Ellis and Wilson, ranked seventh and 14th in the nation, respectively, with marks of 16-06.75 and 16-00.75, hope to improve their standings on the national qualifying list to secure a ticket to the meet by the end of the season.

First, they compete in the MIAA conference meet at ESU Friday and Saturday.

“We want to dominate conference in pole vault again,” Campbell said.