18' 1" Olympic Trials 2008

18' 1" Olympic Trials 2008

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A necessary obstacle -11/20/10

For those who don't know already. A friend asked me to write this. I sent this to him, who sent it to someone else, who posted it on the internet.
 But it is where this story begins.

-The Tuxedo Doesn't make you Indestructible After All.

In April of 2009 I started feeling a strange pain in my hip. Thinking it was muscular I would take some time off practice then press on again never missing a competition. 

In Dec 2009 I was doing lunges, something in my back popped and I collapsed to the ground in the weight room. Not being able to afford medical insurance for the past 6 years I did what I always do, I stayed home and didn't ask for help. 3 to 4 weeks went by with sleepless nights, several missed work days, 0 activity aside from any therapy exercises I could manage. I was able to function again with a much lower level of pain by January, and long story short, I competed. 

I completed a whole indoor season including a trip to Taiwan, then competed outdoors up until the Gill Factory Vault in July. The pain in my back and hip had grown severe, but the season was so frustrating too me regardless. I thought even with all that pain, I should still have been jumping much higher. Speed and Strength was all there. I would watch myself on video and it was like seeing a stranger. 

While at the Factory Vault I thought that the runway felt strange, like there were dead spots in it, and even more strange was that when I did my warm up the day before, it felt solid as a rock. I went ahead and tried to compete, posting my first No Height of the outdoor season. I couldn't help but notice that I kept tripping over things that day, and after awhile I realized I was only catching my left leg on these items. By the evening large portions of my left leg were numb. 

A friend and former vaulter was attending the factory vault who had undergone several back surgeries do to with vaulting, and is currently using a cane to assist his numb left leg. After picking his brain for awhile I panicked and realized that I must go see a doctor with or without medical insurance. After finding 0 reflex response in my left leg he ordered an MRI. The results were rather unsettling. I have 2 bulging discs 2 herniated discs which are both pinching separate nerve stems to my left leg, and one "healing" fracture in L4, which they are guessing could have been broken up to 1 year earlier (i'm guessing Dec 09). 

I had 2 choices, a $20,000 surgery, which would most likely be the end of the Tuxedo man, or start getting injections right away to prevent permanent nerve damage and possibly with the right therapy be back on the runway by January or February. The injections I'm receiving usually cost about $1,300, but I found a doctor with a big heart who is doing them for $500 a piece. 

As wonderful as that is. I can't afford a single one at the moment. Being limited in mobility I can't go out and raise the money doing labor like I normally would, and jobs are pretty much nonexistent in Idaho. I work part time for ISU Track and Field, but its not even enough to pay my regular monthly bills. I usually fill the quota with meet money, camp money, or labor money. And none are an option right now. 

I have received the first two rounds of shots and they are working! After the second round I started to get small reflex response in my left leg so I look forward to the next round on October 13th. However I have to pay at least the $500 for the first shot by then or they won't do it, and I'm struggling to make it happen. I've got nothing to sell, no savings, an empty checking account, a mountain of debt, and hardly any income, but I plan on being on that runway and better than ever by February at the latest. I hate to ask for help, but i need this next shot bad and the clock is ticking.-

I call this a necessary obstacle because my career had gone stagnant since the Olympic trials in 2008. You can make goals all day long, but if there isn't something deep down, something magical, unexplainable, driving you towards that goal, it's just something you wrote on a piece of paper, mentioned to a coach a friend or loved one.  It's that unexplainable area of the brain or heart that I struggle to tap into. In my career all of my best performances in championship meets have been my first time there. Its the excitement of being some place new, a place where only the best go. But after that first exciting experience, it loses that magic and unfortunately becomes routine. 

Without any shred of doubt, pole vault has become my ultimate passion in life. Without it, I would be lost. However obsessed I may be with the event, I still lose site of why I'm doing it. This injury has helped me see the magic again. I've had several people tell me to give up the sport forever, and others tell me a return to vault is possible, but a return to the National level is not. The news was hard to hear at first, however its probably the best thing they could have said, and I should thank them for helping to fill me with a new drive and motivation to prove them wrong, and return stronger than ever. 

I don't know if anyone will even read this. If so, never let anyone brainwash you into thinking you can't do something. Sometimes it gets you into trouble, but sometimes it takes you to new levels and places you never imagined were possible. I intend to show you first hand. 


  1. Paul, Thanks for posting this, ive read it before but reading it just now really makes me think about how lucky we are to have the chance to do what we love. And how quickly we forget how fast that chance can be taken away. Over the last couple of years I have been so fortunate to have made many new friends in the vault community. I feel truly blessed to have met you and to be able to call you one of my good friends. I think we are very similar in that we both love this sport to death, literally. I know what your going through and have been there before. Im pulling for you man, your a big inspiration to me as well as this whole vault family. Keep in touch, hope to see you soon.

  2. Thanks for posting this Paul. We're all pulling for you! Bubba Sparks