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	Lobo athlete Kyle Walker took first place in the pole vaulting event at the Don Kirby Memorial Invite Saturday at the UNM Track and Field Stadium.

Lobo athlete Kyle Walker took first place in the pole vaulting event at the Don Kirby Memorial Invite Saturday at the UNM Track and Field Stadium.

Vaulter notches personal best in bad weather

It is one thing for an athlete in an individual sport to talk about internal competition. It is another thing entirely to witness it.
Lobo Freshman Kyle Walker stood about 35 feet from the pole-vaulting bar that was raised to 16 feet 9 inches — searching, waiting for something. All his competition had fallen. He already won the title during Saturday’s Don Kirby Memorial Invite, after clearing 16 feet 7 inches. Everything now was just gravy on the potatoes.

“I never really worry about who is in the competition,” Walker said. “I like it when there are better people, just so I have someone jumping with me, so I am not jumping by myself. But I always look at it like I am trying to beat my personal best. If I get a lifetime best and still lose, I don’t lose any sleep over it.”

On Saturday, that statement seemed irrelevant.
Walker won first place and vaulted a personal best. On his last approach, he was only looking to top it. The wind whipped around but cleared for a moment. He sprinted toward the bar, dug his pole in the ground, going vertical before brushing the bar on the way up.
“On the last attempt, I kind of felt the pole get stiff on me, so I moved my hands forward and that is when the pole rolled too fast,” Walker said. “And I hit the bar on the way up.”

He settled for first place and a new Lobo season record of 16 feet 7 inches. Walker is just one among a strange breed of athlete — part gymnast, part sprinter — in a sport where patience is as important as is the reckless abandonment of one’s body.
The competition is slow and monotonous.

It lasted nearly three hours. Most of that time was spent waiting — waiting for the competition, waiting for the wind to clear, waiting to build up the nerve. Then, finally, the jump.

“There are times when you don’t feel too comfortable, when the wind is in your face or if it is a bad crosswind on new poles,” Walker said. “I was hitting my comfort zone today.”

While Walker soared, his teammate Sam Potter was shot out of the sky. Potter sat across the track watching and cheering on his
teammate and opponent. Potter was eliminated a few jumps earlier. After going vertical, Potter didn’t get the traditional spring out of his pole. He crashed into the bar and nearly missed the safety mat on the way down. He finished in fourth place, clearing a height of 15 feet 7 inches.

“I was freaked out when I was coming down,” Potter said. “The wind is swirly, so it makes it hard. I think the reason I fell is the coaches put me on a stiffer pole.”

After a close call like that, it is hard to determine what motivates these athletes to keep going. But Potter is unfazed by the dangerous nature of the competition.

“The first time I bent the pole — that was the greatest thing known to man,” Potter said. “I bent the pole, got back and it gave me a fling. After that, I was pretty much hooked. The first time, your brain tells you, ‘No,’ but you just got to go against it.”
It is this attitude that coaches look for, Potter said, because it’s a necessary aspect of the sport.
“When you are trying to get recruited, they try to see if you are a little crazy,” Potter said. “Because they are going to ask you to do stuff that you are not comfortable with.”

That discomfort never really ceases, Potter said. It just becomes routine.
“You learn to zone it out,” Potter said. “You get up there (and) are pretty much just worried about the bar and the pole and zone everything else out afterwards. It comes with practice and experience.”

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