When my editor asked if I could write a story on pole vaulting, I was not thrilled. I only knew of the sport from watching the Olympics. I didn’t think the sport would appeal to many nor would it be a full-body workout. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“Pole Vaulting leverages all aspects of fitness – endurance, speed, strength, flexibility and mobility – and includes a huge component of fun,” explained Edward Luthy, president of DC Vault. “It appeals to nontraditional athletes as well as those athletes who may want to see a scholarship for college or even compete. We have students ranging from five years to 50.”
I also assumed that being a pole vaulter brought with it the propensity for injuries. Once again I was wrong. “Pole Vaulters are not prone to injuries like, say, football players are,” explained Luthy. “The usual kind of mishaps we see are turned ankles. It is a relatively safe sport.”
He continued, “It’s a sport that provides a rare combination of benefits. Apart from the fitness and fun, it allows participants to decide for themselves how far they want to take it. Some want to compete seriously, gain college scholarship opportunities and maybe even go to the Olympics. Others choose to compete only once or twice a year and others simply want to do it for fun and not compete at all. The sport fulfills all of these desires.”
When I visited the site one Sunday afternoon (on the north side of East Capitol Street in front of RFK Stadium), children under the age of 12 were practicing on one course. Teens and young adults were practicing on the other course. A unique-looking metal structure sat on the site. It was the equipment used to build muscle strength needed for pole vaulting. Some parents were sitting under a tree off the track, enjoying watching the kids practice their runs and jumps.
Edith Bosshart was helping coach the young vaulters. She did her first pole vault less than a year ago. Her coach said she’s a natural. “Last August I went to a beginner’s class. Ever since I was little, I watched track and field events on TV and thought pole vaulting was very cool. Here was my chance to try it. I went to a session. I was hooked.”
The Skill of Pole Vaulting
Bosshart is studying for a degree in therapeutic recreation. She’s not a competitive athlete in any other sport, but runs when she has time. She said she now practices three times a week and strength trains a couple of times a week. “I went to a first open indoor meet in January and jumped 10 feet over an actual bar, not just a bungee cord. Now that I’ve cleared that I want to go higher.”
Bosshart explained that when she began, she had to learn fundamentals. She had to learn to carry the pole right, to drop the pole at the right time and to use the correct form in every sequence. She said these skills are more important that going over heights right away. “After a couple of months I started getting higher, and it’s a cool feeling.”
She added, “What I like about pole vaulting is that I use my entire body. Unlike some sports, I actually use my brain too. It helps me de-stress and turn off everything else after a busy day.”
The Home of DC Vault
DC Vault opened its Capitol Hill location last summer, after many years of searching for a perfect DC location. When Luthy arrived in DC in 2008 he had trouble finding a single-source facility with the tools he needed to train pole vaulters. “I launched DC Vault and formed partnerships with several local organizations. We trained our athletes over the years into local, regional and even national champions.”
Not only was Luthy receiving inquiries from interested elite athletes but he was also receiving interest from nontraditional athletes of all ages. “These inquiries came from parents seeking well-rounded but challenging fitness for their kids and from working adults seeking something more exciting than a typical workout.” Seven years later, DC Vault made Capitol Hill its home.
“Events DC leased space at RFK in order to allow DC Vault to consolidate most of its operations into DC,” explained Luthy, who lives on the Hill. “We took the opportunity to build out one of the best pole-vault training centers in the country. It’s uniquely designed to work with any athlete.” An instant success, it attracted the men’s 2015 world champion, who came to train on Capitol Hill last fall. “We also began training many youth and working adults who have begun vaulting for the first time ever.”
History of Pole Vaulting
The pole vault originated in Europe, where men used the pole to cross canals filled with water. The goal of this type of vaulting was distance rather than height. It dates back to at least the 16th century. Evidence exists that it was even practiced in ancient Greece.
In Great Britain, it was first practiced at the Caledonian Games. Initially poles were made from stiff materials such as bamboo or aluminum. Modern pole-vaulting technique was developed in the United States in the latter 1800s. The first competitive vaulting poles were made from solid ash. The introduction of flexible vaulting poles in the early 1950s made from composites such as fiberglass or carbon fiber allowed vaulters to achieve greater height.
A New Nonprofit Organization
Because DC Vault has settled into its own home, and has established its ability to train participants, Luthy and his colleagues have expanded on their original goals to develop a new nonprofit organization, the National Pole Vault Association (NPVA). NPVA promotes health, wellness and opportunity for underprivileged youth and emerging-elite and elite athletes participating in pole vaulting. The association provides services based on need. This may include beginner to elite training programs, travel, education and living expense assistance, access to professional-grade equipment and facilities, access to elite-level instruction, community engagement activities, exhibition events and more. Luthy hopes to connect with Capitol Hill elementary schools this fall and give local kids an opportunity to try the sport.
Pattie Cinelli is a health/fitness professional who offers information about subjects on the leading edge of health and fitness thought. Pattie just received her certification as a functional aging specialist. She has been writing her column for more than 25 years and welcomes suggestions and fitness questions. Pattie can provide lectures, private sessions and group classes in stretch, yoga, Pilates and her specialty, balance and mobility, for your church, home or office. She is also producing a podcast about choices on how to stay well. You can contact Pattie at [email protected].