Friday, August 27, 2004

My Brilliant Career

We were watching the Olympics two nights ago, and during the women's pole vault Gloria said "That looks like fun." Surprisingly, I could comment on that, because I had a career in the pole vault.

It lasted twelve seconds.

When I was in seventh grade, I asked our P.E. coach if I could try the pole vault. It did look like fun. Much to my surprise, he agreed. He wasn't a particularly nice fellow--in fact, he was a mean bastard--so I can only imagine that he agreed for the sheer entertainment value of watching me make a fool of myself.

His joke, however, was about to invert.

There were half a dozen people or so just standing around the pit, and they loosely gathered around to watch me vault. Coach handed me the pole and I walked back toward the beginning of the runway.

Here's the first important fact to know about the pole vault: the pole does not carry itself. This becomes a problem when you weigh less than the pole. It's an even more serious problem when you're not even as wide as the pole. I had gigantic glasses on top, enormous shoes on bottom, and a straight piece of string in-between. I strongly resembled the letter 'I.'

The smart thing to do would have been to stop right there. Maybe I would have, but while I'm trying to balance the pole I see Coach Bastard and another coach looking at me and laughing. I'll show them.

I have no idea what I'm doing, but I know that running slowly won't help, so I lift up the pole and take off. And one thing I can do is run. Within seconds, the pole begins to oscillate from left to right. Only for fleeting instants does it actually face toward the pole vault pit. Within a few more strides, 'oscillating' becomes 'oscillating wildly.' I'm running very fast, and I'm carrying a long pole whose motions appear to bear no relation to me holding it whatsoever. I am the pole vaulting equivalent of the eighty-year old man who drives his Cadillac onto the sidewalk and mows down scores of pedestrians.

My glasses begin bouncing up and down in sympathy with the pole. I have my own rhythm section.

As I near the pit, I see spectators begin to peel away from their positions alongside the runway. All of them, that is, except for Coach Bastard, who looked away for the briefest moment and suddenly finds himself with a very respectable chance of being impaled. As I reach the plant box he dives out of the way, rolling to safety, and I somehow plant the pole in the box and prepare to soar into the sky. This preparation was entirely unnecessary, however, because the pole does not bend. At all.

Here's the second important fact to know about the pole vault: the pole does not bend itself.

Coach Bastard gets up and he is covered, covered in grass burrs. The other coach is making fun of him. And he's pissed.

It's still one of my favorite athletic memories. It was a golden moment.

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