There was nothing like pole vault.
Our equipment was flawed: old fiberglass poles with no give.
Coach knew nothing about it and left us to our own devices. Half a dozen guys tried.
Sprint hard as we might, the pole didn’t budge. We climbed it like pillaging savages.
Between stints climbing the pole—8 feet, 9 feet, 10 feet—and landing on the mats we dragged up from the shed, I was cajoled into running the 5,000: 3.1 miles. The distance didn’t bother me so much as the drudgery of going round the track 13 times.
I threw shot put and javelin, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Looking for adventure, I wanted to pole vault—or something like that. And there was nothing else like it.
Senior year I slashed a tendon in my thumb on a champagne bottle while celebrating New Years with friends. I had my arm in a cast until spring. No pole vaulting for me.
My final high school glory, Cross Country co-captain, had passed me by, unrecognized.
I wore the letter only because our best runners had already burned out.
*Continued from previous: reflections on legacies and how they’re passed down. Parts I, II, &III below:
I. Coach had me crouch at the plate.
Draw walks. That was the idea. I did as I was told.
The older boys in the line-up would hit me home.
I finished the season small and compact but lacking hand-eye coordination.
The Little League coach, who piloted F-16s with the Air National Guard, had trained me to shrug pitches.
But shouldn’t he have had me reaching for the stars?
A few seasons of that and I tried out for middle school ball with bleak prospects.
II. My father ran bread routes for Wonder most mornings.
He delayed the deliveries to throw me curves and fastballs when tryouts came around.
He zeroed my hands and eyes, quickened my bat to the rawhide in the pre-dawn twilight.
Confident still in the afternoon, I showed for tryouts with a quick bat and hit high, arcing flies far past right field.
The coach, who also was a customer on my paper route, made me second string on a team that went 9-0.
He needn’t have bothered. Why tire his ragged arm on me at the end of batting practice when he had a team of hitters?
I finished the season 0 for 12.
III. I tried out for high school ball the following year.
I hit longer, straighter flies than I had at tryouts the year before.
The coach—who slept on a basement bed in the very apartment where I delivered my middle school coach’s newspaper—already knew the story.
‘He’ll hit in tryouts. Goose-egg during the season.’
Rated beneath even freshman team standards, I wandered from baseball.
I took up track. The coach asked what I was interested in.
‘Pole vault,’ I said, feeling adventurous. ‘Or something like that.’
‘There is nothing else like pole vault.’
Varsity letter image produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida © 2010.