The first time I jumped 18' was in Reno in 2003, and it was my first competition of the season my 4th year in college.
The first time I wore a tuxedo speed suit in competition was in Reno in 2005. It was black with long sleeves and full length legs. It was an idea I came up with while playing disc golf. I thought I could maybe modify a suit or tux from a thrift store, then I remembered someone. When I took my letter jacket to a local seamstress to be worked on, I noticed strange items of clothing around her house, small items. I inquired about these garments and it turned out that she can't live off of high school kids sowing money, and her main business was making spandex, Velcro, zipper, and snap tear away outfits for the bulk of the strippers in Sacramento California. It had been 7 years since I last saw her, but I figured if anyone could make it happen, she could. My Mom tracked her down with one of my old speed suits as a pattern, then showed up in Reno a few weeks later with it in hand. I slid it on and hopped on the elevator down to the casino floor of the Hilton, and so the journey of the Tuxedoman began.
Not all Reno memories are good. My whole career after college I've always been the guy that fills the field. Never first pick, always last. For several years in Reno I'd been dying to jump in the elite show only to be told at the last minute its not happening. One year, after the meetings were over I asked several times "so i'm not in? I'm not jumping? Because if i leave now you won't find me. Cell phones don't work in the Hilton." "No" they relpied, "you are not jumping on stage". Bummed but accepting, I went to dinner with friends before it was time to go watch the big show. Since I was still considered elite (more like sub-elite) I was allowed to sit on stage. I went to sit down, and the organizers were frantic "where have you been!!? We've been calling your phone, your room, sent kids out looking for you. Your in. Someone dropped out." In a state of shock I was angry and excited at once. My only reply was "I can make it. I'll go change, grab my gear and just get on the runway when the competition starts." "No" they said. "Its too late now, we're starting." That was the hardest Reno elite vault I've ever had to sit and watch. I look back without regret though. There is nothing I could have done different. If I really deserved to be on stage with those guys, then it wouldn't have been up for debate. I'd rather be automatically picked rather than hanging on a wire all the time as a possibility, or last resort. It drives me to work harder.
It reminds me of how many times I've actually just been bumped. One year it came down to me and Grande at the end of the last meeting, and of course Grande took the last spot and i took a walk. But I did win the "B" group that year.
In 2004 I took out all my student loans to travel around the US chasing a mark that would get me into the Olympic trials. When all was said and done, they took 24 athletes, I was 25th on the list by one centimeter. When I went to watch the meet, I was even in the program, full bio. It was like a knife in the heart. In 2003 they took 18 men to the USA Outdoor championships, I was #19 on the list by one centimeter. I got to sit in the stands and watch that meet as well. In 2007 I was having a terrible year, then suddenly the last week I could qualify for USA Outdoors, I started blowing up. I got a good enough mark to get on the list. I bought a ticket to Indy, planned all my travel and was headed out of town that Wednesday. That Tuesday I had my last jump session before I left town, I planted a little crooked, and landed on the standard base, but my left spike decided to get tangled in the mat on the way down. It tore everything in my foot and ankle. It hung there like a piece of mangled rubber. I couldn't even move it if I tried. It felt completely disconnected. I was supposed to be on a plane the next day headed for a US championship that i finally felt ready for, then suddenly it was taken away from me by one bad jump. That night I called USATF and told them I had to scratch from the meet I had been training all year for. I hung up the phone, sat back in my desk chair and wept like a child, uncontrollably.
As dreary as it all sounds, all these events were the catalyst that fueled a 2008 season that is my most memorable of all time. Making the Olympic Trial finals, and being part of such an awesome event will stand out in my mind until the day I die.
In my eyes I've never been the greatest vaulter. But i've never been a quitter either. I've been through some terrible times, and I have always prevailed. Isn't that the formula of a winner, a champion......
PS- My back is feeling pretty dam good. You can bet your ass, I'm packing a pole bag for Reno. See you there.