18' 1" Olympic Trials 2008

18' 1" Olympic Trials 2008

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Enjoying the Sun

I’m exhausted. What a fun camp that was. It was such an honor to be invited to work along side of such great coaches and athletes. But I’m ready for a rest. In the future I’m going to be better about asking someone who is more able to demonstrate drills and skills while I talk about them, instead of being the crash test dummy myself. My spine is extremely upset with me.
             Since day one I have been wanting to get on the runway to take a few jumps. For starters, the weather is amazing and not taking advantage of it would just be insane but also I wanted to turn up a few big jumps for the campers.  Even at the age I am now, its always fun and inspiring to see someone in action who can perform at a level higher than your own. So today, day 3 of the camp, I decided to jump a bit with the group I’ve been teaching. Technically the session wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for. After viewing it on video I am still seeing one major problem, but one of the important changes I have been visualizing was apparent, and that is progress.  I’d have to say that overall the workout was a success in that I was jumping again after almost a month, and I had a great time doing it.
            The pain in my back is not what it was two weeks ago, but it’s not pleasant either. I’m trying to remember a time I’ve jumped without pain, and I can’t seem to drum up a memory less than 2 years old. People continue to ask me, “What will you do when you are done competing as an athlete?” Meaning career wise, and I never have an answer for them. It’s actually a subject that I don’t meditate on. I figure that if I stay positive and focused on what I am doing right now, something good is bound to come up in the future. But recently I have finally found a suitable answer to the question; I’m going to get medical insurance, one way or another. In November, my 31st birthday marked 8 years I have now lived without medical insurance. Those of you who know me well, and know how frequently I tend to injure myself, know that I’ve been dealt a lot of pain in those 8 long years and will most likely be dealt even more in the 8 to come.
            At the moment I remain in the now. Right now, I’m in sunny southern California, I’m even sun burnt. Before I left the trees for this visit I got a text saying a young up and coming vaulter from Arizona State via Questa College named Derick Hinch needed a ride halfway down I-5 to go and assist with one of the legendary Jan Johnson vault camps. Meeting for the first time, we had lots to talk about and as luck would have it, he informed me that a bunch of like minded vault folk are getting together this Saturday, down in the Huntington beach area, to do some jumping and invited me to tag along. So I plan to join them, enjoy a few more days in the sun, some good company, and maybe even some more small success. The camp director has been gracious enough to extend my stay at the host hotel for a few more days. One of those days I plan to do a light warm up, but mainly hibernate, in hopes that I will summon or manifest some reserve energy stored away in a secret place that my subconscious saved for a special occasion in order to take advantage of these wonderful temperatures one last time.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In The Presence of Legends

I’m down south in Walnut California (Los Angeles area) to help run a track and field camp at Mount San Antonio College, better known as Mount Sac. Mount Sac is famous for having one of the toughest high school cross country events in the nation, and for hosting the most prestigious and professionally run track and field competition California has to offer every year, the Mount Sac Relays.
Being down in Southern California in the winter makes it easy to realize why so many people live here. It was a sunny 70 degrees yesterday without a cloud in the sky, and all the trees, grass and even bushes are a vibrant green. Being an outdoor type myself, my mind can’t even comprehend how beautiful this place must have been before all these roads and buildings were plopped down on it. But with all this modernity comes many advantages and opportunities.
When I was invited to run this camp I was not sure what to expect. My friend and peer Brian Yokoyama called and said they needed a few extra good people and he would like it if I could make it, so I agreed. That was about all the details that I got. Now that I am here I realize that this is a very special camp and I am extremely flattered to have been invited to help. Yesterday in front of the mass of campers I was invited to speak and tell my story. Guess who else went up to talk and are coaches at this camp…….

Willie Banks; Former world record holder in the triple jump and the athlete who invented the rhythm clap for the audience that is still used today for almost every field event in track and field.
Mike Powell; The current world record holder in the long jump, which is one of the longest standing world records in track and field, set back in 1991 in Tokyo, he broke Bob Beamons record which stood for 22 years, by jumping 8.95m roughly  29’4.5” converted. Upsetting the great Carl Lewis, Mike had unbelievable talent.
Dick Fosberry; Former world record holder in the High Jump, and the inventor of the Fosberry Flop, which is the current technique used by every high jumper in the world.  

All three of these men changed Track and Field forever, for the good of the sport, whether they planned to or not. The ripple effect created by there innovation has touched most of us in the sport in some way, and has changed the lives of thousands of athletes in the years since. It is an honor to be coaching along side of them and I hope I am given this opportunity again in the future.
One last thing I’d like to share is that in 1991, Track and Field was still on TV from time to time, and the World Championships in Tokyo, Japan was aired. A ten year old kid, who knew little of the world of track and field, happened to be tuned in with his father who was sharing in the excitement of the battle between Mike Powell and Carl Lewis as they exchanged the World Record between them, back and forth during the competition, like it was a standard affair. Seeing those two men fly though the air like they had just jumped off the roof of a moving bus was so unbelievable and inspiring. That kid knew, that someday that would be him. He was going to make it happen. That kid was me, and the long jump didn’t wind up being my strong suit, but pole vault is pretty awesome. I still plan to have a televised battle on the world stage, and I have to thank Mike Powell for it (and I did yesterday in front of about 100 people). He is undoubtedly the reason I got involved in the great sport of track and field. 

Here is that competition if you are looking for some inspiration today.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Life of Glamour

Does the life of a post collegiate pole vaulter appear glamorous? It depends on your definition of the term. Today I find myself dragging my feet. At some point during the week I tilted the wrong way while pulling on a rake, stood up with the wrong angle in posture, bent down to pick something up improperly, sneezed with my spine in a poor position, took a bad step on uneven ground without my lower abs flexed in a protective manner,  swung a hammer without tightening the right muscle groups, etc etc, the list goes on and on. One of these things, all of these things, a combination of these things, or even something I didn’t list and is totally out of my control or awareness took place, and now another set back.

These days come almost in a perfect sequence. I thought it was happening about every 6 weeks, but now it seems more like 4. The amount of questions and clues consuming my thoughts, hell bent on solving the mystery at hand, are countless. What did I do this time? I couldn’t tell you. But I can say that I know what to do now, I know where to go from here, and I know it will pass. As annoying and frustrating as it is every time, each time seems a tiny bit less terrible for my psyche. The repetition has become routine, and the thoughts of hopelessness are fewer. Next week, I will be right on track, but this week I’m sidelined.

There are things I can do physically even in the worst of states, I call it my “when in doubt list.” This is where I go to for sanctuary during these down periods. Particularly on this list is; endless pull ups, dips, and therapy. I can spend entire days on those and not aggravate or further inflame the damage already done.

Back to the Glamour; the holidays are a time for giving. I don’t have a dollar to spend on gifts. I had to borrow money this month to pay my bills, again. I have a third of a tank of gas in my car that I have been rationing for weeks because I have no other source of income to fill it again except the change in my ash tray, and that change is dear to me. I am 31 years old and moved back to my parents property. I workout mostly in there yard, and the storage building/workshop I am sleeping in. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to eat. Sounding Glamorous yet?

Part of the point I’m trying to get at, that almost seems lost in the text, is that people don’t appreciate anything, until it is taken away from them. In my case, health and money, neither of which I have ever truly had, but I’ve had more than this.

Even in my poor state, I have a great many things to appreciate, more than maybe I deserve, and I am forever grateful for them. I would list them, but that would take pages, pages and pages. So that being said, I am one blessed and fortunate dude.

Glamorous. My life is glamorous, and being a post collegiate vaulter is as well. At the end of this month I will travel to Los Angeles and get to teach kids how to pole vault along side of the Mexican National Record holder and his coach. The following week we will train together and share secrets of being successful athletes and human beings. Pole vault has introduced and adopted me into a family of people who are like minded, devoted, loyal, crazy, and most of all trustworthy. It has taken me to Europe 4 different times (and will again) to live, train, travel, and compete while seeing parts of the world I would have never known. I’ve run down the runway and found myself clearing bars in South Africa, Taiwan, and the majority of states in the US. I’ve carried my 17’ long bag with pride through packed airports to every kind of car you can think of, on bikes, skateboards, rollerblades and even my old motorcycle. I have performed in a Cave, Casinos, Gymnastics Gyms, Basketball Courts, The roof of a Parking Garage, Parking Lots, Warehouses, The Woods, Backyards, Volleyball Courts, over 7,000' of elevation, below Sea Level, and Malls, on Football Fields, Olympic Stadiums, Beaches, Streets, and even taken a few jumps into the sand and the water. From flaming crossbars, vaulting on wheels, tuxedos, costumes and even in the nude, I’ve done it all.
I am, and always will be, a Pole Vaulter, and I live a life of Glamour.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Number 18

             18 is an awesome number. 18-steps has been my competition approach for 12 years now (even though I plan to make it 20 steps this season).
             18, on the 18th of this month marked 5 months I’ve gone without a drop of alcohol, holding to my commitment to make it through the games. I tell you what, 3 weeks ago on my 31st birthday I was pretty bummed about not getting a delicious birthday beer, a glass of wine with thanksgiving dinner, and the holidays in general without seasonal this, and spiced that, don’t seem near as cheery as usual. But still, I’ve got to pat myself on the back for the show of commitment to this 2012 season.
             18, I can remember my first 18’ vault back in 2003 at the Reno Pole Vault Summit. A huge barrier broken. I weighed 175lbs, I was 22 years old, wearing a helmet in honor of Kevin Dares memory, on an 18-step (9 left) run, on a 16’ 195lbs (15.9 flex) pole holding around 15’6”. Not bad. Suddenly I was ranked #1 in the NCAA (that only lasted a few weeks), and was on the IAAF World Rankings top 10 because it was so early in the year (also only lasted about a week, but still awesome). 
            18, on my 18th Birthday I had just returned home from my first official college recruiting visit to Idaho State University, and knew that I didn’t need to go on any other visits. I was 18 years old when I signed scholarship papers with an NCAA Division 1 program (a huge dream come true). I was 18 years old when I moved 650 miles away from my friends, family, and home in pursuit of glory. 
            18 is the number of days since I pole vaulted last. With all that’s gone on during those days, jumping hasn’t seemed so important. In the back of my mind there is a creepy little voice that keeps telling me that my next vault session will be garbage do to the fact that I took so much time off, lost all that weight, and am feeling overall, to coin the phrase, “out of shape”. I don’t have my journal handy, but I think that I have been back at it for 4 or 5 days now, and I must admit, day 1 and 2 took a toll. That being said, I only took around 2 weeks off. Granted this is probably not the best time of year to be taking time off, but looking at the big picture, two weeks is nothing, and it was essential. So why the stress and needless regret? Seems a bit juvenile now that I look at it in text. I should be good to go.   
            The last few times I have been on the runway I have not felt strong, or fast, and that bothers me. Strong, I am, fast, I’m not so sure, but I’m working on it.  I’m hoping it has something to do with me being so tired. I’m making an effort not to rest for vault workouts as much as I did in the past. Once you start jumping during the season, it seems like you are constantly resting for vault days to keep the quality at a high level, but in time as the season goes on and the volume of jumping increases (competition and practice combined), you spend so many days vaulting, your spending too many resting, and not keeping a handle on your fitness level, at least I don’t. It’s a problem I’ve encountered many times in the past. So I’m trying not to do that as much, and to make up for the lack of rest, take less jumps in sessions so they are performed at a high level before I run out of gas and just go through the motions, which will create bad habits. Not to mention the fact that it is also a form of injury prevention or in my case injury protection and maintenance.
            I may jump this week, I may not. I’m sure I’ll have something to say about it if I do.
Always Keeping it Classy, Litchfield out.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rest for the Wicked

           Today I am shaking off a feeling of guilt that has been following me around for 11 days. I don’t like to rest, even when it is needed. Part of that is because of my background as an athlete. In high school and college I was always surrounded by the hard working type.  I can’t speak for my coaches but it always seemed like the mentality shared by the programs, I was fortunate to be a part of, has always been something along the lines of “the kids who train till they puke, are the kids that become champions.” As far back as I can remember being involved in sports I realize now that I have always clung to the strongest in the group, competing with them in workouts as if something was at stake, in turn pushing each other to the vomit threshold and beyond. Even in my youth, I knew that this was the only way I could become the best at what I was doing. It paid off and left a hunger for training inside of me that is hard to keep full. Now as an injured old man I have to tell myself things like “less is more” and “rest is best”. Bull shit like that, I hate it. I wish my crappy body could just keep up with my ambition. But just like my mentor Dave Nielsen always says, “You play the cards your dealt.” Some of the best damn advice you can give an athlete. What a wise old man he is. I miss him, I miss my ISU family. Eleven years of my life I spent with that group, that’s a considerable chunk of time. But I’m off topic again, per usual.         
            Funny the number eleven came up again because that is the amount of time I have taken off. Granted I had like six or seven fillings done, and two wisdom teeth pulled, in one day, two states away. I mention the two states away thing because if I was an idiot and hurt my mouth or got dry sockets I would be a long way away from my dentist for repair. So I had to be sure I was healthy enough to start training again. If he lived down the street from me, the number four or five would be more prevalent in this post, describing the numbers of days I should have kept waiting before I started working out again. Thankfully this is not the case. Somehow the patience superceded my hardheadedness and desire to exceed my physical abilities leaving me rested and ready to start fresh.
            One thing that bothers me a bit is my weight. I tell you what, I know how you can make millions of dollars selling the next big time weight loss program. Here it is, convince people too pull a few teeth and they can sit back and watch the pounds fade away as they dream of the day when they could once eat solid food. I have been bouncing between 175-180lbs for months now. I weighed in once last week at 165lbs, then I stopped checking my weight. I’m sure it will come right back, but still, I worked hard for that ten pounds and I’d like it back. The muscle doesn’t stay on like it did when I was 20 years old. I hate to say it, but it sure falls off quick. You really have to be more consistent or more so, religious, with your training as an older athlete.
            The forced rest was probably just what I needed (along with fixing my grill). I’ve got so many injuries anymore I forget about some of them. They are all labeled with levels of awareness or validity. Some of them much more valid than an others, and must be addressed regularly, the others are forgotten or put out of mind. In essence, time off, never a bad thing for the body, but it is a hellacious stress on a state of mind that has been hardened by over twenty years of old school, tough guy coaches, training partners, and programs, and I absolutely love that I still haven’t lost it.   

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pressure to Succeed

Well the start of December has been a trip to say the least. Starting in Northern California on November 30th, then hitting Boise, Idaho by car, flying to Portland, Oregon, driving to Dallas, Oregon, and now I will retrace my steps tomorrow arriving back home sometime Friday night December 9th.
The past week my mind has been racing. With too much idle travel and down time to think, my thoughts have a tendency to run wild. Things I have been looking forward too for months are right around the corner and the question of preparation is haunting me. I can’t stand that feeling, and I continue to try and fight it off. What will be, will be and I have to remain comfortable with the thought that I am doing absolutely everything in my power to be ready, knowing deep down that hanging onto that idea will continue to inspire more and more confidence. 
I must also admit that thoughts of the future have been creeping in as well. I’m staying with a friend and former training partner of mine who has really done it right. When he retired from the sport he dedicated years of stress and financial agony to becoming a dentist. With that long road behind him, he has a beautiful family, life, and home. I look up to him now as a successful father, husband, and professional as I once looked up to him as a great athlete who helped inspire me to continue on this post collegiate journey that I still follow today. I hope that someday someone will think the same of me. I often wonder about people whose lives I have passed through that are younger than me. Did I inspire them in some way? I can only hope. Because many of them come to mind who inspired me, and are still inspiring me to this day. As a coach, sometimes I think I learned more from my athletes, than they learned from me.  
            Something else that has been on my mind that I thought I would share in hopes that it will reach someone out there. Briefly I would like to say a few words about the constant pressure an athlete can put on themselves because of the expectations they think others have for them. Friends, family and coaches are usually (hopefully) great support systems, but it is easy to use there support against you if you are dwelling on the possibility of disappointing them with a poor performance result. I too find myself doing this from time to time, even worrying about the expectations of people outside of my inner circle. In these moments I have to remember what my parents always told me from the time I was a child playing club soccer all the way through my post collegiate pole vault career. They would say (and still do) “We love you just the same, no matter the results, and we are proud of you for having the courage to come this far, win or lose.” Those are powerful words, and true. Someone out there loves you no matter how bad things get or how much you might think you suck that day, they don’t think you suck, they think you are wonderful, feel pride in your presence and are happy to have you in their life, a result can't and wont change that. Keep that truth close to you always, because no matter how amazing you are, everyone has a bad day once in awhile, and it doesn’t have to be so bad. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Quick Update 12/3/11

Just a quick update.
      I only managed to clear my opening height in Boise of 5.15m (16'10.5") then made one classic error at the following bar that cost me all three attempts. I had a hell of a time in warm ups, so I was actually happy to be able to clear a bar, along with the jump looking halfway decent I'll count it as a successful day. The competition itself did teach me a sufficient amount about what I have been doing right, what needs improvement, and what's missing. I was pleased as I looked through the video and analyzed the situation, to see that these necessary adjustments in my training are fairly minor. Now with a one week lapse in my training schedule, due to a massive dental overhaul, it will give me plenty of time to put together a more structured plan to better prepare me for my next competition in January.  This weekend had a uneasy feel to it, like being blindfolded and hoping for the best. A gamble of sorts, but a gamble that has already paid out a valuable chunk of knowledge. When I set foot on the runway again it will be with renewed confidence and ability.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Northbound on I-95

Luckily at midnight last night my good friend was able to get my trusty side kick up and running again.  This may be the last vault season for the old Subaru. Without my buddy Steve (who honestly is more like blood), it was definitely beyond my ability to repair, and far beyond its worth in labor costs. But at 260K plus miles, it has risen from the dead once again, and carried my girlfriend and I over the Sierras, and across the Nevada desert as we trekked north to our most recent destination, Boise, Idaho. With a brief stop in Carson City, Nevada of course, you can’t drive past the factory of the finest vaulting poles in the world without stopping in to say hello. The good folks at UCS Spirit will always welcome you with open arms like family. Visiting the factory is a great treat, especially when you get the pleasure of walking out with a brand new pole that now has even more meaning after having seen its birth place.
So what’s new? I’m in Boise to compete in a small meet on Friday. Up until Tuesday I had only jumped from short approach runs, just a handful of times, since sometime in the first week of September. I decided if I got a chance to visit a facility with a long enough runway, and the weather played in my favor I would give the big run a chance this week. As it turns out, there is yet another great facility close by. I visited Bella Vista High school in Fair Oaks, CA. Once called home by Derek Miles, this facility puts most colleges to shame. Exciting as it was to follow in Big Rigs footsteps for a few hours, I was unable to put on such a show that would do him proud. Running from my full approach was difficult, even more difficult still since I added an extra 14 feet onto the end of it. With some patience, help from fellow vaulters and coaches, I finally managed to make the massive 140 foot long approach work. I’m pretty sure I’ve had running workouts with shorter distances than that. And honestly as low as I was gripping and on such a small pole, in a competition situation that approach will be more like 143 feet. Even after all that struggle I feel that the session ended well and the workout overall was a success.  
Now I have to decide what I want to get out of this weekend. I recently found out that the indoor qualifying window for the Olympic Trials does not start until Jan 1st. So any great mark I gain this weekend cannot be used to get me into that meet. However it is still a mark that can be used just about anywhere else, and will be a great chance for me to see where I am at in this stage of training when I am placed in a competitive setting. You can practice for thousands of hours, but you just can’t replicate the environment, situations, and personal reactions created in such a setting. Well maybe you can, but I can’t, meaning that competitions have become great learning tools for me, especially in the past 10 months as I have had to adapt such a great deal.  So on Friday, I hope I learn something good, or just rock the house. Either way, I’m certain I will walk away satisfied. Being back in Idaho, and getting to hang with brother is well worth the trip.